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?

Welcome to Godspace

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Looking for inner peace? Need time away from your busy life to focus on God and Christ? We run silent retreats, workshops and other stuff in the Brussels area to help you find the space to meet your Lord.

Godspace was set up in 2013 by Sonja Stark and Kevin Colyer to provide training for and practice of contemplative prayer in the EU Quarter of Brussels, and now focuses on Silent Retreats under the leadership of Sonja and Bess Brooks

Jesus & His Goodbyes

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woman touch rainy glass

Your first reaction reading this may be “Oh no, are we talking about grief and loss… again!?”

Life has seasons, stages and phases. For there to be anything new, old things always have to end, and we have to let go of them. Goodbyes and Hellos are a normal part of our life. We may have even been more confronted with loss during these difficult 18 months of Corona.

Rick Warren said recently that we will be seeing a tsunami of grief because of the many losses people have been going through.

In our first Godspace event which took place after a long Corona related break last Saturday (28.8.2021) we invited people to write their own psalm of lament, to look at the losses, questions and unfiltered emotions and to write a prayer of “truth-telling”.

Many psalms are psalms of lament. We can see how the psalmist pours out his heart to God. Very often the psalm ends on a positive note, with a declaration of who God is for him. The psalmist reflects on God’s character and starts to worship God.

We also meditated on Psalm 116 during our retreat. This psalm has 3 time periods: the psalmist looks back to the past (vv1-5), he roots himself in the present (vv6-1) and then he looks to the future (vv12-19).

I realized once again the importance of dealing with the hurts and disappointments of the past. If I do not give this a priority, my present and therefore also my future can be affected in a negative way. It is difficult to relax and rest as it says in v 7 if undealt issues are present in my life. I may carry the hurts and disappointments into the future. Healing doesn’t mean the loss or hurt did not happen. It means that it no longer controls us.

I recently started to think more about Jesus’ life on this earth. I have been inspired by The Chosen, a TV drama based on the life of Jesus of Nazareth (you can watch it on YouTube or on the free “The Chosen TV” app).

He was truly human and had feelings of loss like we do. I never reflected on the many goodbyes Jesus went through during his life. He felt the emptiness that comes with deep loss. He also had to learn to let go. This is such a huge comfort for us.

Jesus had to say goodbye to almost 30 years of security. He had to say goodbye to his friends, his family, his work, his favorite places in his home town.

A pause for refreshment

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green trees beside body of water

My husband’s hobby is photography.  Every year, he puts together a book of photos highlighting the good experiences of the previous year.  Yesterday morning, he showed me the draft book for 2020.  I was a bit sceptical; let’s face it – 2020 wasn’t a great year! What on earth would a photo-book show?

But, when I looked at the pictures he’d put together, he’d done a great job in finding some happy moments:

  • There was a lot of fun with a new puppy!
  • The great camaraderie of the (pre-pandemic) show which I directed
  • A sunny day-out to Gent with our son between one lockdown and another
  • Our daughter’s highly-virtual graduation from University….

The photo-book doesn’t capture the sadnesses, the cancelled holidays and other life events, or the separation from family in England and the States. But it does capture the joy in what we did manage to do.

The point is that taking time to look at the photos made me stop and think – what was 2020 really like?  Alongside loss of many kinds, there were times of fun and hope! 

And, in all these experiences what was God saying about then, now or the next few months?

Of course, I was looking at just one 2020 photo-book. But, perhaps, if I (or we) took time to reflect on all the memories gathered during this 20/21 pandemic, we might see where God has been present and working during this difficult time, how God has been part of the journey. This in turn might make it easier to face the immediate future with a renewed sense of purpose and “God with us”. And that could give us a fresh perspective on the continued route through our personal and collective photo-book of 2021.

Ann touched on some of this during her reflection from 1 June 2021.  She asked us to take time to consider the effects of the pandemic in all its complexity and to discern our personal response to the coming months.   And some of this thinking undergirds the day retreat we’ve planned for 28 August 2021, “Draw Aside – Return Refreshed”.  As we emerge from the strangeness of the last year/ 18 months, with all that has meant for us, our loved ones and our Church communities, perhaps we could all do with a moment to reflect on what has happened and to gather strength or a new perspective for the future.  That’s why we’re offering this day retreat, where a small number of people can gather and take time to think, pray and imagine – a moment of spiritual refreshment in what has been a long and complicated haul for many people.

