Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
When God called me to write a Christian blog the title ‘Reflections in the water’ came to me, in the sense that as an old man I was sitting on the banks of a river, the river of life, dreaming. The words of the prophet Joel came to mind:
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: Joel 2:28. (KJV)
How strange then that St Peter took that verse as the basis of his first sermon to the Jews after Pentecost. (Acts 2:17); and using that same verse God called me to write my first blog.
We were involved in a project to deliver food parcels to needy elderly folk living in the district. We loaded up the car and map in hand off we went.
Most people accepted their parcels gratefully although one complained that it wasn’t as big as last year whilst another moaned about “all that rich food”. One couple indignantly said they didn’t need charity hand outs from some posh do-gooder in a fancy car. They had worked hard all their lives for what that had – which apart from two spotlessly clean if a little shabby rooms - was not very much. The one who stays in my mind, though, was the old chap who took his parcel gratefully but said: “I am never going to eat all this! Will you stay for a bit, we can have a chat and you can share it with me? There is no one else now Elsie’s gone.” Of course we couldn’t stay as we had 50 more parcels to deliver and it was the week before Christmas and you know how busy that gets. Anyway we didn’t really know him, did we? So we made our apologies and left to continue our charitable deliveries.
That was 43 years ago but the story still remains in my memory. I wonder why.
Anyway, what would you have done?
You may wonder why I came up with this rather strange name for a Christian devotional blog spot. The answer is really quite simple. I often imagine myself sitting beside a river, perhaps in the evening with a fishing line in the water, though I have an arrangement with the fish that if I don’t bother them they won’t bother me.
At its source the river is a spring of pure water. On its way downstream it chatters and bustles over the stones in its headlong rush to get to the sea, its ultimate destination. By the time it has reached my spot it has become much lazier meandering between the reed beds forming pools along the way. Later, of course it will widen and finally merge with the sea, losing its identity altogether.
Life is like that river in many ways. We come into this world as a pure spring of water, naked and innocent. When we were young we all had visions as to how we were going to change the world and so we grasped at every opportunity to climb the slippery ladder to success, acquiring money and material wealth along the way; chattering and bustling in the headlong rush, trampling on anyone who gets in our way. But as I sit here with the sea, figuratively the end of my life, just a few miles downstream, I realise that all that so called wealth is as nothing for I cannot take it with me when I leave this mortal life.
Jesus reminded his listeners of this in what we know as the Sermon on the Mount: 19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20"But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21
And so I take this opportunity to think about these things. I take my inspiration from the fact that more than 400 years ago St Ignatius of Loyola proposed that we should all reflect in a prayerful manner on the events of the day to see where God has been present and to ask what God is saying to us through the feelings we have experienced. It is significant that one of his central themes was that gratitude should be the foundation of our relationship with God. I am using this technique which has been called the Daily Examen for a prayerful reflection of my past life.
Yes, I know that Prayer should be a two way conversation between God and me but how many of us simply rattle off the required prayers and then get on with our daily lives? How many of us actually take time to listen to what God has to say to us?
“Take time to listen? Have you seen my schedule for today? I have meetings all day and I have to pick up my mother from the airport this evening and you know what the traffic is like around there at that time; plus I have a stack of unread emails in my Mailbox and the Fischer report was due in on Friday and Bateman has been screaming for it every five seconds. I have no idea when I shall get to the gym! And you want me to make time to listen to God? Well, I am sorry I don’t have time right now!”
But is that the truth? After all, we can always find excuses for putting off things we don’t want to do. Perhaps the real reason we don’t make time to listen to God is that we are afraid of what He might tell us if we did. The disciples listened to Him and followed His commands and they had a pretty rough time of it and even today Christians are being persecuted for their beliefs all over the world. It is safer to keep our heads down, to recite the prayers, attend Church on Sunday if convenient – yes, I know there is so much to do on Sundays – and go to Mass when possible; the trouble is the service starts so early. It is certainly easier to take that safe option but is that really what God wants for us?
Fear and especially fear of the unknown is a powerful emotion but in these circumstances is it justified? I remember the first Psalm I ever learned to recite: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...” Psalm 23. Or listen to the words He spoke to Moses: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you."Deut 31.6. So, what are we afraid of then? Is it that He will give us a task that we cannot do? Now we are getting to the point! After all, we may feel that we cannot go and stand on the street corner proclaiming God’s Word as John Wesley did. We cannot write stirring Epistles as St. Paul did. We cannot heal the sick or.... Well what can we do really? The Disciples felt like that after Christ’s death but they went out and did God’s Will anyway. And how were they able to do that? They were able to do the work God had asked them to do because the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost; because God was with them, just as He had promised to be with Moses and the Israelites all those years before. And let us remember that the Holy Spirit is with each of us, in just the same way. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10
So why don’t we just stop putting obstacles in the way and put our trust in God.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6 New International Version (NIV)
There are a vast number of books, blogs and websites to help us with our prayers if we need them. And from time to time we all need help.
