Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Wednesday is the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene. As she is the Patron Saint of our church we celebrated her festival last Sunday. Unfortunately, we were unable to do so together as a family in church but “virtually”, but I don’t suppose she would mind.
July has always been a difficult month at home, as an unseemly number of annual bills fall due this month. The situation has been made worse this year as a couple of major items of household equipment needed to be replaced. And, of course this coronavirus has meant that we have been “confined to barracks” for over three months now. When are we going to be able to get out to meet our family and friends in person? Or even just go shopping as we used to do? Oh, and one of the roses is not doing at all well. In fact I had thought of replacing it later this year. Where was God in all this? I know people continually ask that question, perhaps more than ever during these dark days, but sometimes it does seem that He has abandoned us.
This morning I went out into the garden and there was a bloom on the little rose! It seemed to say to me “Did you not recognise me? I have been here all the time and will continue to be. I promised never to leave you or forsake you. Did you forget that?”
Like St Mary Magdalene I had failed to recognise Jesus at first, but he had been there all along.
As I was writing an essay about the Hebrew covenants for my course assignment I must have dozed off.
What was I doing on the banks of this river flowing through the desert? Who were all these people listening to this wild-eyed, ranting, madman? I should be in class in the city studying the Torah or listening to the wise words of the Rabbi, since I was training to become a priest myself. Yet there is something mesmerising about this fellow. ‘Repent for the kingdom of Heaven is come near’ he is shouting. One of our group asked if he was Elijah for we know that Elijah will come again to foretell the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah, but he said that he was not. He said that he was the one foretold by Isaiah ‘the voice crying out in the wilderness “Make straight the way of the Lord”’. What intrigued me was when he said that there was an unknown person in the crowd who was far greater than he. We’ve heard predictions like that before, Nehemiah said something similar many years ago, but we know that the Messiah will be one of us, not one of this ignorant rabble. Yet, I hung about for a while, I was in no hurry to get back to class. A long queue was building up for the wild eyed rabble rouser, whose name was John apparently, to baptise in the river. In the main they were all peasants from the surrounding area, but one man stood out. He was a tall chap who seemed to have a quiet air of authority about him. Someone said he was a local carpenter, but there was just something about him that made people pay attention. When it came to his turn John hesitated but the carpenter urged him to go ahead.
I had been with John for a few days when the carpenter passed by. John said that he knew this man was God’s chosen one because he saw a dove descend on him at his baptism. God’s chosen one? The Messiah? This ragged carpenter? At first I did not believe it, but John urged me to follow him. I found out where he was staying and went to listen to him. I think it was the dove descending on him that settled things for me. You see, all covenants God made with the Israelite nation in the past were confirmed with a sign, the rainbow in Noah’s case, for example. The dove was the sign that the carpenter was the new covenant of whom Nehemiah spoke, the Messiah.
I gave up my classes and followed the carpenter for the next three years. It all seemed to be going so well when we entered Jerusalem that last time, but as I hid in the crowd at the execution ground, everything had gone wrong. It was never supposed to be like this. Later He appeared to us again in that upper room. Thomas expressed all our feelings saying Him “My Lord and My God”. But Jesus asked a very pertinent question: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”
I believe. What about you, you who have not seen?
I follow the Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living by Henri J M Nouwen each day. If you do not know Henri or his works I urge you to visit the Henri Nouwen Society website:
Recently the Society has encouraged followers to spread the word about Henri which I am delighted to do since his words though written a while ago are as relevant today as when first written. The Meditation for 21 June taken from his book Here and now and is reproduced in You are the beloved, published by Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., London 2017 is a prime example. To quote it in full might infringe the copyright and so I will try to synthesize Henri's words.
Henri say that 'Compassion means to become close to the one who suffers.' Indeed we can be with the other 'only when the other ceases to be "other" and becomes like us.' He reminds us that we need to be in touch with our own feelings and sufferings,acknowledging our own handicaps. I see his words as echoing Jesus' comments about the motes and beams that obscure our vision. In other words, we need to be open and honest with ourselves before we dare criticize others.
A simple prayer, since God does not need long winded prayer which tend to focus on me rather than the intended object of my prayer: Lord Jesus, fill my heart with compassion for my neighbour whoever he or she is, regardless of race, religion, gender or handicap,. Amen .
This Sunday, Pentecost, celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples gathered together in the upper room. The first reference to the word Pentecost appears in the Acts of the Apostles (2:1), the second volume of the writings of St Luke, who tells us that there were: ‘devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.’ Acts 2:5, so what festival were they in Jerusalem to celebrate?
