The Gift of Sight

gift of sight

The gift of sight is an amazing capability – with our eyes we make out colour, shape, and patterns. We see outlines, contours and distance. We see frowning foreheads, smiling faces, and every expression under the sun! Seeing with our eyes is taken for granted by nearly all of us – except perhaps when the gift becomes impaired by the onset of a optic condition or a debilitating head ache.

Our eyes, yes, are our primary sense in seeing, but it is true we use our hearing, our smelling and our touch to gain a picture – and those who see really well – who see three dimensionally – are those who habitually, by instinct, use the whole range of senses.

Jesus invites us all in the gospels to see with nuance, without bias and with an openness – to see as though we are not in control. You see, when we look at life as though we are in control, we manipulate, arrange and live according to our own need – yet when we look while simultaneously not being in control, we see actually what is in front of us. Sadly, we tend to do everything whilst being in control. We rationalise, understand, sort it all out in our heads – and then we live. Unfortunately this is the surest way to limit life, to miss its wonder, and to de-generate into a joylessness so endemic in our so-called civilised societies.

To see life as though we are not in control, is to simply see what is in front of us without pre-judging, analysing or measuring. It is to see and not react – often we engage with life in this reactive state… ‘how can I re-arrange everything to my own interests…?’ Reactive living is a desparate curse of our modern structures. The simplest way to untangle our lives from this reactive misery is to learn and practice seeing without judgment. Just looking…stand and stare at what is before us – all the contradictions, paradoxes, colour and contours. For too many of us, me included, we see what we want to see, rather than the complicated, mysterious and fragile truth of what is.

As we begin to see without bias, we open ourselves to the truth of being loved. Love cannot be understood, rationalised boxed up. It is something dynamic – like the wind which blows in this direction and that – and it is all that matters. This seeing without judgment is the action of faith – it is this faith which opens our hearts and minds to a life bigger than our own parameters. It is this action of faith which saves us – perhaps this is the reason Jesus so often says to the people he encounters ‘your faith has saved you…’.

As we begin to ‘see’ in the Jesus way, the Beatitudes (described in Matthew chapter 5) become the attitudes of our lives. These beatitudes are  all about gladly forfeiting control… yet the impact and blessing is bigger than we could ever comprehend – ‘for yours will be the Kingdom’… ‘you will be comforted’… ‘ you will be called children of God’… ‘you will inherit the earth’… ‘you will be filled’… ‘you will see God’… ‘you will be shown mercy’… this is the Kingdom of heaven Jesus tells us is ‘at hand’ (in other words is right in front of us whatever the circumstances) – and it all starts in the manner of our seeing – moving away from the need to know, join up all the dots, and manipulate to our own way… and moving towards a way of seeing all living beings without judgment, bias or control.

Using all our senses in this way – well this needs to be practiced. And the practiced can start today… blessings as we learn to live in the very kingdom of heaven!

Children friends

Dear Friends,

Would you like to be a child again? Would you like to return to a time when you are young, with the world before you?

As we all know, the world is a different place from what it was ten, twenty, fifty years ago. Children today face significant challenges – perhaps the most debilitating of these challenges are those that arise from issues around obesity, social media and the culture of testing in our education environment. All of these can engender anxiety levels which if we are not careful may prove to be incessant and utterly counter to living life well. Anxiety and fear rob all the generations of so much – so it is imperative we discover life where confidence and grace are nurtured.

Jesus invites ‘let all the children come to me’. Come to be blessed, to be made whole, to be the person you were meant to be. Coming to Jesus means being loved completely, being given confidence to be who we are, being guided to enjoy life in every circumstance. When society today invites the children – it seems it is almost the exact reverse of these Jesus invitations – rather it is to over-eat and indulge, to be subsumed by the approval of others, and to be subjected to anxiety levels driven by relentless testing programmes.

