Author: Ann Milton

Holidays?

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black framed Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses on top of book

Holidays are here again! I can tell by the reduced traffic in the street and the summer sales in the shops. (The lateness of this blog may reflect lazy summer days too).  Summer holidays are part of the pattern of the school year and part of the dream tourist and travel businesses try to sell us.

But what do holidays mean to you and me?  It may be you cannot afford to go on holiday, or cannot find the time. If you have just arrived as a refugee you may not want to risk leaving the country in case the authorities don’t let you back. On your own you may not like the idea of travelling as a single in a holiday season that seems aimed at couples and families. Babies and children at home, or adult children and grandchildren coming to visit may make this a tense and exhausting period.

Yet the original ideas: of holy days to remember God, to have a celebration and to change the pattern of life; and of the sabbath to pause on a weekly (or other) basis so as to have a change of rhythm, these are good ideas.

So how can we draw from them? How can we make the next two months times of growth and renewal?Create whatever you have the energy and time for, here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • How do you build God into your holiday plans? Seek God in nature, use different bible study notes, or don’t use them at all but find a different way of structuring your prayer time. Walk instead of sitting, sing instead of speaking, listen instead of talking.
  • Enjoy celebrating yourself, your friends and your family (even if they are annoying at times!) Practice an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for whatever and whoever turns up.
  • Change your rhythm. London cockneys used to leave their slums and shops to work in the fields at harvest time – not a rest, but a change of pace, of air, of neighbours. What can you change? (If you cannot take your annual break in the next two months, make sure a change of pace is factored in at some point in the year.)
  • Create your own sabbath: it might not be every 7 days (try 1 minute an hour!), but make it a pause that is a holy time.

Godspace blog June 2022

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Happy Holidays?

Holidays are here again! I can tell by the reduced traffic in the street and the summer sales in the shops. (The lateness of this blog may reflect lazy summer days too). Summer holidays are part of the pattern of the school year and part of the dream tourist and travel businesses try to sell us.

But what do holidays mean to you and me? It may be you cannot afford to go on holiday, or cannot find the time. If you have just arrived as a refugee you may not want to risk leaving the country in case the authorities don’t let you back. On your own you may not like the idea of travelling as a single in a holiday season that seems aimed at couples and families. Babies and children at home, or adult children and grandchildren coming to visit may make this a tense and exhausting period.

Yet the original ideas: of holy days to remember God, to have a celebration andto change the pattern of life; and of the sabbath to pause on a weekly (or other) basis to have a change of rhythm, these are good ideas.

So how can we draw from them? How can we make the next two months times of growth and renewal? Be as creative as your time and energy allow, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • How do you build God into your holiday plans? Seek God in nature, use different bible study notes, or don’t use them at all but find a different way of structuring your prayer time. Walk instead of sitting, sing instead of speaking, listen instead of talking.
  • Enjoy celebrating yourself, your friends and your family (even if they are annoying at times!) Practice an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for whatever and whoever turns up.
  • Change your rhythm. London cockneys used to leave their slums and shops to work in the fields at harvest time – not a rest, but a change of pace, of air, of neighbours. What can you change? (If you cannot take your annual break in the next two months, make sure a change of pace is factored in at some point in the year.)
  • Create your own sabbath: it might not be every 7 days (try 1 minute an hour!), but make it a pause that is a holy time.

Holding on to God all day

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man using phone

‘I give time to God in the morning, then I go out of my bedroom and leave him there!’.

This is a heartfelt cry which I believe is often true for many of us. Sunday worship that only lifts us for Sunday, prayer in the bedroom that stays in the bedroom, even Godspace retreat days may fail to bring God into the rest of our lives!

So what do we do? I see two ways to approach this:

Firstly, consider why our prayer doesn’t have a longer lasting effect. If our prayer is not influencing our day, perhaps it needs overhauling. Consider  the point of your prayer. Is it to persuade God to achieve certain things on our behalf this day? To try and change the odds in a universe which feels stacked against us? Surely not.

