Category: Blog

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

“abide with me”

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For those of us brought up on earlier English translations of the Bible, ‘abide’ is a favourite word. It is related to the idea of a living place ‘abode’. It comes throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament. Depending on the translation you use, you may know it as ‘continue in’, ‘remain’, ‘stay’ or even ‘hang in there’, stick it out’. But none of these capture quite that idea of ‘dwelling with’ (if you use the Bible in a different language you may like to consider the word you have and its implications).

It comes in the Old Testament, particularly in the Psalms:

He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  (psalm 91 v1), or

Those who trust in the Lord
Are like Mount Zion,
Which cannot be moved, but abides forever. (Psalm 125 v1)

2 John 9 calls on us to abide in Christ. It sounds very nice, we make our home in Christ, but does that contain a danger that we become too passive? All the translations of this lovely notion could fall into the trap of promoting passivity. Our generation can be very energetic about wanting to make the future better and reject a Christianity which seems to be telling them to accept what comes their way. I think that is a false teaching and I don’t see a contradiction. Christ is our home, in the past, the present and the future. We have the option of abiding in him always, regardless of how much circumstances may change, or may need to change.

There is another dimension to this wonderful word. John 15v4 quotes Jesus as saying:

‘Abide in me, as I abide in you’ and Jesus goes on to describe the relationship between himself and his disciples as like that between a vine and its branches.

So not only are we called to live in him, but he lives in us, all the time, come what may. The famous song, beloved of football fans, ‘Abide with me’, seems to me the purest prayer – we cannot tell God what he ‘ought’ to do, we may not know our real needs, but whatever is happening, may we abide in him, and he in us.

Waiting on God

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We are always waiting. Waiting for a bus to come, waiting for our spouse or kids to come home, waiting for good or bad news…

Most of us do not like to wait for waiting is associated with frustration, impatience boredom, anger and fear. We do not like to be dependent on others. We like to be in control, to know what is going to happen. 

We are living in very uncertain times. We are waiting for Covid to disappear and for the Ukraine war to stop. We experience feelings of powerlessness. 

What does the Bible say about waiting? It tells me how I can actively with God’s help. 

Jesus was waiting for years. He lived in dangerous times with lots of uncertainty as well. 

He waited with no sense of diminishment or loss of dignity 

For Jesus, the period before His active ministry was for Jesus a time of active waiting. He was dependent on His parents. He moved around freely. He was waiting for His Father’s timing to release Him into His ministry. 

There are different ways of waiting. There is the anxious, resigned form of waiting which brings with it a form of powerlessness. There is a waiting filled with dread and hopelessness. There is the eager waiting for new life, answered prayers, breakthroughs.

I find it very important to wait for God’s timing. I do realize the challenge of staying close to God every day and of discerning and listening to the voice of God. Once I heard from God I face the challenge of obeying him. Sometimes this can mean saying no to things that seem to be good, logical and rewarding. I may not always understand what God is telling me to do or not to do!

There is no wasted time when we wait with God and for His timing. Timing is everything!

God reveals His plans for our life one step at a time. He sees the big picture; He knows why we need to experience this season of waiting but we are limited in what we see and how we interpret what is happening. He is often preparing things and people for us that are not yet available. Can I trust that God is at working in this time of waiting? 

I acknowledge His Lordship when I wait on Him. 

While I am waiting, God is working. Don’t think that a season of waiting means that God has stopped working. He’s just taking you through that season because He’s using the time to work in your circumstances for your good.

God is never in a hurry. He’s eternal! He is watching. He is working. He is seeing how and when you will trust Him as you’re waiting. You’re saying, “When, Lord? When is it going to happen?” And God’s saying, “You can trust Me with this.”

  • What have you been waiting for God to do in your life? What has been your response to the season of waiting?
  • How have you seen God work in your life when you have had to trust His timing and not your own?
  • What can you do to slow things down in your life so that you learn patience and trust and learn to discern His voice

Bible verses about waiting

Psalm 27:14 

“Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” 

Isaiah 40:31

“But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” (ESV)

Psalm 130:5-6

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.” (ESV)

Exodus 14:14

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (NIV)

Psalm 31:15

My times are in Your hand; Deliver me from the hand of my enemies and from those who persecute me.

