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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Hi ho Silver and awaaayyy!

Are you approaching old age? If so, let me be a warning to you.

A couple of days ago I sent off for some knitting wool and a pattern.

I did! Me! Honest!

No, I know! I could hardly believe it either! Was this really me doing this, choosing wool, looking at the picture of a comfy cardigan… and saying “Yep. That’ll fill a few idle hours” ? It’s ages since I tackled a knitting pattern, but I’m going to give it a go. I’ve also agreed to go to a village craft club and I’m finishing my patchwork quilt so maybe I can fill the next however-many -day- months-years with these homely activities.  I’m a bit disappointed that it’s come to this, filling the days for the sake of filling the days, but this is my responsibility, no one else’s, so bite the bullet and get on with it.  It’s been suggested to me that I could make myself useful in the church by baking cakes… but I’m not a great baker. I can manage muffins but that’s about it, and how often does anyone want my muffins?

That sounds like a euphemism. It isn’t.

Anyway. This morning, waiting for the wool to arrive in the post, I got out a jigsaw puzzle and began to sort out the edge pieces. Oh, my little pals, as my fingers sorted through blue sky and green grass, I knew that this was dire. Just dire. Jigsaw puzzles are great when they’re an escape from a productive life, but they’re no substitute for that life.

So I sat there, looking at the picture on the puzzle box, and I prayed. Not a sweet gentle humble prayer of thanks and serenity, a sort of rambling questioning kinda-argumentative-sorta prayer. Querulous.  I mean, I know that God has the answers, the over-view, and I trust Him, I do. I do, (don’t look at me like that, I do!) but I’ve been twiddling my thumbs for five years and……. and…..  oooh!

Oooh! A few minutes ago, an email pinged in from a publisher … saying that the idea for my next book is ‘an excellent idea’! Hah!  Fancy that! And going on to talk about the possibilities… and it looks like it’s a goer.

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That email was the Lone Ranger galloping over the crest of a hilltop to rescue me from this horrible cactus that I’ve been tied to.. it was Captain Kirk beaming me up from the wastes of a disintegrating planet. Hurrah!

As my lovely George would say, raising a whisky to the new book and to answered prayer, even cross (but honest) prayer, “Here’s tae us, wha’s like us? Damn few – an’ they’re a’ deid.’  (Here’s to us, who’s like us? Damn few – and they’re all dead.)

The brain cells still have stuff to do. Thank you, Lord.  Thank you for that email and for words, and books and … erm… yep, also for knitting. I think. Even muffins. All that.

The book will be called “Norah” , a study of a woman very like my stepmother. That’s all I know so far.  I don’t know which voice it will be written in, or what the beginning or the middle or the end will be. I’m not even sure where I stand as far as the eponymous  character is concerned – pity? Fear? Love? All I know is that I want it to glorify God and it’s exciting, and it’s important to me and it has to be truthful through and absolutely through. I don’t know if it will ‘work’. I don’t even know if I can do it. But I’m going to try.

Psalm 90:17 May the favour of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands.

Oh, boy – that’s my heartfelt prayer right now, this very minute. I do love it when the Bible is written in that immediate, conversational, direct way “Yes, establish the work of our hands”  It’s like those lovely verses in Isaiah 43

“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 just love that conversational “See” and “Do you not perceive it?” My heart responds – yes I’m looking! And yes, I do perceive it! My God has come galloping over the hilltop, my God is beaming me up from a wasteland. He has rescued me. Again.

Now don’t muck it up, Luce. Stay with Him. Stay focussed. Remember it’s through Him and for Him and with Him.

Because without Him,  it’s gonna be a disaster.

