Category: Blog

Sonja, Bess and Ann will take it in turns on a monthly basis to add their own thoughts here

God and the end of lockdown

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?

teasing out the blockages

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What wonderful words Sonja wrote last month! So encouraging and so true! Yet I wonder how many of us read them with hesitation: ‘this can’t apply to me’ ‘I just need to sort my life out and then God will love me’?

So I want to explore the things that come between us and God. I’m not an expert, there are plenty of good books. If you need help in this area please don’t keep it to yourself but reach out, to a minister, a spiritual companion/director, a friend.

Often we feel there is a burden but we don’t know what words to apply to it so as to sort it out, so here are some questions (and the vocabulary) I find helpful for ‘teasing apart’ my blockages:

  1. ‘against you only have I sinned’ ps51:4  We might find David’s approach to murder and rape shocking, but can we differentiate the wrong we do to humans for which we need to say sorry and perhaps make reparation, and the sin against God (which is so often our failure to recognise the image of God in people)?
  2. Shame and guilt: you might use different words but I think you will understand this distinction. Every society (including church!) needs rules to help people get on with each other and a system of punishing or at least shaming those who don’t fit in. We feel shame for many things; our sexuality, failure to control our children, holding a different view from the norm. Guilt (in my vocabulary) is about the things we do that are wrong in an ultimate sense, that offend against the interior voice of conscience, the voice of God. Often we confuse them; we feel guilt before God because we are ashamed before people. We fail to obey God because we are worried how others will judge us.
  3. Sin and failing, or to put it more simply, being naughty and being imperfect. We all have character traits, inborn or learnt as a child, that may hinder our ability to love and serve God but that cannot/should not be regarded as sin. How do we ask God to help us grow in love, courage, vulnerability or whatever we lack, without implying that it is a sin to be less than perfect?
  4. There are many ideas of sin in the Bible; One clear distinction is between the breaking of a law as outlined in the books of Law (the first five books), and turning away from God, as is persistently referred to by the prophets who called for God’s people to return to Him, a teaching Jesus seemed to address in the parable of the prodigal son. The cures for different kinds of sin are also varied, from paying for a sacrifice to making our way back.
  5. Do you fear that God has only one really good plan for you, that once plan A has failed (because of your own fault!) plan B will not be as good? Consider Gen 50:20, when Joseph is speaking of the way his brothers had hurt him: ‘ You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.’ Even situations which seem to be marred by sin can work to his glory if we work with Him.

Finally, it can be very difficult to own up to things that are wrong, that we would rather sweep under the carpet. I am encouraged by a friend’s saying: if you look a sin in the eye it can’t stab you in the back!

God’s acceptance of us

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“Grace is God’s acceptance of us. Faith is our acceptance of God accepting us.”

Adrian Rogers

I friend just sent me a message “know that you are loved’!  It is so nice to hear these words especially if they are sincere words. During Corona it can be easy to feel unloved, isolated, lonely, overwhelmed, insecure, inadequate, scared and even hopeless.  Maybe you have recently felt rejected, ignored or judged by a close friend, family member or colleague.  

God created us with many needs: basic needs like air and water and emotional needs of being loved, affirmed, comforted…  Our deepest need, whether felt or not, is to be accepted.  And not just by anyone.  But to be accepted by God.

Most of us spend our entire lives trying to earn acceptance. We want to yearn for it from our parents, peers, partners in life, people we respect, and even people we envy. 

God, by His grace, affirms and accepts us completely! He welcomes us with all our insecurities. Acceptance is God’s gift to us. Our acceptance was guaranteed at the point of Jesus dying for us. Jesus is the reason God accepts us unconditionally. We cannot earn God’s acceptance. We cannot merit it by our behavior or performance. 

“Even if my mother and father abandon me, the Lord will take care of me” (Psalm 27:10 GW). He will never forget about or abandon us! He will never run out of mercy!  He will never change! We are in a time of huge changes. It is so good to know that He is the stable rock on which we stand. 

Knowing we are accepted by God is the best way to draw closer to Him, to know we are accepted and much loved! Anything we could ever have been accused of is nailed to the cross! He is not judging us! 

We must choose what we believe: what others say about and to us, or what Jesus says about and to us. He loves us unconditionally and accepts us as we are.  

Every day, all through the day, we are invited to receive His acceptance.

I recently experienced rejection from friends I trusted and was reminded of Jesus being betrayed by Judas. He still washed his feet knowing what Judas was going to do. We will experience people not accepting us. We cannot be and are not defined by other people’s negativity or rejection of us. 

How would my life be different if I would be able to totally embrace and internalize this truth? I need to practice this truth! I am invited to see myself in Him as myself as God’s beloved! 

When we are accepted by God, and we understand this in our souls, our life changes.  We find contentment, joy, and peace.  We find life.