Sonja Stark

Silence

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white feather on body of water in shallow focus

“Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm.”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Whether for 10 minutes or 48 hours, many of the spiritual activities that Godspace promotes call for silence. Very few of us are called to perpetual silence, but, as Thomas Merton points out it is enriching to alternate silence and sound. Yet what is silence for and how do we achieve it? Recently 16 of us went on a 48 hour silent retreat and I was forced to tackle these questions. I’m not yet sure of the answers, (and I am not sure that in all situations the same kind of silence is called for, nor that it need be the same for each of us).  I would like to share my thoughts so far with you, and perhaps you will use the feedback below to share what you are learning.

What is silence for? I ask because in general it helps in life if we know why we are trying to achieve something. Loosely speaking it is to be better able to listen to God and myself, but can we break that down?

  1. I need to focus so as to listen to God (or as Habbakuk ch 2 puts it, watch for God), putting aside other distractions, however important they may be. By practicing silence when I can, I am more able to silence myself when I need to. (We used psalm 131 on the retreat to help us focus).
  2. Letting my inner self be heard (how often I don’t actually know what I am feeling inside, because I do not take time to listen!).
  3. Speech always distorts the truth, particularly about God, because it bundles God into words and ideas that I have pre-conceived ideas about. To encounter God, I need to be free from verbalised ‘truths’ about God.
  4. As one who loves to speak, coming out of silence makes me more willing to consider the words I should use, the value of the things I wanted to say, the need of someone else to hear those things.
  5. Silence strips away many of the props I lean on and causes me to find what I really believe.
  6.  Silence also helps me to learn about others. I often limit my understanding of people to the words we have shared, I can also learn about them from their posture, expression, silence.
  1. How to achieve silence?
  2. Silence may be practised both alone or in community, but I believe there is a particular value in sharing silence. Silence is different from solitude (in itself sometimes a good discipline).  I am very bad at self-discipline so I am grateful to those who help me to explore silence.
  3. What about text messages? Just because they are not heard, they are still communicating, making ‘head noise’. They need thinking about, both to read and to write, so distracting me from God. Yet in a community setting they do have the advantage of only disturbing me and the recipient, if we really need to communicate.
  4. Is listening breaking my silence or is it similar to reading? Does it matter if I am listening to music or to the spoken word? Even reading/listening to a reading of the Bible can dull my ability to hear God, act as a defence I use against letting God in.
  5. For some of us on the retreat, it was not the silence that was most difficult but the unstructured time it created. How many unnecessary things I do all day to hide the wealth of time available to me!
  6. The part of speech that is distracting is the way it is egotistical; focusing on what I want to say, or on my way of saying it. Therefore joining in eg the words of a hymn or a community reading of a psalm is not destructive of the silence, even if in a legalistic sense it ‘breaks’ the period of silence.

Conclusion

A period covenanted to God as silence has its own value, regardless of the benefit of the silence. Too rarely do I make a promise to God to follow a particular course of action for a length of time. It takes energy and a clear decision to lay aside the things I want to talk about, worry about, deal with. This is a gift I can give to God.

Jesus – The Good Shepherd

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The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one that resonates with many people, invoking thoughts of divine care, protection and guidance.

In the last few weeks I spent some time exploring the theme of the good shepherd and I was deeply touched by what I discovered.

What makes Jesus the good shepherd

He protects 
A shepherd tended his flock day and night. He would gather the sheep into a sheepfold at night for their protection. The sheepfold was a pen, a cave, or an area backed by stone walls. Since there were no doors, the shepherd would often sleep or sit in the opening, ready to guard his sheep from harm. 

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28 When  Iplace myself under the care of Jesus our life may not be perfect but we are safe with him.

He guides
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”       Ps 23:3

Jesus shows us a better way to live.  When we follow him, he is glorified.
His followers (sheep) rely on Jesus (shepherd) to keep them safe and to lead them throughout life.

His closeness with the individual sheep is clear in vs. 3 when it says he calls them by name. Wow – He calls me by name!!  I know His voice. Jesus seeks me out when I am lost. Jesus places me tenderly on His shoulders. Jesus invites me back to the flock when I go astray. Jesus guides me gently to where is best for me. These realities calm my fears, especially in a time of great uncertainty.

He nurtures us and knows us fully
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11

What a beautiful image, full of loving care and gentleness.
in John 10, is SAYS that the good shepherd is personally, if not intimately involved with all his sheep. 

In other words, Jesus knows the deepest, most wicked, and shameful parts of us and loves us deeply enough to still lay down His life for us. Jesus already knows the depths of our soul, our greatest fears, and grandest dreams. 

He lays down his life
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 
John 10:11

Jesus showed his love for us by leaving heaven, entering humanity, living a perfect life, and paying the price for our sins by dying on the cross.  He rose again, ascended to heaven to be with his Father, and intercedes on our behalf so that we can enter into relationship with God. Jesus rescued us and lay down his life for us, his sheep. 