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A small enormous miracle

I love thinking about Quantum Physics. I begin to understand it only on the ‘idiot’s guide to’ level, but I like to read about the theories and imaginings and imagery of the subject. I’m fascinated that we can even try to understand life and substance,  light and sound, in a sub-atomic dimension. And then I quite often toddle off down another train of thought and start to wonder about black holes (you’re right – I need to get a life! Or a job maybe) and this is what I found the other day:

Black holes are singularities: points of infinitely small volume with infinite density. Such incredibly compact objects cause infinite curvature in the fabric of spacetime. Everything that falls into a black hole is impelled toward the singularity. 

OK. What’s a singularity when it’s at home? A singularity is a point at which a function takes an infinite value. ‘Infinite’. I love that word, that concept, that truth, that inevitability. I could go on and on but I won’t.

OK, one more… ‘Infinite’, I love that word, that promise.

My singularity (truth, promise, inevitability etc)  is Christ, so this thought sent me straight to the small and almost daily miracles of the Christian life. I think that sometimes we miss them, we  crush them underfoot with our big clumsy shoes as we busy ourselves with all the stuff we have to do. On my walks through the dunes at this time of year the grass is jewelled with daisies, wood anemones, bird’s foot trefoil… and loads more I can’t name…. and sometimes the carpet of flowers is so wide and deep between the great banks of gorse and brambles, that I have no choice but to trample it. A tiny tad of regret, but if I look back each flower is springing back up, barely bruised.

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This is Bird’s Foot Trefoil. A great lovely cushion of delight, humming with bee song in sunshine, glistening in rain.

I try to be aware of the small things, the tiny and wonderful gifts of every day, aware of each one’s unique quality, and I like the definition of that black hole as a ‘singularity’.  More than a thing, more than a moment, more than an image. A singularity or miracle of existence, a one-off of infinite value. Never to be perfectly replicated in time and space and experience.

For me the most exciting singularities are the ones that point to God, to His activity in this world, in my life, even now. I experienced one of those yesterday, a  tiny teeny moment with infinite meaning and eternal assurance. I noticed it particularly because a friend has told me about his own small enormous miracle on Sunday morning (I won’t tell you about that one – it’s his to tell) and so my radar was turned on, my receiver tuned in.

This small community is wracked by illness at the moment, friends have died recently, others are dying, there is sadness and loss all around us (see, I know how to cheer you up on a wet Thursday) and that means there’s lots of listening to be done and people to care for. It can be a tad overwhelming. I am not a sweet little old lady dispensing home made goodies and wise words. Yesterday I was visiting a pal who’s really going through a hard, hard time and I was so conscious that, while I know that silence is golden and listening is more valuable than talking, even my listening was inadequate. I don’t think it’s always helpful to quote a Bible verse as a sort of panacea for all ills, physical and spiritual, so although we might read a Psalm together or talk about a sermon we’ve heard, mostly the only words I offer are prayers. And silly jokes. Yesterday we prayed. When I came away I wondered if there was anything, anything at all, that could help and comfort this friend and I felt totally inadequate. I came into the house, sat here at my desk, opened a commentary on Isaiah and the verse at the very top of the page was Isaiah 50:4

The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
    to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
    wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.

Wowser. That was a point of infinitely small volume with infinite density. God speaking to me.  The God of all eternity and infinity, the Creator of all existence, bending low to whisper in my ear ‘I’m here. When you don’t have the words, I will give them to you. Be still and know that I am God.’

He is my eternal singularity. To the world His miracle yesterday may seem as small as a wild forget-me-not, easily crushed underfoot, but to the heart that belongs to Him, it has the  power and immensity, density and wonder of a billion back holes. He impels me, compels me, towards His love. He quite simply is.

 

 

 

A Poem For This Season

There’s a poem at the front of a book I’m supposed to be reading. I’ve read a goodly chunk of the book itself and although it’s well written and obviously honest, the poetry makes the rest seem tawdry and glib. I could cut and paste it from the net, but this writer seems to have edited his work quite a few different ways and there are several versions. So, because I love you, I am typing the whole damn thing out for you, my Chitterlings, and I’ve picked the version I like the most.

