Saturday, 29 December 2018

Towards 2019

A week where we have not heard the word 'Brexit', for which God be praised. Yes, it is important, and as things look, we face a very uncertain future if we head for a no-deal exit. But this week has focussed on more important stuff still; stuff with an eternal dimension. No, not the sales, and the state of the retail sector; nor the constant tweeting of the US president.
The decisive move of God into humanity in the form of the baby of Bethlehem gives us a yearly opportunity to step back from our concerns, large and small, pressing and not-so-pressing, to look at them from another perspective. Whatever our concerns,  the birth of Jesus tells us we are not alone; we have the fact of Emmanuel, 'God with us'.
This does not promise us immunity from all the trials and tribulations of this world- Jesus himself was immersed in them- but it does provide the assurance of grace and resource for the journey; that is Jesus' story, and what he promises to his followers. And as there are still six days of the Christmas season to go, may we know in them, and beyond into the whole of 2019, (in the words of the Christmas blessing) the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ-child. In other words, grace and resource for the journey.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Faith and fear

And if Joseph had given way to fear and respectability, and not married Mary, what then? The angel who visits Joseph in a dream certainly recognises the fear present; 'do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife' he says. And Joseph is certainly between a rock and a hard place; it's a choice between love and fear; the fulfilment of plans versus their disruption; respectability versus bravery.
And love wins in this battle in Joseph's mind and heart. With two thousand years of hindsight, we can see the honoured place this has brought him in the Christian story, and that it guaranteed the young Jesus a stable home, a trade to learn. But all this was far from clear as Joseph wrestled with the decision; what the future would hold was uncertain, unknown.
That future, now embraced in Joseph's decision made in love, opened up a world of possibility which would otherwise have not been possible for the pregnant Mary and for the child inside her.

This has spoken to me this week as I have contemplated this story. That decisions based on fear shut stuff down; decisions made for God and good, open up possibilities undreamed of. It does not mean I shall never fear again, but I am sufficiently away of the nearness of fear and its close cousin anxiety as a real option in any decisions, to know it can become a default position, which needs grace to change. Maybe this is why the Bible has, I'm told, three hundred and sixty fives references which read 'Do not fear' or 'Do not be afraid'. Almost as if we need a daily reminder that there are other options, real options, which open up avenues undreamed of.    

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Unknown paths

Stumbling into heaven- the title of this blog- accurately reflects where I am with God, usually. I can think of few decisions in my life where I have actively chosen a path in God. More often, it seems that people have pointed out to me what was blindingly obvious to them, but mysteriously withheld from me until I saw the wisdom of their ways; or I backed out of a cul-de-sac and LO! there was the right road after all; or a course of action walked towards me and yes, it seemed right.
This haziness in the process is often lost as I look back and see things with the benefit of hindsight as having a clarity it did not possess at the time.  The straight line of hindsight belies the zig-zag nature of the journey to a particular decision or action.
I wonder if this is how it was for the prophets? We look at the marvellous words of Isaiah, for instance, the beauty and the poetry ,with what appears as certitude about the ways of God, the coming promise of salvation; but were Isaiah, Joel and the rest casting their bread on the waters, giving truth their best shot, and leaving it to God to work it out?
Whatever, I share with them a number of things; waiting and wondering, and faith and hope. It's all I can do. But stumble as I do, it's proved enough for the journey thus far, knowing the truth of that promise that 'all things work together for good to them that love God'.  

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Prepared yet?

I wrote some weeks ago on preparing, and as we rush in the next sixteen days to The Big Event, I see how difficult it is, despite my best efforts to be counter-cultural/ be true to my faith/wish I were better prepared.
I can see more clearly now than some weeks ago that in daily life there is very little to prepare, compared to life in an age before mass consumerism. Then, preparation for the festivities of Christmas took time; the collect ( special prayer of the day) for one of the last Sundays before Advent begins 'Stir up O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people....' thus giving rise to its popular name 'Stir-up Sunday', which was easily seen in people's minds as a last call to get on with the business of making Christmas cakes and puddings. Preparation was needed, and preparation of heart and mind had at least a better chance of marching in step with life through Advent to the days of Christmas.
Now we go to the supermarket, or order on line, and Christmas arrives, pre-packaged. Little preparation in any physical sense is required. We assemble Christmas from the ready-made and the already gift-wrapped.
Ok, let's move this preparation, this advent mentality, somewhere interior, make it an affair of the heart and mind. Difficult, given that we are so forward-fixed in our culture on The Big Day Ahead and the perfection we expect of Christmas Day, the fantasies we invest in it. The now, the preparation of heart and mind now, seems closed off in so many ways.
But there is virtue in trying, in listening to ancient words which give foundation to all that the 25th could offer to us, if we attend to its voice, instead of devoting all attention to food, presents, drink and tv. Words of hope, words of salvation, of love, of justice, peace- words at the moment I am hearing every day in readings from the prophet Isaiah. 'Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, says your God'.
Let me dwell in that, be prepared in that.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Ancient wisdom

Firstly, apologies to all for missing the last two weeks; preparations for heading to Cyprus to lead some day-retreats cut into the time for preparing and posting a blog; and having arrived at the Diocese of Cyprus and the Gulf’s retreat house at Katifiyio, deep in the Machiaras hills southwest of Nicosia, we had no internet connection. No means therefore to post blogs. 

The Greek lady next door was most concerned to hear of Mary’s health problems, and advised fresh thyme tea, ginger root, celery, licorice, to counteract her high blood pressure, and was dismissive of modern pills.  The ancient wisdom contained in herbal remedies is widely available in the many monasteries which dot the island, all with a gift shop selling the usual higher (and lower) tat usually associated with Christian sites. (Let me say I am not dismissive of it all, but I draw the line at ‘hand-made icons’ which have obviously rolled off the production line in their thousands).

Along with all this there are rows and rows of dried flowers and herbs, all packeted up with a label bearing witness to their healing properties. In the west this wisdom is largely lost; who will remember the recipe for my grandmother’s raspberry jollop  (good for sore throats) once I am dead?

The ancient wisdom with regards to the truths of Christianity is being lost in the west too, with its headlong rush into the short term joys of the shopping religion taking over the whole of our culture. If not that, it’s a dash into the new. ‘Life in all its fulness’- a promise of Jesus- means more than ‘more’, where more is confined to material goods. What price wisdom, serenity, joy- all of which are hard to find at the bottom of a shopping bag, however recondite the label.