The message of Jesus is pertinent to each of these elements. Jesus is described over and again eating in the company of others. We are to teach our children the value of the shared meal, gathering across the generations, where so much more than food is given and received. Jesus teaches us very directly to look to our Father in heaven for direction, forgiveness and value… ‘follow me and be my disciple’. And Jesus teaches us ‘not to worry…let tomorrow take care of itself’.

To be part of a community which accepts us simply as we are – without any prejudice or judgment, but simply in love and mercy – is integral to living life well. The context of family has the golden opportunity to provide this  – and ‘family’ today can take many forms. No family will be perfect, no family will get everything right…but a family committed to the flourishing of each member is a unit where growth and confidence are guaranteed. The extended relationships of family are incredibly important as the different generations provide wisdom, experience and an energy for what is new – all of which helps both young and old to find and re-find perspective. Relationships, family relationships, are never a one way passage – there is always to and fro, backwards and forwards from one member to another.

The ministry of church is centred very much on this family grouping – in the many baptisms we host, in the comfort and hope provided in times of grief and in the joyous yet reverent celebration of marriage…to have and to hold. In all of these contexts the gathering together of family – to support, be-friend and just simply to be there – are central to the celebration or memorial. Children who grow up within a framework of relationships – relationships which bless and strengthen – have such an advantage.

In these really challenging times for our children we must remember to pray – for our own families and for those whose family is under pressure. And as we pray, we can choose to be the person who brings people together in ways of blessing and peace – to sit around the table, laugh and cry with each other, and share life together.

Friendship

Friendship

A recent study, taking in 4,619 people,  concluded that three-quarters of people in the UK have felt ‘overwhelmed or unable to cope’ during the past year. Young people are most likely to be stressed with 83% of 18-24 year olds saying this, compared with 65% of 55 years old and over. There was also a gender divide, with 81% of women feeling this way, compared with 67% of men.

The reasons for this feeling of ‘not coping’ were described in the study as being  long term health conditions, work, money, technology and social media.

The sensation of things getting out of control is one we can all identify with – as resources become stretched and expectations become ever more functional – we are left vulnerable to being overrun both physically and mentally.

So much of life appears out of our control, so escalating the feeling of ‘not coping’. But there are things which are in our control – and these things need to be activated in order to safeguard ourselves from ‘burn-out’.

When people go through challenging times, the one ingredient which pops up almost every time in what helped the person ‘get through’ is the benefit of loyal friends. Having people around us who know us, like us and are not reticent in encouraging us – is vital to overcoming the harshest of circumstances. We need to be really careful in choosing who it is we listen to, whose advice we look for, and who can be trusted with the off-loading of anxiety and worry. This company of friends is important beyond words – and because of this it is equally important to ensure we do not allow the toxic voices to infiltrate our thinking and direction. These ‘toxic’ voices do not really listen to our situation, and they are not really for us.

But when we live in the midst of a community of friendship which encourages and shapes our thinking in a good, healthy way, then it is as though we are being carried along – especially when life is not easy. The imagery which the bible uses is that of a river. A river which flows from the altar of heaven, teeming with life and vibrancy, blessing every place and channel it flows into. This river is a pictorial description of the blessing of God’s friendship – a friendship we enjoy as we worship, praise and give thanks – and a a friendship we share with one another as we live in fellowship. We can read of this in Ezekiel chapter 47 – it is a truly wonderful, inspiring chapter of scripture.

The blessings of friendship means we have an urgent dynamic to ensure we meet with others in friendship – it might be in the pilates class we attend, it might be drinking coffee (or a glass of sherry!) after a church service, it might be walking in the forest with friends – whatever the context it is as though we take ourselves to the river and experience the life affirming energy we receive from being accepted simply for who we are and not what we do. This needs to be our dominant experience – and this enables us to give time, when required, to the ‘marshlands’ of life where the toxicity of blame, accusation and mean heartedness can be challenged and re-directed into channels of grace and love (the river  of life).

‘Not coping’ is a very real experience. It can make everything seem hopeless. Friendship – such a simple and uncomplicated thing – is the antidote we cannot afford to ignore. When those friendships stretch across the generations we really are in a good place – a river which ‘makes glad the city of our God’ (Psalm 46).