Don’t blame me for the lack of punctuation, he didn’t believe in it, so this is exactly as he wrote it, and it makes my skin prickle and my eyes water:

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridge to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

in a culture up to its chin in shame we are saying thank you
living in the stench we have chosen we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on the stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you

with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain

with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you

we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S.MERWIN

I don’t know if Merwin was Christian, indeed he seems to have had a late interest in Buddhism,  but his father was a Presbyterian minister and  Merwin loved hearing him reading psalms and the Bible, and certainly he acknowledged the Bible as an influence on his writing. I find this piece spiritual, vibrant, luminous.  I’m not well read so I hadn’t heard of this much respected Pulitzer winner and star of the poetry world in the 20th century.

All I know is that this poem, ‘thank you’ is how I now want to live in the shadow of my God, giving thanks and rejoicing always. ALWAYS.

I’m grateful to W.S.Merwin. His words have made me calm tonight, as I head off to bed, knowing that even if sleep again takes me to the memories I dread, in all of this, even in all of this, I am saying thank you. It’s too easy to tumble down into our own dark pit of misery, and Mr Merwin has caught hold of my sleeve, and pulled me back.

This is a hard hard season in our small community. We have young people desperately ill and old people fading, friends dying, many struggling, physically and mentally.

Tonight my prayer is going to be one of thanks, in all of this.  In all of this, thank you.

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Because He’s worth it

This blog is really short but it’s been ricocheting around my skull for days and I have to say it, so here goes:

I’ve just finished my second pass at a radio play for Christmas, and coming to the birth of Christ, thinking of Mary and Joseph, and what they knew as good devout Jews, I wondered if, in those emotional hours after birth, enchanted by the miracle of a new baby, Mary had an underlying sadness, a sort of subconscious awareness of the grief to come. I thought about the prophecies in Isaiah and Micah and even Job (they’re just the ones I know about, and I’m no scholar) and I wondered how aware of them Mary was.

When my daughter was born I was daunted by the years ahead – I couldn’t remember my Mum, I’d known only a loveless childhood, boarded with relatives, resented by a step parent… what did I know about being a Mum? Could I love a child? Two days after birth, the baby blues hit and I sat there, weeping noisily over my serene child. “What are you crying about?” asked my reserved (so reserved!) Scottish husband. I managed to blurt out between snotty hiccups “One day she’ll be 70 and she’ll need me, and I WON’T BE THERE.”  It’s a funny memory but it does reveal the emotional state of any new Mum. I wonder if Mary, the new mother, had the blues, and if she wept too?

And then I thought about the Mary who knelt at Jesus’ feet when Martha was busying herself with the dinner….  the one who has sometimes (wrongly) been called Mary Magdalene. For clarity I’ll call her that too, although two Gospels call her just  ‘a woman’, one describes her as a ‘sinner’ and one implies her to be the sister of Lazarus.

Maybe, if the mother of Jesus knew all the horrors her child was to face, she also knew about the love He would find when He needed it most. Maybe she had a sort of premonition that this baby would one day be so loved and adored that a woman would kneel at His feet to wash away the day’s dirt and aches and pains, would pour perfumed oil on His head and in His beard, would show Him total devotion and tenderness. And if Mary saw all that, ahead of time, then maybe she was comforted. I think we all owe that other Mary, Mary Magdalene, our deep gratitude.

We can’t wash His feet, comfort Him, soothe His weariness away, so it’s as if she did it for us. Our God is outside time and place, He rules over history, and He sees our hearts when we love Him as Mary Magdalene did. He sees when we are with her, kneeling at His feet. Maybe, when she did that humble kindness, she did it for us. Maybe when we come to Him now, in loving prayer and worship,  we’re joining with her, two thousand years later, sharing in her devotion.

I think we are. I’m so grateful that God can see our hearts, and He knows when we are full of love. When He has filled us with His love. When we are washing the feet of the God we adore.