Category: Through the Year

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!

Lent 2021

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white and yellow flower in tilt shift lens

Lent 2021

Dates for this year: Lent for the year 2021 starts on Wednesday, February 17th and ends on Thursday, April 1 with evening prayer on Holy Thursday, which is then followed by the three days of Easter..

Role of Lent : The season of Lent lasts for forty days (not including Sundays). It is a time when Christians reflect and prepare for the celebrations of Easter. Some people fast, eat frugally or give up treats following the example of Jesus, who fasted for forty days in the wilderness. We recommit to Christian practices such as prayer, almsgiving, fasting, and reconciliation to prepare to enter the mystery of Easter. Through these practices, we deepen our commitment to the Christian life and prepare to renew our baptismal promises. 

Suggestions for observing Lent consider your motive, once we realise why we are intending to do something for Lent we are more likely to find the right thing. For instance does one of these describe your aim: to prepare for Easter and the renewal of Baptismal promises; to follow the example of Jesus in the wilderness; to use this time to train yourself in discipline (perhaps regardless of the particular discipline); to grow in your faith?

You may then like to consider:

  1. giving things up, (particularly but not necessarily things that are bad for you, chocolate, wine, facebook). But what will you do with the money and time liberated? Matthew 4 does not tell us overtly what Jesus did with his time in the wilderness but it seems safe to assume he prayed, particularly about his baptism and his vocation.
  2. taking things up, There has been in trend in recent years to look for something more positive to do in Lent. Commit to daily prayer; create a way of trying some of the suggestions for prayer on this website under ‘how to’, social action, exercise (God cares for your body as well as your soul!).
  3. practising a practical and/or spiritual discipline, There is plenty in the New Testament about our need for discipline eg Hebrews 12. Richard Foster’s ‘Celebration of Discipline’ is the modern classic in this area.
  4. Growing in discipleship. Meet with others of the past (through books) and of the present to explore your faith and that of others.

Resources

Daily prayer: increase or redefine your commitment; join with others (many churches and religious communities are offering some form of morning and evening prayers).

Your own church: find out what they are offering

Books: It is getting late for ordering in English from the UK, but you might find other resources, or be happy to start late. There are many, some with daily readings, some with weekly readings. A sample

may be seen at https://www.eden.co.uk/easter/lent-resources/books/ A particular suggestion is from the Lutheran Gayl Ramshaw  ’40 days and 40 nights’. Or you may want to commit to reading a spiritual classic.

SSJE (society of St John the Evangelist, Anglican monastic order in USA) : offers a weekly email including a  video on prayer at  https://www.ssje.org/2021/01/06/come-pray-lent-2021/ They invite you to join the brothers in online prayer, but since they are in an American time zone that is not generally practical!

glasgow ignatians, https://www.iscglasgow.co.uk/lent2021.html this is an on-line/on an app offering of readings reflections, music and art, plus a weekly meeting with others following the course for support. N B I am interested in hosting a group on a monday lunchtime so it is suitable for those still working as well as others. Please let me know by friday 12 feb if you would like to join by leaving a comment.

the abbey of the arts has https://abbeyofthearts.com/programs/online-classes/lent2021/ Journey with the Desert Mothers and Fathers (Lent 2021) an online mixture of live sessions, reflections, videos

https://www.churchofengland.org/resources/livelent-2021-church-resources-gods-story-our-story involves book, and app. The theme is evangelism and witness.