To find the answer we need to look back to the Book of Exodus where we learn that some fifty days after their hasty Passover meal before their escape from the Egyptians into the wilderness, the Israelites reached Mount Sinai and camped there. It was there, we are told, in simple but breath-taking words, that ‘Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God’ Exodus 19:17 NRSV. Here God established his covenant and gave his law to the Israelites, creating them as his special chosen people and conferring the law, or Torah (instruction), on them as a charter of national identity and dignity they were to cherish (Exodus 19:1-6). In Greek ‘fiftieth day’ translates as pentekosta from which the name of the festival derives. As the Israelites were dramatically punished by God by loss of their land and exile to Babylon, for their disobedience towards Him, their prophets, including Jeremiah and Ezekiel, predicted a time in the future when a forgiving God would confer a ‘new law’ and a ‘new covenant’ on Israel, when God’s rule would spread throughout Israel and encompass the whole world. This is exactly what happened when the grace of the Holy Spirit was conferred on the disciples at that Pentecost 2000 years ago. It illustrates the theological connection between the Mosaic Law given to Moses and God’s free gift to the disciples, fifty days after Easter.
All very interesting I hear you say but what has that to do with me? That is exactly the question the crowd asked Peter. “What are we to do?” ‘Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ Acts 2:38 NRSV. On that day 3000 people were baptized and became disciples (Acts 2:41). As Christians we, having received the grace of baptism for the remission of our sins, are called to be disciples, followers of the Way, just like those disciples baptized by Peter and the Apostles. We are called to live our lives following the example that Jesus set us in His earthly life. The disciples, went out to proclaim the Good News to all nations, continuing Jesus’ mission on earth.
Are we willing to go and do likewise? Remembering Moses’s words to Joshua: ‘It is the LORD who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.’ Deuteronomy 31:8, what’s stopping us?
I believe I shall see the Lord's goodness in the land of the living. Psalm 26
Since during this week our Course members have been praying with the Psalms we were all asked to write a Psalm of our own. The results were well worth all the effort. Unfortunately, I am not able to share them with you as I do not have the author's permission, but take my worth for it King David would have been happy with all of them. Since none of us had ever done anything like this before it was quite an achievement. One member used Psalm 23 as a basis for her own thoughts and feelings. One spent several days staring at a blank sheet of paper before a brilliant Psalm came to her very early one morning. A third set his Psalm to music. Hopefully we can put them all together in a booklet at some stage.
Anyway here is my small contribution:
Where are you O Lord? Have you forsaken us?
This coronavirus pandemic has devastated the world.
How can we rejoice amidst so much grief and suffering?
Our churches are locked so that we are unable to worship and praise you
Or share the Eucharist there as usual with our church family.
Our Priest appears on our computer screens as if in a film on Netflix.
When will we be able to come together again?
Will this plague never end?
Yet, we remember that your dwelling place is not in those church buildings
But in the hearts of your faithful people.
We look around us and we see the glory of your Creation
In the flowers, vegetables and shrubs in the garden
We see the young birds newly fledged taking their first tentative flight
And the young foxes learning to feed themselves in the night
You have not abandoned us, you are here Lord!
Here in our hearts and in our garden!
Here we give you praise and honour!
Here we worship you.
We thank you, Lord for being with us forever as you have promised
Thanks be to you O God for the glory of your world.
As I sat down to write this a friend invited me to his website where his subject this time is A Week of Psalms! Take a look, as I am sure you will find them inspirational. The link is: givenscreative.com.
Lord, we pray for the whole church, and for St Mary Magdalene Church. We thank you that though in many ways we are very different, in Christ you have made us one body, so that although we are isolated we are never separated from you. We thank you for our fellowship and ask that the Holy Spirit may continually lead us into deeper ways of sharing with each other. May you guide us in all we do as we seek to offer the good news of Jesus in our love for others and our life together. Strengthen Peter our Acting Diocesan Bishop and John our bishop together with Michael, Graham and Peter our priests, and all your church in the service of Christ.
Lord in your mercy
Lord, we pray that in all meetings and conferences where important decisions are taken, hearts may be turned to honour what is true and just, compassionate and constructive. We pray that in all areas where there is corruption, deceit or distrust, consciences may be sensitised afresh to know what is right and strive towards it. Bless and guide Elizabeth our Queen; give wisdom to all in authority; and direct this and every nation in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honour one another and seek the common good. Lord in your mercy
Lord, as the restrictions imposed as a result of this coronavirus pandemic are relaxed slightly, we pray for the streets and for those who are able to return to their places of work. May they be places where the truth of your being is proclaimed daily by the way we live and handle everyday situations, through your leading. We thank you that we are now able to exercise more freely and meet others, even if at a distance. May our words and actions speak of your faithful love, your graciousness and your purity. Let us serve Christ in one another and love as He loves us. Lord in your mercy
Lord, make us channels of hope and healing to those who are broken and defeated by life. We pray for any we know personally to be in need of God’s healing touch. We think of those who are ill, those who are lonely or afraid, those who do not know which way to turn, and for those for whom the bottom seems to have dropped out of their lives. Fill us with your Spirit we pray, that the light of your mercy may reach into the darkest corners of life. Lord in your mercy
Lord, we pray for those who have died and now see you as you really are. We ask for mercy and forgiveness, and commend them to your keeping for ever.