I suggest we need to pray in the morning to assert our unity with God, to allow God’s presence to be the reality of our day. We pray to be drawn into relationship with the Trinity, to be open to discovering the holy and sacred in every aspect of our lives this day. We open ourselves to become more holy, a fit temple for the Holy Spirit. (if you don’t like the last paragraph, that is fine but try redrafting it in your own language; why do you think you pray?)  

Do our prayers involve aspects of the day, envisaging situations that will or may arrive and considering God in them? Do we intercede only for those we feel we ought to or also for those we will encounter?  If you are used to doing imaginative contemplation of Scripture, you might try imagining the day that is to come (‘the scripture of your life’), looking out for where God might ‘play a role’ in this day?

Secondly: find ways of taking your prayer time into the day.

a) Praying the examen in the midst of the day is a discreet and long-tried way of involving God in the day http://reimaginingexamen.ignatianspirituality.com/ offers various versions of the examen both as a book and as an app.

b) payg (pray as you go) is an app specifically designed for prayer on your commute to work – every-one has their phone on, why not you? https://pray-as-you-go.org/ (there are many other similar apps, find one that suits you)

c) Use prayer triggers (these might seem gimmicky, but if they help you to think about God, what is wrong with gimmicks!) such as getting in the habit of remembering God as you go through a doorway, or on a staircase (liminal spaces that cry out to be occupied by the Holy One). In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a prayer scroll is fixed to the doorpost of homes to fulfill the Biblical commandment to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9), but also as a sign and reminder of the Covenant, of our love and commitment and our willingness to create a believing household . How could you echo this practice in your daily life?

d) practice what is commonly known as ‘the prayer of the heart’. See elsewhere on this site for the ‘Jesus prayer’. Gradually extend it so that your heart is praying all day long, prayer becomes the background to all you do. It sounds hard but is not, it just needs a lot of time to develop the habit.(The classic resource for this is Brother Lawrence, Practicing the presence of God’).

e) Carry a holding cross, bookmark or prayer beads that has been with you while you prayed; slip it into your pocket and finger it throughout the day, let it take you back to the feeling when you were praying.

f) use your phone wisely, what helps you as a picture, text or jingle; what other reminders can you build into the phone? Use the alarm on your phone to remind you to pray the Lord’s prayer once every two hours (or whatever works!).

g) let your morning prayer give you ideas of where to look for God in the day, eg if you have prayed for those on the street, each time you pass a beggar think ‘could that be Christ?’

h) find Christian friends with the same concern; form a prayer triplet on WhatsApp to pray for each other and to remind each other to pray. Another way to look at this is that perhaps your prayer is touching the day more than you expected, it is influencing what happens and how you respond more than you realise: ponder what your day would have been like if you hadn’t prayed! Giving thanks for God’s presence in your day (even when you haven’t been able to feel it) may be more helpful than living with the self-induced guilt that you have not let him be present.

God is with us

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As we leave Christmas and move towards Easter, do you wonder what happened between Jesus being an exciting baby and his becoming a fully fledged itinerant preacher, teacher and healer?
The Gospels tend to pass over the roughly 30 years that Jesus spent in Nazareth. This does not mean we should ignore this period (90% of the time God spent as incarnate) what was it for?

What can we find out from the Gospels?
Matthew tells of the decision taken by Joseph, after the return from Egypt, to make Nazareth the Holy Family’s permanent home (cf. Matthew 2:22-23), but then gives no further information except that Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55).

Luke twice mentions the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth (cf. Luke 2:39,51) and gives two brief references to the years of Jesus’ childhood: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40), and “Jesus increased in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). He also details the episode of the ‘child’ Jesus staying in the Temple in Jerusalem. After the baptism and the Temptation Jesus returns to Nazareth to make a ‘mission statement’ ch4 vv16-30.

Mark and John make no mention of the birth or the childhood, beginning (after John’s prologue) with John the Baptist.