The gentle art of receiving a gift – a practice for Lent?

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white gift box beside green leafed plant

This Lent, a couple of members of Godspace are participating in the online Lenten retreat Knowing Jesus organised by the Ignatian Centre for Spirituality (ICS), Glasgow, UK.

A couple of weeks ago, Ann and I were talking about our (then) forthcoming involvement.  One of the features of the retreat is a daily email containing, among other things, a painting on which to reflect.  I mentioned to Ann that I wasn’t an artist myself, had little knowledge of drawing and painting and had never really meditated on a painting before.  “I suppose it is a skill I could learn” was how I expressed it.  She replied, “Or, perhaps it is a gift you could receive”.

Her answer made me think and resulted in my daily practice during Lent (so far!) of sitting before the emailed picture and, first of all, remembering that it is the artist’s gift to me and to the wider world.  Before I think about its “message”, the colours and other aspects of composition, and whether I “like” it or not, it is a gift.  My first response is to be thankful and then, decide, like any gift, how I am going to receive it, enjoy looking at it and/or use it.

I don’t normally think about receiving a gift when I contemplate a pattern of behaviour for Lent but it strikes me as a useful idea.  In the last few days, gifts have popped up all over the place – a compliment paid, a walk with a friend in the context of our restricted lives, an unexpected turn in the weather….. and, of course, the ICS Lent material itself which specifically reminds me  to ask for a gift each day, the desire of my heart at that particular moment.

And so, I am practising in my own way.   I think of the painting as if it were a wrapped Christmas present under the tree waiting to be opened, explored and enjoyed.  I click on the picture with anticipation.  What is in it?  What does it say about the love, character and knowledge of the giver?  I take time to  “open” the painting and to be thankful for it. I look, with my amateur’s eye, at colour and composition; I try to identify the symbols used; I particularly notice the people, their position and mood, their relationships to one another – is there someone with whom I particularly identify?; the artist’s gestures of humour or odd detail.  Above all, I try and think about what God is saying to me through this gift – about me, my life, Jesus.

It is a different practice, gently receiving a daily painting, to my more usual one of giving something up or establishing an extra routine which is “good for me”.  But I think it is a helpful one in this particular moment of restriction and (necessary) control of so many aspects of our lives.  And, for me,  it provides a basis for newly encountering the ultimate gift of God to us expressed in the Good-Friday to Easter Sunday weekend that lies ahead.

Enjoy opening your own gifts today…..

The Garden

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purple flowers near brown wooden house

For the New Year I’ve been musing on an ancient image, a garden as analogy for my soul. You might also find it a helpful way to explore your soul/spirit/sub-concious/secret identity.

Gardens are not common in the Bible but they certainly existed, from God planting the first one in Gen 2:8. The garden as an analogy of the soul comes with the Prophets: for example Isaiah takes the garden as an illustration of a bad life in ch1:30, Jeremiah uses it for a good life in ch 31:12.

So if you accept the value of the analogy, what might we find in a garden that helps us to explore our soul?

  • Fence, boundary, markers. If we know the limits, we can see what we are working with. Beware the old english ‘haha’, which allows it to look as though your land runs for miles, yet will trick you into falling into a ditch.
  • Structure. Do I use brick walls to shelter and warm my fruit trees? Do I have a strong trellis for my roses? I can think that plants are what matters in the garden, but they require an infrastructure and it will be to my benefit if the wood and stonework is strong, stable and attractive.
  • A plan, what do I want to grow, what does God (the ‘head gardener’) want or encourage me to grow? Beautiful flowers, rich fruit, ugly but nutritious turnips?
  • Outside my garden: I love to think of this as my private space, but it will only flourish if I share it. Who do I trust to give me good gardening advice? Where do I find seeds? Are the fences low enough so that my neighbours can look in and enjoy my plants?
  • Weather: my garden is not entirely within my control. So have I planted it with consideration for the seasons, climate change, day and night? Will I feel comfortable in my garden in the winter, the rain, the dark?
  • Water is essential to a garden and we have plenty of stories about it in the Old and New Testaments. Do I have a river, fountain or well? Is there a damp patch that never dries up in one corner and another that is always too dry?
  • Inevitably there are stones, and areas of poor soil (perhaps reflecting the things that have gone wrong in my life so far). Are some of them be redeemed (the best vines grow on rocky soil) or are there some things I need to clear from my garden?
  • How much work am I planning to do in my garden? If I am busy with other interests and responsibilities, perhaps this is a good time to keep things simple. Yet even if I have a lot of time to give to it, sometimes plants need to be left to grow, the right season needs to be waited for, the warmth of God’s sun can achieve more than the labours of my spade.

There are many other parallels between the garden and the soul, these are just a few for starters. These images can be explored in words or pictures. Do let me know your thoughts.