 

The Learning Curve

learning curve

Dear Friends,

The Learning Curve is something we’ve really got to get ourselves on!

It’s a curve taking us on a journey, a journey which has momentum as it travels on its upward trajectory…And when the learning is focused on learning  ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than simply ‘what’ – then we are in for a real ride and a half!

However, there is a tangible sadness when for many adults life has ceased to include any learning whatsoever. Everything is known, with no new horizons, no new possibilities. When life becomes like this – it is as though life is being lived in a cemetery, and for many people this kind of existence takes root at a remarkably young age.

Perhaps this is why the responsibilities for organising and putting in place a school curriculum which stretches the mind and spirit is really key in nurturing a love of learning. You see, when learning is only ever entirely functional it has a limited scope and is usually tedious to the extreme (especially when it’s like this year after year after)!

During this month we keep the festival of Pentecost, when we celebrate the gift of God’s Holy Spirit on all creation. We are told in the prophecy of Joel that God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh. We have been drenched in it…it is given over and over again without limitation – on the young and the old, on the men and the women, on the infirm and the healthy. And why is it given… well it’s given to teach us, to lead us, to stretch us into being new people – people blessed and happy.

The Spirit is given into our hearts, the very centre of who we are. It is given so we may find a re-birthing of who we are with new horizons. A little bit like being born again. It is the learning curve – when we just know we are being stretched into a new existence. The Spirit begins its work from the inside – shaping our thinking, emotions and perspectives. As we allow it to be at work in  us, as we say yes to its operation then we often experience a peacefulness and energy settling on us…from the inside out.

But perhaps the overwhelming experience is that of learning – not the passing of exams, reaching the pass mark, but rather the sense that this thing called life is more adventure than simply going through the motions. In doing this we are introduced into faith and the possibilities this opens for us (for the faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains).

We say ‘yes’to it’s operation by praying with our hearts, by learning again to look, to gaze and watch without judgment and by practicing gratitude day in day out. The Spirit has been given, given to everyone and every thing, in every moment, it is here and as we begin to say ‘yes’ we place our lives – no matter how tentative this may be – on the learning curve to beat them all!

Lost in wonder, love and praise

Last Supper

Dear Friends,

There is a famous hymn which ends with the beautifully evocative cadence ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’. This line prompts our hearts into a response to the Jesus story which connects with our deepest longings.

The Passiontide gospel readings draw us into the journey Jesus walks as he makes his way into Calvary and resurrection. We see Jesus at the dinner table, his feet anointed with the most expensive of perfumes, we watch Jesus share a simple meal with his friends,  we see Jesus wash his disciples feet, we see Jesus betrayed with a kiss, arrested and bound. We watch the unfolding lies of the Kangaroo court Jesus is submitted to, and we watch the brutality of crucifixion. It is a mesmerising journey – full of questions and at times simply bewildering. Yes – we are lost in ‘wonder’ at these events – Jesus, who previously had been the protagonist in healings and teaching, now simply surrenders and enters into the events without protest or justification.

We are told in John 3: 16 that God demonstrates his love for the world by this action of Jesus. Jesus so identifies with us in our weakness and powerlessness – and in doing so God’s love is revealed. It is something real and true – and our only response can be one of love. I love because I am loved. Loved by a ‘love divine, all loves excelling’.

As love tugs at our hearts, as love spills into our thinking, as love washes our guilt we can only ‘praise’ the God who gives us Jesus. Even when the worst of life is lived – God is in the midst. Perhaps especially then, the divine presence is revealed with a clarity and transparency not found anywhere else. We ‘praise’ through the singing of hymns, by lifting our heads, by allowing our thinking to be centred on the goodness which abounds – even when circumstances appear so challenging and bewildering.

In Mark’s gospel we are told that the Roman centurion, a gentile, recognised the full reality of Jesus at the moment of death – at the point of utter weakness Jesus’ identity is laid bare. When he ‘surveys the wondrous cross’ his eyes are opened to what is really true.