So we know that Christ spent most of his life, including his childhood, teenage years and twenties, in the small provincial town of Nazareth (Luke 4:16). Nazareth was in Galilee, far from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Many thought that the Messiah could not possibly come from somewhere like that (John 1:45-46).

This is why it’s significant that Christ was popularly known as “Jesus of Nazareth”. Despite his miracle-working, he was still thought of as a country boy. After his resurrection, Christ himself owned that identity, telling St Paul: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, who you are persecuting.” (Acts 22:8)

The gospels tells that in Nazareth, Christ was known as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:1-3) or “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55). This suggests that he learned his trade from Joseph. This detail has inspired a long artistic tradition of picturing the Child Jesus in the workshop of Joseph.

So what was Jesus doing all that time? Was it irrelevant, a background to his growing up until he was ready for his special mission? Was it training, education and practice? Or was the incarnate God being ‘with us’, teaching us something of value as he shared people’s lives? Could it be that we focus so much on Christ’s ministry of doing something (very precious and special) for us, that we also seek to imitate that ‘doing for’ and forget to imitate his ‘being with’?

What was Jesus’ calling and when did it begin? What is our calling and when does it begin? Do we get frustrated by the years God holds us back? Do I assume that my calling will involve a lot of rushing around, saving, teaching, healing people? Or could it be that there is a value to God ‘simply’ being with those same people, the shop assistant, the co-worker, the children, homegroup members?

It can be very hard to stop rushing around doing things for people, identifying them by a list of problems I might be able to solve (the homeless, the lonely) and instead to simply be with them, to value them as individuals who God has made and placed in my life. Yet this is what Heaven will be like, when there are no more problems to solve, just people to be with. So perhaps it is time to start practicing?
(If you would like to pursue the idea of “being with”, it is taken from the sermons, books and talks of rev Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin’s in London, also his colleague rev Richard Carter,’ The City is my Monastery’).

Imaginative meditation: Jacob waits for God’s blessing (Genesis 32:22-31)

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two men doing karate

Allow 30 minutes

For those of you who missed our retreat afternoon, here is a version of the meditation on Jacob wrestling with God:

The run up to Christmas should be about learning to wait until the incarnation. As a change from looking at nativity stories we are looking at an Old Testament story, which is about waiting, a very active waiting that doesn’t involve babies, but does involve God. It may be a story that you know well but have not thought off in terms of waiting, be open to that possibility.

(Please read the passage thoughtfully)

Let us recall the story of Jacob. He and his elder brother Esau were the children of Isaac. Esau as the eldest should have had his father’s blessing, but Jacob got it by trickery.(To receive the right blessing is a key concept in Jacob’s story, look out for the idea of a blessing).  Esau, not surprisingly hated Jacob for this. Isaac sent Jacob away, ostensibly to get a wife from another part of their tribe, from his relation Laban, yet probably also to get him away from the wrath of his brother. On the way Jacob had the dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and dedicated himself and that place to God. Once with Laban he waited for 7 years to get Rachel as his wife, only to find he had ‘married’ Leah by trickery, so he also married Rachel and served another 7 years for her. Finally Jacob fell out with Laban, and God called Jacob to return. Jacob is returning to the land controlled by his brother Esau so of course he is full of fear. Jacob sends gifts to his brother to sweeten him and also to show that he (Jacob) has wealth. So we come in time to our story.

But before looking at Jacob’s encounter at the ford it is also worth looking at what happened afterwards. Jacob and his brother meet, and are very polite, but they never use each other’s names and they settle apart from each other. Further on of course there will be the story of the strife between Joseph and his brothers, all children of Jacob. So Jacob’s life, both before and after this encounter,  is always filled with strife. The encounter with God at the ford, all that waiting, has not changed the circumstances. Getting a name from God does not free Jacob to use his name, nor his brother’s name.