He gathers the sheep

Jesus not only gathers each of us as individuals, He gathers us together as a flock. He comes to give us life together. He not only relates to each of us personally, He is also in the midst of us, uniting us as one, bringing us together, and leading us forward together. 

Sheep need to be part of a fold within the flock. For sheep, a “herd-mentality” is a good thing because there is nothing more threatening to its welfare than isolation. Sheep are highly vulnerable and defenseless, so isolation makes them easy targets for predators. 

I believe this is a very important truth. As we are waiting to see how Corona influences long-term our society, families and culture, one thing has become obvious. Many Christians are more reluctant to attend a church on a regular basis. The enemy found a way to weaken our faith and pull us away from God, the source of life.

We are called to live in the context of the local church, in community with other believers because independence and self-sufficiency make us highly irrational and extremely vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. God designed us to depend on one another for strength and guidance and wisdom, as we corporately depend on our Good Shepherd. 

Questions to reflect on

  • Who is my shepherd? Does my shepherd care for me like this? 
  • Which qualities of the good shepherd have I experienced most in my life (give examples)?
  • Which qualities would I like to discover in my relationship with the good shepherd? How can I perceive my circumstances in light of these qualities?
  • How would my life be different if I would really believe that He is the good shepherd?

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.

Prayer – a varied landscape

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Our lovely Bernese Mountain Dog has something wrong with her paw!  It’s nothing serious but she is limping a little, and daily walks are confined to half-hour jaunts right now.  But even in her present difficulties, we can open our front door and explore surprisingly varied countryside for 30 minutes.  Our circuit covers cobbled pavements (not ideal for sore paws!), peaceful wooded areas with soft undergrowth, a steep tarmac-ed path near a very loud motorway and then open fields. So, we experience a variety of mini- landscapes within a short distance of where we live.

On our walk through the woods today, I started to make connections between these shortened dog-walks and my prayer-life over the past *** years. I realised that prayer could be described as a varied landscape too, in some ways.  So many different ways of praying or being with God.  And times when it is smooth easy-going, and times which feel distinctly bumpy or arid. 

One of the many possible ways of “categorising” prayer is to make a distinction between silence and sound.   Particularly, the sound of the human voice. I am someone who often enjoys silent meditation.  But there are times in life, when I am tempted to use the silence to turn inwards and to dwell on the difficult things around me, I actually need words, specifically other people’s words.  And I have benefited hugely from daily prayer apps such the one produced by the Church of England (“Daily Prayer”).  I’ve been lifted out of myself and oriented towards God by participating in the creative blending of spoken Scripture, corporate prayer and music.

Perhaps you are “the other way around” at the moment.  Life is very busy – there is a lot of noise of different kinds and you don’t want more spoken words or sound, particularly.  You would love the chance to spend extended time with God in silence. 

If this is you, why not join us on our summer retreat this year?

It’s from Thursday 25 August 2022 at 19h00

to Sunday 28 August 2022 at around 16h00

at the Centre Spirituel Ignatien La Pairelle

25, rue Marcel Lecompte

5100 Wepion (Namur)

http://www.lapairelle.be

The retreat, which is open to all Christians in Belgium aged 18+, offers space to spend a long week-end with God using the theme “walking by the river”. It will largely be in silence (with input/suggestions for guided prayer from the leaders – Sonja, Ann and myself).

If you’d like more information, go to the Events page and choose Future Events.

Maybe see you there?

Bess

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.

Finding Rest in difficult times

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woman sleeping on bed under blankets

Many of us have heard of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture meditation, and fasting, But what about the discipline of rest and sleep? 

What does the Bible say about rest?

When Moses becomes weary, leading his people through their trials in the desert, God tells him “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14 

Jesus tells his disciplines “Come to me all who toil and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Peter Scazzero writes in “The emotionally healthy leader”

Jesus slowed down to make sure he was in syn with God –  that he was in the father and the father was in him, powerfully filling every crevice of his body, mind and spirit. In routinely stepping away from his active work, he entrusted the outcome of his circumstances, problems and ministry to the father. 

David talks about a sense of safety that comes from a place of rest. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, a Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

Jesus has been speaking to me lately about the importance of rest: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. These areas are all connected. I realize that when I become still and allow my life to rest, I feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception. 

God is inviting me to create time and space to rest in Him so that He can give me peace.

I realize that I have the tendency to be a workaholic person who often feels most alive when I am in the midst of my stress. When I focus on my fears and don’t trust God it is difficult to enter into rest.

