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?

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

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.

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

Lent 2021 Knowing Jesus

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Christ painting

Godspace invites you to participate in an ONLINE Lent course run by the Ignatian Spirituality Centre (ISC), Glasgow, UK, on the theme of Knowing Jesus.  The course runs from Ash Wednesday (17 February) until the first Sunday of Easter (11 April).  You will receive a daily email inviting you to spend a short period of time of your own choosing in daily prayer, scripture reading, reflection, enjoying art and music, plus an online weekly meeting with 6-10 others to discuss the impact of the course. ISC (and Godspace) do not charge for this course.

For more information, and to sign up for the course, please go directly to https://www.iscglasgow.co.uk/lent2021.html and subscribe there.  If you’d like to join a “local” online lunchtime meeting on Mondays, 13h05 to 13h50 CET, facilitated by Godspace leader Ann Milton DO NOT FILL IN THE SECTION ABOUT JOINING AN ONLINE GROUP ON THE ICS SITE.  Instead, please let Ann know you are interested by leaving a comment below.  Ann needs to know numbers by the end of Friday 12 February so please don’t delay 😊.

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.

A Season for Everything

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green round fruit on tree during daytime

Through the year, our mood changes. As the days get longer we spend more time outside. The snow may create an especially playful expression.

Our walk with God also changes with the season, whether that is the Church’s seasons from Advent to Easter, or the calendar season from sowing to harvest.

Our prayer life may also reflects those seasons.

Here we offer you some resources that may help you, beginning with Lent. Bear in mind that we cannot read/view everything before posting it, we do not necessarily know the quality of the teaching or the theology behind it. What you use is your responsibility.

We do not have the resources for reviews, but if you send us details of any books or links to other material we may consider including it in the future.

Launch of godspace.eu website today!

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black champagne bottle beside champagne flute

Welcome to the new godspace.eu website, launched on 25 January 2021! We offer prayer resources for all, a monthly blog on which you can reflect over the following few weeks and details of our Silent Retreats and other prayer events which take place in Belgium this year. Please visit our site regularly to keep yourself updated.

Bess, Sonja and Ann