The three of us (myself, Ann and Sonja) will guide the whole group through prayers for our time, meditations on the psalms and there will be periods of silence in which to walk, pray, write, draw, as people wish.  Our hope is that the day will provide refreshment and a chance to (re)focus on God and to think about the future.

Of course, not everyone wants to, or can, take advantage of a day retreat.  But it could be useful to intentionally set aside time to simply be with God, reflect on the last 18 months and think about the future. You could do this alone or with a Christian friend – perhaps using a psalm or other piece of scripture, or a photo of something beautiful in the natural world, or a painting of a significant biblical scene, and/or you could use some of Ann’s questions from 1 June as a starting point?  Suggestions for different kinds of meditation can be found in the How-To Guides section of our website.

Hoping that August is a time of true spiritual refreshment for you….

Blessings,

Bess

Draw aside – return refreshed

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green water between brown trees during daytime

Day Retreat 28 August 2021

As we emerge from the strangeness of the last year/ 18 months, with all that has meant for us, our loved ones and our Church communities, perhaps we need a moment to reflect on what has happened and to gather strength or a new perspective for the future.  Godspace offers a day retreat, where a small number of people can gather and take time to think, pray and imagine.

Leaders Bess Brooks, Ann Milton and Sonja Stark will guide us through prayers for our time, meditations on the psalms and there will be periods of silence in which to walk, pray, write, draw, as people wish.  Our hope is that the day will provide refreshment and a chance to (re)focus on God and to think about the future.

What are we offering?

Details

What:  Day retreat for up to 15 people (3 leaders, 12 participants)

Where:  La Bergerie, Woluwe-Saint-Pierre, www.fbp.be 

When:  Saturday 28 August 2021

What time:  10 am – 3 pm

Who is leading?:  Bess Brooks and Sonja Stark (St Paul’s, Tervuren),  Ann Milton (Holy Trinity, Brussels)

What does it cost:  15 euros to include coffee and cold drinks – please bring your own packed lunch

Programme:  to include prayers for our time, meditations on the psalms, opportunities for silent reflection and creative response – see full programme below or on website www.godspace.eu

How do I book?:  Click on this link https://stpaulstervuren.churchsuite.com/events/jo1gjrg9  and fill in the relevant details

How do I pay?:  15 euros by bank transfer before 21 August 2021 to

Account name: The Chaplain of St Paul’s,    IBAN: BE813 100 9133 8724, 

BIC: BBRUBEBB,   

Address: Hoornzeelstraat 24, 3080 Tervuren

Please add the message “Godspace retreat 28 August 2021”

Questions?: Please email drawaside@godspace.eu and either Bess, Ann or Sonja will respond

Godspace  (www.godspace.eu) is an ecumenical project with the aim of providing space for reflection for Christians in Belgium.  It is supported by St Paul’s, Tervuren (www.stpaulstervuren.org)

day retreat programme

10.00   Coffee

10.15   Introduction

10.30   Welcome liturgy/ prayers

11.00   Reflection on a psalm of lament (lectio divina)

11.30   Personal response – time to walk, pray, reflect, write….

12.10   Sharing response (if wished)

12.30   Lunch (please bring own sandwiches, drinks provided)

13.00   Midday prayer

13.10   Reflection on psalm of joy/ looking forward (lectio divina)

13.30   Response – time to walk, pray, reflect, write…., to consider the future with a new perspective.

14.10   Sharing response (if wished)

14.30   Closing liturgy/ prayers

15.00   End

Please note: minor details within the programme could be subject to change

The gift of new days

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black and white coated dog walking on grass pathway

Re-reading Ann’s challenging questions from her June reflection made me stop and think!  A month on from her piece, with the end of this strange period perhaps in sight, her questions about how we respond to this phase of the pandemic are still as pertinent and will be for some time to come.  That’s because, despite the increasing relaxations, many of us are still in a period of waiting. 

Waiting:

  • for an injection,
  • a Covid passport,
  • to see family,
  • to lay a loved-one to rest,
  • to take a much-needed break,
  • to see our business thrive,
  • to find employment again…..

And perhaps we could add to this long list – waiting to feel a fresh touch of God’s presence and to feel renewed after everything we’ve been through.