Anxiety is caused by trying to mentally or emotionally get into things that are not here yet. I also have the tendency to always rush about things, I need to hurry up and put constantly myself under pressure.


When I feel worn down and exhausted, I ask God what kind of rest I need. 

God is the source and center of rest. I need on a regular basis time to slow down, hear God’s voice, take time for self-reflection. I want to learn to be compassionate with myself, to be able to say no so that I can enter God’s rest and be renewed. 

I know that when we do not spend enough time with God we slowly loose our peace and safety. What do I let control my rest – are these things more important than my time with God?

A PRAYER FOR REST

Our loving Father, we know that You desire good things for Your children. Through the difficulties and troubles we face, we know that You are fighting for our good. We can rest securely in Your arms, knowing that Your victory is sure and that You go with us along our way. Thank you for the promise that there is nowhere we can go apart from Your presence and for Your extravagant love. 

You designed us for rest, so we pray for Your Spirit to meet us and sustain us. Rest can be hard to find as we face our daily routine, so we ask that You would multiply every minute of rest that we have. Help us to draw from Your unending resources. We ask You to teach us how to choose rest:

Teach our minds to rest in Your truth.

Teach our hearts to rest in Your love.

Teach our bodies to rest in Your peace. 

As we rest in You, we ask that You would fill us with Your joy, life abundant, and peace. We ask that Your perfect wisdom would guide us to the right decisions. We ask that You would help us to show others that we meet the way into Your presence. 

Thank you, Lord, for Your promises and Your strong hand to lead and guide us. Please teach us Your ways and lead us into rest. We love You and the way You care for us. Amen!

Sonja Stark

Twitter/twitter and the art of noticing

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A prayer taken from the Church of England’s Morning Prayer, Monday 28 February 2022

Blessed are you, creator of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your dawn renews the face of the earth
bringing light and life to all creation,
may we rejoice in this day you have made;
as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All Blessed be God for ever.

after Lancelot Andrewes (1626)*

When time permits, I like to start my morning gazing out of my kitchen window over the neighbouring fields, mug of coffee in hand.  It gives me the chance to welcome the sunrise at different times of year and to notice the changing seasons (or the inter-mingled ones?!) and their effect on the local landscape.  Above all, it’s a moment to admire last year’s bird-nests still visible in the largely barren trees and to enjoy the swooping of various flocks onto the fields beneath.  And, sometimes, I even see a buzzard hovering over potential prey below.

I mention this because I’m so aware of the companionship which birds provide, day in, day out, whatever our human circumstances.  (And also of my rather poor, sporadic attempts to learn more about our feathered friends  – the subject of several NYRs over the last few years!).  I’m writing this as we continue to negotiate “living with Covid” and in the immediacy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Perhaps it seems very trite to mention the birdsong which greets the dawn and continues throughout the day.  But the cheerful-sounding “twitter” which accompanies our lives (and, frankly, seems “out of joint” some of the time depending on what’s happening!) reminds me of our inter-connectedness with the whole creation, and that each new morning will reveal something of God’s love and mercy. Regardless of how dire the current circumstances might seem, either personally or on a world-wide scale (see Lamentations 3: 22-23 written amidst great difficulty). And it all starts with a cup of coffee and taking time to notice…..

****

How can it be Lent again ? Last year, I enjoyed the gift of meditating on a piece of artwork for most of the 40 days – a new experience for me.  But this year caught me napping slightly and searching for a way in which to prepare for the events of Holy Week and Easter.  I found a personal answer in a different kind of Twitter where I noticed a thread on Lent and the various ideas that people had for reflection during this special period.  In recent years, I’ve always valued the concept of taking something on, trying something new, rather than giving up chocolate or alcohol, or whatever, for certain length of time.  And I noticed a suggestion which really appealed.  The idea is simple: set aside 10 minutes a day to sit in silence in your garden, on your balcony, in your local park, on a random bench, or to look out of your office window. And to really notice the birds around you. Their colours, songs, behaviour…..

Appreciate them for themselves, as a way of (re)connecting with God’s wonderful creation, as a way of reflecting on the Creator Godself and on the forthcoming events, as a way of simply being silent and collected before God without “purpose”.

So, I am grateful to the person who posted this on Twitter (whom I’ll leave anonymous for now) and I hope this is a life-giving practice for some of you this Lent.

Finally, a well-loved bird poem for you to enjoy….

The Eagle

Lord Alfred Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

*https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer/morning-prayer-contemporary-monday-28-february-2022