This is one of the distinctives of the Christian community – when life simply doesn’t seem to add up, when life events seem to conspire against us, when there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel – it is then we are ‘lost in wonder, love and praise’. This is truly amazing – defies our seasoned logic, but yet is the call of our worship week by week.

We then become a people of ‘praise’ – a ‘praise’ found in every detail of life, no matter how small, inconsequential or bewildering.

 

Living with purpose

living with purpose

Dear Friends

Optimism is an attitude of mind more necessary today than ever. So much of life is driven at a break-neck speed, with countless interruptions and distractions – pointless and mindless directives, fearful attitudes, incessant background noise. A fixation with celebrity and an intolerance to mistakes with seemingly no room for redemption. All of this raises its head in the public life of our nation as well as in the demands of local life. And yet… there are reasons to be optimistic.

 

Time and time again – especially in my many and varied encounters with people of all generations, there is a serious intention to live a qualitative life rather than one which is merely materialistic or successful.

 

Public institutions are finding it more and more difficult to attract high quality short lists for roles of responsibility – which invariably have very generous financial inducements. Workers are more inclined to choose a qualitative lifestyle over and above the previously assumed inevitable climb up the hierarchical ladder.

 

So rather than settling  for the interminable cycle of back slapping and greasing significant palms – men and women are choosing and beginning to look for ways of living which resonate with a qualitative outcome. This is good – it is really good.

 

The island of Okinawa in Japan is a quite amazing place. The people on this island live long, happy lives. Yes they do have the fantastic Japanese diet, they drink green tea, they  tend their vegetable gardens – and they have a carefully nurtured ‘purpose’ for life. They keep themselves busy, they don’t retire, but they keep active with their ‘purpose’ very much to the forefront. This ‘purpose’ is not something which is ‘created’ but rather it is ‘discovered’ – and then they live it in simple, every day actions. They do this without obsessing about it – just doing it with a smile never far away.

 

Their busyness is not the fearful fretting of wordy action plans ; it isn’t located  in the worthy formation of ‘maps’ but rather with a crafted attention to the ‘compass’ – the direction of life. In other words their ‘purpose’, their ‘why’.

 

As we move into gear in 2018,  we will be soon entering the 40 days of Lent, a great time to ‘discover’ my ‘purpose’ – what is it which gets me up each morning – what is it which causes me to be grateful, to lift my head and smile. Simply asking ourselves the straightforward question each day – ‘what is my principal job on this planet with a capital J?’ and then waiting for the answer to emerge, might just have an utterly transforming impact on our everyday life. We only have the one life – the quality of that life, no matter what age we may be – is really very important!

 

Living with ‘purpose’ doesn’t have to be earnest, guilt-ridden or fearful – a ‘purpose’ which is truly ours will overflow with an abundance of kindness, laughter and what we sometimes call ‘grace’. An authentic purpose will prompt us into actions which we then just do, day by day. So let’s choose to be purposeful – and really find a quality of living which blesses us right to the centre of who we are.

The new dawn

the new dawn

Dear Friends,

The new dawn! A new year beckons, the horizons are clear, the pages untouched…

So we give ourselves a few resolutions which will shape and impact our experience of the future for the next few months. I think this is a good and healthy practice, especially when the resolutions are not cursory and throw-away but rather – well thought-out, with realistic and challenging tasks.

The basis for any resolution is the belief that the ‘doing’ of the resolution will make a difference. If we don’t have this, then the resolution barely gets past the first day! Yet if there is a real energy in the making of the resolution, if there is some inspiration in there, then it has every chance of making a discernible difference.

Not drinking any alcohol in the week-days, or attending a Pilates class once a week, or going to bed by a certain time each week-day night – all these just would make a positive difference to enjoyment, fulfilment and success of life on many various levels.

So it is a really worthwhile consideration – what are my serious intentions for 2018 – what can I put in place which will make discernible difference to the quality of my life. In doing this, and keeping with it, we are making a strong statement of taking control ourselves in a culture and society where we are often left feeling as though we are the behest of other people, outside events or just a roll of the dice in what turns up.