So back to our story.  Whilst fleeing Esau on his way to Laban, Jacob had encountered God in a dream, at night. Now as he flees Laban and waits in fear to try to make peace with Esau, he again encounters God (at night, the third reference to night in this chapter. Look out for references in the story that refer to the ending of night). Not on a mountain top, but alone and in the dark, Jacob wrestles with a being described variously as a man or an angel, yet ultimately recognised by Jacob as God. But to reach that point, Jacob has had to wrestle ( to wait whilst he wrestled) all night long. I do not know what word is used for wrestle here, or what it might imply, but to me it speaks of getting close, gripping, interacting with. Painters such as Chagall show Jacob pulling with one hand and pushing with the other, a for and against relationship with God we might identify with. Jacob does not emerge refreshed and at peace as we might expect after a period of waiting on God, but marked by a permanent limp. His encounter with God has scarred him. He is given a new name, a new identity with God.

Does anything from what I have said resonate with the way you wait? Have you asked God for a blessing and now you wrestle with him as you wait for him to give it? Do you feel the idea of wrestling sits uncomfortably with your ‘churchmanship’, that you feel you ‘ought’ to be more patient, more well-behaved? Do you think Jacob recognised the new name as the blessing he had been waiting all the night for or did he keep hoping for something else? Before Jacob could receive a blessing he needed to know who he had been and to accept his future calling as Israel. What do we need to work though, or to find out, before we can be ready for God to bless us? Have you waited in the past and resented the ‘limp’ that you were left with?

Now read the passage again and let God speak to you.

Imaginative prayer for a friend

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Ann Milton Oct 2021

Moved by the need of a friend we cry out to God for help. And that is good and lovely and pleasing to God. But how do we go about it? Do you find it hard?

One reason we may find this prayer hard is that we cannot rely on words; if we do not know the solution God is working towards we cannot weave helpful phrases. Try instead this imaginative exercise – this is just as much a prayer as an impassioned string of words. Move slowly through it, taking time to see, hear and smell events, and to listen for wisdom.

  • Read Mark ch 2: 1-12, the story of the paralytic man being lowered through the roof to Jesus. Just like you, those who carried the man wanted to bring their friend to Jesus.
  • There is a first scene, not recorded in the gospel but that must have taken place. At the man’s house, his friends must have got him out of bed and on to a stretcher. Imagine going to your friend, suggesting prayer as a way of meeting his or her need. Perhaps they are apathetic, uninterested. Perhaps others around them suggest it is wrong to get up their hopes in this way, better to leave them in peace. How do you feel?
  • You cannot lift the stretcher alone, who is going to help you? Perhaps you have praying friends that you automatically turn to. Or there may be others who also care about your friend who you do not really know, but this is a time to accept their help. Or perhaps you simply have to trust God; that as you do what you can, He will stir others to add their support, unseen by you.
  • Take time to experience the journey to Jesus, to acknowledge the weight of the stretcher. It is hard getting the stretcher to the roof – are there times when you feel like giving up?
  • What happens as you lower him? Do you try calling out to Jesus, explaining the situation? Does Jesus look at you or does He focus on the needy person? How does that make you feel -perhaps a bit upset at not being involved? Had you been hoping that Jesus would acknowledge your hard work?
  • When Jesus speaks to her or him, does He say what you expect Him to say or do you feel He has missed the need as you understand it? The scripture recounts two different but related healings from Jesus for this man, what two separate blessings might he give to your friend?
  • What is the outcome – for your friend, for you for the crowd/community?

It may be helpful to use this prayer again and again, on your own or with others who want to support your friend (or of course you can adapt it for your nation, church, even yourself). As you get to know the story and to create a background, it will become easier to hear what Jesus is saying. As you stay with this story, both as written in Scripture and as you adapt it to your need, you can also adapt the above prayer outline to your situation (eg include the crowd, the difficulty getting to Jesus).

Then go on to find other passages in Scripture you can use in the same way.

Imaginative prayer for a friend

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two men clapping each other on shore

Moved by the need of a friend we cry out to God for help. And that is good and lovely and pleasing to God. But how do we go about it? Do you find it hard?