This week we studied different forms of prayer on our Course in Christian Studies, Lectio Divina, the Jesus prayer, the Daily Office and Ignatian prayer were suggested. Taking the last example, St Ignatius said that we should place ourselves in a Gospel story, either as a spectator or a participant, to absorb the sounds and smells of the scene. Then we should ask ourselves, what would I say to Jesus and what might He say to me? I have always had difficulty with this type of prayer. After all, the message is in the Gospel. What more could I say to Jesus? Again, what more could He say to me that is not written in the Bible already? Chris said that she had taken Zacchaeus encounter with Jesus as the basis for her prayer.(Luke 19:1-10) After the session had finished I thought about Ignatian prayer again. Was there something that I had missed?
Strangely, at this point,in my mind's eye, the scene changed to a Scottish seaside resort in the 1950's where a friend and I had stopped for the night on our tour of the Western Isles. That evening after a good dinner we took a walk along the seafront. There was a preacher, in fine voice, proclaiming the Gospel message to a small crowd huddled before him on the beach. There being nothing else to do that evening; the pubs and just about everything else was closed in Scotland on Sundays in those days, we stopped to listen. I don't remember now what he preached but at the end of his service he invited people to come forward to take one of his tracts. For whatever reason, and at the time I couldn't tell you why, I came forward to take one. I couldn't explain the reason to my friend when he asked why; I just felt impelled to do so. Fast forward sixty years and I can now see that just as Jesus invited Zacchaeus down from the tree in which he had been hiding, so Jesus using the preacher, but more importantly the Gospel was inviting me to come down from the sea wall. "I need to spend some time with you" Jesus said to Zacchaeus. In the same way He was telling me that He wanted to spend some time with me. How wonderful is that?
Did that encounter change my life as his encounter with Jesus changed Zacchaeus? I think so although I did not recognize it at the time. You see, for all these years that incident has lain hidden deep in my memory to surface now; to remind me how powerful Ignatian prayer can be. Why not give it a try sometime? I certainly will.
The Gospel reading for this Sunday, 2nd after Easter, is from John 20:19-end. It relates the appearance of the Risen Lord to the disciples. Thomas was not present and would not believe what the others told him. "Unless I see.... I will not believe", he said.
The current pandemic and resulting economic collapse will have caused many to question where God is in all this."If he is so marvellous he could end this at a stroke, so why doesn't he?" they ask. And maybe your own faith is tested but remember Elijah in great distress sought the Lord but He did not come to him with great thunderings, earthquakes or violent winds but in the silence. 1 Kings 19:12. You see god moves in mysterious ways as we can see from an up to date example. Capt. Tom Moore a 99 year old ex soldier who had served in the Second World War, decided he needed to do something to raise money for the NHS. So he planned to walk, aided by his walking frame, 100 laps of his garden to raise £1000. This morning I understand he has raised £21 million! God is there, with Capt Tom and with us. As He said to the Israelites: "I am your God, I will never leave you nor forsake you." Let us hold on to that assurance.
This coronavirus pandemic is having a devastating effect across the world. More than one million people have been infected and many thousands have died. Even political leaders are not exempt. The virus is not concerned about who you are, or how much money or power you have, everyone is equally vulnerable. Indeed, two of my friends have lost loved ones recently; a bit too close to home! A longtime friend lost his daughter to the virus and three days later his wife died. Although his wife's death was not Covid-19 related nevertheless the pain of losing them both so close together must be unbearable. With the current restrictions on movement in force I am unable to visit him t offer comfort and support. As a result I feel so helpless.
Nevertheless these restrictions do mean that we can find solace in the garden. In fact it was here that I saw God yesterday morning. As I was tending a flower bed a bud on the camelia that our daughter gave us, opened to reveal a beautiful deep pink flower. Of course, plants do this all the time but I don't think I have ever witnessed it at first hand. It seemed that God was saying that I do not need to worry about anything as He has everything in hand. I should just enjoy the garden since God will look after my friend and his family because God loves each and every member of His creation.
Thanks be to God.
As a small child I lived in the East End of London during the Second World War. The Blitz, which commenced in 1940, meant that London was under constant attack from enemy bombers, night after night. The overwhelming feeling amongst those living there was one of fear. Whose home would be reduced to rubble by bombing tonight? Would it be ours? Would we survive the night? Something as simple as getting to sleep at night was difficult for everyone, let alone a small child. Mother would make sure we said our prayers before she lit a small candle which she placed in a saucer of water. The candle burned through the night and was a source of comfort to us. In the morning it might still be flickering. We would blow it out for use on the following nights.
Today, we need that same comfort support and hope since the coronavirus requires us to stay at home, venturing out only to buy food or to exercise. When the Deputy Chief Medical Officer says that it may be six months before things return to normal one does wonder how sane we will all be by then! But there is hope since even in the darkest days of the Blitz morning dawned as it always did.
So, just as the small lighted candle in a saucer comforted us through the dark days as children, in St John's Gospel we read: The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. John 1:5 NRSV. Note that phrase: the darkness did not overcome it. Just as the Second World War came to an end, so this pandemic will end, in God's good time.
Please pray for those suffering as a result of this coronavirus outbreak and hold on to this very important verse: be content with what you have for he has said I will never leave you or forsake you. Hebrews 13:5 NRSV.
May God walk with you and keep you safe. .
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years