The serious intention of God is something very straightforward –  the communication of His love for the whole world – despite what kind of mess we make of it. When Christians read the Bible or pray in the stillness of the night or early morning, Christians connect with this intention. In the saying of ‘Amen’, in the repetition of Bible verses, in the simple looking at an ever-changing tree – we allow the intentions of heaven to permeate our very souls. This can only do us good – no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.

As we do such things we give opportunity for God’s amazing love to drop in an ever more real way into hearts – no longer is His love just an idea, but now it is made flesh in us – it becomes something real and tangible – and this changes everything.

Seeing the detail

Christmas

Dear Friends,

Sometimes we just don’t see it first time round. It’s all a bit of a blur… too much going on… perhaps distracted… whatever the reason.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced something similar – maybe a photo from years back, or a sporting event just attended, or a conversation recently spoken – just not seeing it first time round – missing important elements,  seeing only what is prominent and not catching the most important…  I think we do this more times than we ever dare to believe. And it is important to acknowledge this process – because invariably we don’t go back for a second look because we believe and settle for our first observations. And our fist observations can be so wrong… or when not wrong so short of the full picture.

Little children know this – they love stories being read and re-read to them… familiar tales and known endings repeated over and over again yet enjoyed with even greater enthusiasm. With each re-telling the story gets fuller in many, many different ways as the characters are stretched into 3-d reality, repeated words take on sinister proportions, and shadows lengthen as the climax is told again and again… what is missed on the first viewing is caught and developed over and over again!

This year I’m approaching the season of Advent with all this very much in mind. Advent is the time of darkness where day by day the darkness is dispersed until the full radiance of Christmas dazzles and enlightens every corner from east to west, north to south. In the season of Advent the eyes of our hearts are invited, challenged even, to adjust themselves to the deep darkness so outlines can be glimpsed, provisional findings articulated, corners turned… in Advent we are asked to look and look again at what we thought was familiar, but which, if we’re honest, we don’t really know at all. Well, yes we know the names – Mary, Joseph, Bethlehem… we know the sequencing – angel Gabriel, the stable yard, the manger, the shepherds… and we know the climax – the birth of a son. And because we know these outlines, we think that is enough. And so the story is really only half-told, well, not even that!

The Christmas narrative has plenty of gaps, question marks, magic and simple humanity. It’s a story to take the breath away – if only we would let it. Little children are good at this. Us adults – less so. Jesus teaches us that to enter the Kingdom we must become like little children, so Jesus asks us to look again, and again, and then again – maybe in the all too brief spaces between all the stuff we do in this season of Advent. The looking might be the listening to a Christmas song, it might be the re-playing of a Youtube clip, it might be a re-reading of the Christmas story, the lighting of a Christingle candle… and the outlines then become filled out into something new, wonderful and utterly unexpected.

Be very blessed in this Advent and Christmas season – and don’t forget to look, especially if you think you’ve seen it enough times  already –  and there’s nothing more to see!

The Raising of the Flag

Union Flag being raised

The raising of the flag holds such significance. A flag fluttering in the breeze, displaying colours and shape which carry meaning in so many different ways. For many a flag is something which unites and creates a sense of cohesion, for others it alienates and divides.

Remembrance is a time when the national flag, among others, is raised and gathered around. At its best, the flag is a symbol of pride in all that is good, at its worst it is used to segregate. Perhaps the flag communicates a truth about the nation it represents which goes beyond reasoned words or statements, but which catches the real identity of a people.

And an important element of this acknowledgement is the raising of the flag.

The flag communicates identity – this is where we belong. This is the nation which we call home. It may not be perfect, it may be flawed and decidedly imperfect, but it is home. Part of the democratic process which we own in our own nation, is the opportunity to shape and define the heart and soul of our nation state. The nation state is far more than borders and passport controls – it has a culture and value base which echoes and reverberates on every street corner, fast food outlet and shopping mall up and down the country. Visitors to our country are acutely aware of the nature of this culture, as we are when we visit foreign places on holiday. We catch it at restaurants when ordering a meal, on a country lane when drivers give way to other road users, on busy city streets when we ask for help to find the way…the culture of a nation is communicated in simple, unobtrusive ways.