One reason we may find this prayer hard is that we cannot rely on words; if we do not know the solution God is working towards we cannot weave helpful phrases. Try instead this imaginative exercise – this is just as much a prayer as an impassioned string of words. Move slowly through it, taking time to see, hear and smell events, and to listen for wisdom.

  • Read Mark ch 2: 1-12, the story of the paralytic man being lowered through the roof to Jesus. Just like you, those who carried the man wanted to bring their friend to Jesus.
  • There is a first scene, not recorded in the gospel but that must have taken place. At the man’s house, his friends must have got him out of bed and on to a stretcher. Imagine going to your friend, suggesting prayer as a way of meeting his or her need. Perhaps they are apathetic, uninterested. Perhaps others around them suggest it is wrong to get up their hopes in this way, better to leave them in peace. How do you feel?
  • You cannot lift the stretcher alone, who is going to help you? Perhaps you have praying friends that you automatically turn to. Or there may be others who also care about your friend who you do not really know, but this is a time to accept their help. Or perhaps you simply have to trust God; that as you do what you can, He will stir others to add their support, unseen by you.
  • Take time to experience the journey to Jesus, to acknowledge the weight of the stretcher. It is hard getting the stretcher to the roof – are there times when you feel like giving up?
  • What happens as you lower him? Do you try calling out to Jesus, explaining the situation? Does Jesus look at you or does He focus on the needy person? How does that make you feel -perhaps a bit upset at not being involved? Had you been hoping that Jesus would acknowledge your hard work?
  • When Jesus speaks to her or him, does He say what you expect Him to say or do you feel He has missed the need as you understand it? The scripture recounts two different but related healings from Jesus for this man, what two separate blessings might he give to your friend?
  • What is the outcome – for your friend, for you for the crowd/community?

It may be helpful to use this prayer again and again, on your own or with others who want to support your friend (or of course you can adapt it for your nation, church, even yourself). As you get to know the story and to create a background, it will become easier to hear what Jesus is saying. As you stay with this story, both as written in Scripture and as you adapt it to your need, you can also adapt the above prayer outline to your situation (eg include the crowd, the difficulty getting to Jesus).

Then go on to find other passages in Scripture you can use in the same way.

psalm 116

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Draw aside – return refreshed

Psalm 116 The Message (paraphrase by Eugene Peterson)

1-6 I love God because he listened to me,
listened as I begged for mercy.
He listened so intently
as I laid out my case before him.
Death stared me in the face,
hell was hard on my heels.
Up against it, I didn’t know which way to turn;
then I called out to God for help:
“Please, God!” I cried out.
“Save my life!”
God is gracious—it is he who makes things right,
our most compassionate God.
God takes the side of the helpless;
when I was at the end of my rope, he saved me. 7-8 I said to myself, “Relax and rest.
God has showered you with blessings.
Soul, you’ve been rescued from death;
Eye, you’ve been rescued from tears;
And you, Foot, were kept from stumbling.” 9-11 I’m striding in the presence of God,
alive in the land of the living!
I stayed faithful, though overwhelmed,
and despite a ton of bad luck,
Despite giving up on the human race,
saying, “They’re all liars and cheats.”
12-19 What can I give back to God
for the blessings he’s poured out on me?
I’ll lift high the cup of salvation—a toast to God!
I’ll pray in the name of God;
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it together with his people.
When they arrive at the gates of death,
God welcomes those who love him.
Oh, God, here I am, your servant,
your faithful servant: set me free for your service!
I’m ready to offer the thanksgiving sacrifice
and pray in the name of God.
I’ll complete what I promised God I’d do,
and I’ll do it in company with his people,
In the place of worship, in God’s house,
in Jerusalem, God’s city.
Hallelujah!

lectio psalm 116 prompts

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Draw aside – return refreshed

Godspace retreat 2021

Prompts for a response to psalm 116

You have around 30 minutes today to respond to the psalm in whatever way you like – draw, write, compose, be still, take a photo…. I hope you will take the psalm home with you and want to come back to it and respond with more time at your disposal. Use this room, the chapel, the oratory, the garden. Here are some suggestions that may help you, today or on another occasion;