Many mornings during the last 16 months, I’ve walked around the woods near my house with my beautiful Bernese mountain dog, JayDee. I’ve felt all the different weathers and seen the changing seasons, despite the sameness of life elsewhere, and there has often been a sense of newness to the day.  And, in doing this, I’ve become more conscious of the gift of time – not in the glib sense of “time heals all things”, or “this will soon be over”  – but the fact that time, as we experience it, is helpfully divided into days. That’s to say, each day, however difficult, has an ending which means that there is a chance of a new beginning the following morning.  There is a certain grace to that, I think.

And space too to reflect! 

This isn’t the place for a comprehensive reading of the book of Lamentations, and it is so easy to take “comforting verses” out of context.  But, I am thinking of the passage where the poet acknowledges the difficulty of his current existence but yet remembers God’s past goodness.  (I will leave aside the challenging questions of why his situation has arisen and the justice or not of that) 😊

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,

for his compassions never fail.
 They are new every morning;

great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3: 22-23)

I know that some situations that are so difficult that each day just blends in to the next (and certain illnesses make it very hard to tell the benefit of one day ending and another beginning).  But I hope, for at least some people reading this page, that it’s helpful to think about how life is graciously divided into days  – each one a chance for a new experience of God’s touch – as you continue your version of waiting….

Teasing out the blockages

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brown wooden blocks on white surface

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.

Poetry resources

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Spiritual poetry for Godspace

Why?

Does poetry belong on a website dedicated to helping us find God? Yes, I believe it does. Not all poetry of course, but much of it, whether specifically Christian or not, can act as a text to help us meet with God, give us a vocabulary when we do not know what to say, help a group to share an understanding. (You may like to use hymn and song lyrics in the same way). A poet can be a fine companion with whom to journey, a mentor who can draw us on to help us express something wordless in ourselves, to see something new.

Background to list:

The following are some of the poets I’ve come across from the last 200 years (roughly speaking) whose words I and others have found helpful. Of course not all their poetry is ‘overtly religious’ and what speaks to one person may not speak to another. But these names may give you a starting point to put in your search engine or to leaf through the shelves of a bookshop. Sometimes I’ll mention a particular poem I believe worth considering. Finally I’ve mentioned some specific works from poets whose work I do not generally know, but which I think could be helpful.  There is plenty more and I hope you will send me your ‘finds’ so that I can share them here.

In no particular order:

Malcolm Guite

Denise Levertov, her religious poems are gathered in the collection ‘The Stream and The Sapphire’, charting her journey to faith.

Michael Symonds Robert eg Mancunian Miserere

T S Eliot: His ‘Journey of the Magi’ is a fascinating and fantastic example of imaginative contemplation, telling the back story to an episode in the Gospels

Rowan Williams: He likes to be described as ‘not a religious poet but a poet to whom religious things matter enormously’. ‘Advent calendar’ is specifically Christian and good for pondering in season.

U A Fanthorpe: Her ‘BC:AD’ is a tremendous meditation on the meaning of the incarnation.

Leonard Cohen: His modern psalms in his ‘Book of Mercy are fascinating, true cries from the heart of a modern Jew to God.

Chris Southgate: who catches in his writings ‘intimations of the sacred’.

R S Thomas (1913-2000)try ‘Folktale’ (about prayer), ‘Raptor’ for when your God is too small, ‘The Bright Field’ at all times!

Mary Oliver She is described as ‘a mystic of the natural world, not a theologian of the church’. Her way of describing nature can help us learn to look carefully. Try ‘The Journey’, ‘Wild Geese’ ‘If I wanted a boat’.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, complex, often difficult to understand, he forces us to slow down.

Wendell Berry, like Mary Oliver, a mystic of the natural world, try ‘The peace of wild things’.

Some random poems:

Ted Hughes ‘March morning unlike others’ a meditation on the beauty and frailty of the earth.

Christina Rossetti ‘Remember’ a reflection on death and on how it separates friends

Zbigniew Herbert ‘Pebble’ how to meditate on one seemingly dull object!

Louise Gluck ‘Vespers’ one way of speaking to God.

e e cummings ‘I thank you god for most this amazing day’ ;a lovely expression of joy.

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…..

Lent course info posted today!

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Christ painting

We’re excited to have posted details of our participation in the ICS Lent Course 2021 “Knowing Jesus” ! Click on the Events page and then choose Future Events for more information on how you can join in!

Photo by Jon Tyson Unsplash