We live in really interesting times in our own nation – it as though the identity of our own nation is in flux, being formed and re-formed in a new and vibrant (and sometimes not so vibrant) way. Maybe the whole ‘brexit’ process is an important element in all of this – as we really consider what is important in the common life, how we live together, and why we are proud to be a part of this nation. Nations get into trouble, and perhaps this has been our experience, when within a nation ‘Pride’ becomes set at an all-time high, and Humility’ an all-time low – in other words when we think of ourselves better than other national groups – more educated, civilised or efficient. Yet humility has at its core a wonderful confidence in identity, openness to others and a contagious generosity expressing our mutual need of one another.

In recent weeks in the US there has been a fascinating conflict in the raising of the US flag and the national anthem – it has became embroiled in the standing of their President and the life experience of many of its own people in the ‘black lives matter’ campaign. The conflict displays a real engagement in identity and the importance of a nation living up to its aspirations in practical and every day ways.

So in this season of Remembrance, our flag will be raised. We will ‘do’ an act of ‘Penitence’ (recognising mistakes and we are no better than other peoples), an act of ‘Remembrance’ (when names are read and the cost of peace is owned) and an act of ‘Commitment’ (when we commit ourselves to a future which is generous, open and confident).

May the flag we each raise (in the manner we choose to live by) be a confident, vibrant contribution to the flag of our nation state – especially in this unique time of change and upheaval.

Live to eat or eat to live?

Dear Friends,

Do you live to eat… or do you eat to live?

These two questions invite us into a reflection on what is it which gives us impetus and meaning. In order to do the bit which drives us we need to do something to enable this to happen. So for some of us we live, we get out of bed, in order to eat, eat, and eat some more. The sausage sandwich, with the red, brown or no sauce, is just too good to puto one side. For others, the eating is not the end product but rather the means to give me the required energy to breathe, run, and enjoy this amazing world.

In the harvest season we give thanks for what we reap in order to sustain us. In our paradoxical world this can be somewhat uncomfortable, as we give thanks for the ‘harvest safely gathered in’ knowing full well that for millions of people the harvest is bare. This disparity is a chilling indictment on the way we order and direct the economic mechanisms of the world community. The rich really do seem to get richer, while the poor get poorer.

Yet, when Jesus tells us that it is more difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, we need to take note – especially as we are apparently privileged to live in the wealthy part of the world community. The rich man has few needs – everything is in place, the larder is full, the table laden with what is required… but still something is lacking. Something really important.

The quality of gratitude is a quality which money cannot buy. Indeed, the more money you have it seems the harder it is to appreciate the simple necessities. For St. Paul, the practice of ‘giving thanks in all things’ was an essential element in living life well. The expression of thanks stretches and shapes our perceptions of life in a remarkably tangible way. By learning to say ‘thank you’ from our hearts in the course of ‘ordinary’ life, we learn to see the stuff of life as a gift. Rather than being a ‘right’ life becomes something more, something which can surprise and never taken for granted. For many years we have become accustomed to the language of ‘rights’ – in many instances it has been highly appropriate, but in other ways it has entrapped us in a limited and soulless existence, a million miles from the vibrant original intention for life. Learning gratitude from the heart pulls us into a much more fluid, dynamic and spontaneous mode of living – whatever the hum-drum nature of our daily lives might be.

This frees us up from the chains of having to ‘possess’, ‘own’ and ‘control’ everything that happens. And because we are free in this way, we can then allow our hearts to feel, sense and be aware of others – our natural state.

If it is our intention to say ‘thank you’ from our hearts we are genuinely on the journey of faith to living life well. And it is then we begin to understand what it is which gets me out of bed each morning – whether the sun shines or the rain pours.