  1. Go back to the lectio divina, what words or ideas stood out in the text for you? Honour God who has brought those words and ideas to your attention by exploring them further.
  2. This psalm has, to my way of reading it, 3 time periods:  the psalmist looks back to the past (vv1-5), he roots himself in the present (vv6-11) he looks to the future (vv12-19). Can you see your life with the same three perspectives, and ‘write’ about them?
  3. In particular this afternoon we are looking to the future, what is God calling you to do as we get on with our lives under Covid, or emerge from Covid? Rewrite verses 12-19 to express the (perhaps vague) future God is calling you to.
  4. This psalm is very personal, yet twice in the last section the psalmist refers to doing things in the company of God’s people. Has the isolation of the last 18 months left you comfortable with your own company or eager to be back with others? Perhaps your answer is a ‘both and’ rather than an ‘either or’. Try writing a list of the things you want to do for God as verbs, and for each try using ‘I’ and then using ‘we’ (eg: I will pray, we will pray together): which feels more true for you, or preferable?
  5. Peterson (the author of the Message translation) writes ‘The psalms in Hebrew are earthy and rough. They are not genteel…only as we develop raw honesty in our praying do we become whole’. So don’t be daunted, tell God how you feel.
  6. If you find this psalm does not stimulate you, you may like to try reading it in another version. Psalms are poetry and poetry is enormously difficult to translate, so comparing words and verb tenses may help you to draw out a response.

God and the end of lockdown

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man in gray hoodie using laptop computer

Does this seem an odd place to talk about something so pragmatic as how we deal with the end of lockdown? On the contrary, if a desert bush could burn with God’s fire for Moses, so we may find this time of (partial) deconfinement filled with God’s holiness. It is up to us.

We can react as circumstances change. That is probably what most of us have been doing, unable to predict or to prepare for the next stage. Or we can pray and reflect so that we are ready to respond as God’s people to each change that comes our way.

So here are some questions and issues to pray about and to reflect on so as to help our thoughts:

  • What will I miss from lockdown? It is very normal to feel it as a difficult time, but if we turn it round and consider what advantages it has brought (quiet, family, time to pray, relaxation etc) we might be more prepared for the loss of those things.
  • Do I want to keep any of those things going? Do I have a confinement gift or skill (listening to others, writing a diary) that I desire to build into my next stage of life?
  • How has lockdown left me (and those around me)  feeling? I may be full of energy and enthusiasm after a time of gathering my energy, more likely I have experienced fear, grief, exhaustion and a (temporary) difficulty with finding the right words. Can I be gentle with myself and others as we return to what we consider normal?
  • How have I changed this year and how will I help others to be aware of it? We all change all the time anyway and it can be difficult to make other people aware that we feel differently on some issues, or respond differently from how we did a year ago. Even more after this unusual time. (And the reverse, will I be on the lookout for changes in others?)
  • Do I want to return to everything as it was or do I want somethings to be different (in church, office, education etc)? What effort am I willing to make either way and how will I interact with people who feel differently?
  • Do I want to use this opportunity for a new start, to explore a new path? Does it coincide with a time in my life when I want to turn over a new page? I might want to find someone (clergy, spiritual companion/director, friend) who can help me start again. (The image I have been pondering recently is from Philip Larkin’s poem ‘The Trees’; the trees grow older yet each year they grow fresh leaves).
  • What if another lockdown comes? Are my expectations realistic? Do I know what I want to do before that happens? Would I handle it the same way?
  • Do I need to build bridges – is there a friend I’ve lost touch with, someone I’ve disagreed with or grown away from?
  • What changes will this make in the rhythm of my spiritual life – regular prayer, pleasing solitude, working out my own salvation without reference to others?
  • How will I look for God in the new patterns of life? Will I notice if I am inclined to spot God’s presence less? Will the change to my pattern of life make me more or less open to awareness of God?