However, maybe I am being a bit too simple but it seems to me that we should regard our prayers as a conversation with our best friend. After all, that is what He is, isn’t He? I know that some people prefer to use the formal prayers they have learned over time and if that is what they are comfortable with then so be it. But we chat with our best friend in the ordinary language we use every day so why not speak to God in the same way? It is not disrespectful, after all He knows us far better than we know ourselves; so why not give it a try? After all, He will respond to us in a way we can understand.
Over a cup of coffee, at the bar or perhaps on the telephone we tell our best friend anything; share the good times as well as the bad. Moan and complain about all the problems we have, all the troubles we have to deal with. Perhaps ask for their advice or their help in dealing with a particularly difficult problem. That of course, requires us to listen to what he or she has to say.
It should be just the same with God. He is quite happy to listen to us and in fact invites us to take all our troubles to Him. “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11.28 We need to thank Him for listening to us and we should thank Him too for all the good things He has done for us and given to us. He is after all Sovereign and Creator of the universe and we should praise Him for His majesty. We also need to confess those things we have done wrong or perhaps have not done which we should have done, as well as asking for His help to complete the tasks we have to do. All these things we can say in our own words. But there is one more thing to remember and that is that when we go into a cafe or a bar to chat to our best friend there is a lot of noise, people talking to one another so that it is sometimes difficult to make ourselves heard or to hear what our best friend is saying: we need a bit of peace and quiet. It must be that way too with our prayers; we must find a quiet place to speak to God and to listen to His response. Rest assured, He will listen to us and will tell us what He wants us to do and will help us along the way.
Of course, we do not need a telephone, a Face book account, a Twitter feed or an email address because He is always there with us, and it won’t cost us the price of a coffee either!
So what are we waiting for? He is there waiting for us to get in touch right now.
Isn’t modern technology wonderful? I put “seek and ye shall find” into my internet search engine just now and it returned 1,870,000 hits within 0.39 seconds. How amazing is that? Another quick search revealed that there are a vast number of Christian web-sites, blog spots available for everyone to use - and online versions of the Bible without number. There are even pod-casts so that you listen to a 3 minute retreat on your mobile phone whilst in a traffic jam on the way to work. Everything you ever wanted to know about God at the click of a mouse.
The question is how do we treat all that barrage of information now so easily available to us? Do we regard it warily, after all anyone can put up his own website and who knows what sinister message may be there? Or do we embrace it but use it wisely seeking those sites on which we can rely? Personally I have nothing against all this modern stuff. Most websites, blog spots and etc are very useful; they can be instructive, inspirational, thought-provoking or consoling whilst the online versions of the Bible, are an essential piece of kit for everyone. (That said; don’t forget that paper version on the bookshelf.)
But is that really what God wants of us, to sit glued to a computer screen all day? Surely He had some better purpose for us than that when He made us? After all, He did make us in His own image. Until we ask him we will never know the answer to that one.
Now, here is a thought why don’t we use this modern technology to look at a piece from the Bible perhaps using the daily Mass readings or the lectionary used by our church. We should read it through as many times as we feel we need to, then think about it, pray about it asking God’s help to understand the message He is giving us. We shouldn’t look at any of the commentaries or helpful devotional readings at this point in time since we are looking for God’s message for us; no-one else. God may have a different message from the same reading for others. Having read, thought about, and prayed about the passage we now need to listen to God’s answer, his instructions to us for the day ahead if you like. That guidance, those instructions may come in an unexpected way, it may be that looking at a devotional reading online will show us what He requires of us, for example.
Then we should GET OUT THERE and DO SOMETHING wonderful with it. By the way, He doesn’t expect all of us to be great teachers or writers. He knows we cannot all heal the sick. He knows what we can and can’t do but He will make sure that we have the tools to do whatever it is that He requires of us. As someone said to me the other day “God does not call the qualified but qualifies those He calls.” It may be something simple we are called upon to do. Remember Matthew 5:16 which says:
‘ Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’
Matthew 5:16King James Version (KJV)
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years