Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
I had an appointment that I was not looking forward to the other afternoon. As car parking was always difficult at the venue I decided to take the bus. It was bitterly cold with sleet stinging my face as I walked to the stop and I was more than a little worried about what might happen at my appointment.
Whilst waiting at the bus stop a man, about my age, came up and studied the timetable. From the way he looked at it his eyesight was clearly failing. I told him that the next bus was due in 5 minutes for which he thanked me. He said that he had had to give up driving as his eyesight was not good enough. As he was living alone now there was no one to drive him anywhere, so that he had to rely on the bus. We struck up a conversation from which it became obvious that he was rather lonely, although he did not admit as much! We continued to chat through the journey as we sat next to one another, nothing in particular but generally putting the world to rights. We shook hands when he alighted one stop before mine and wished each other well. And that was that. Yet, when I got off the bus I had quite forgotten any apprehension I had about my appointment, thinking only of the camaraderie I had recently enjoyed. I hope too that I had been able to relieve my companion’s loneliness just for a while anyway.
Strange the way God works; putting two old men together on a bus to cheer one another up.
That’s where I found God that day. Where will you find Him?
Over the last few weeks I have been called or texted innumerable times by my mobile phone provider offering me the latest, and probably the most expensive handset. You would be surprised at the wonderful, not to be missed, features that the new phone has, apparently! Now, my phone is not the latest version but it does what I need it to do. I can call someone or text them and even send an email, and it has a camera. What more do I need? I could probably use it to tweet at someone but I am not that important so I try not to be a twit.
Anyway it seems that we live in a throwaway society. Nothing is saved, nothing is built to last or treasured nowadays. We never seem to be content with what we have, always wanting something different, something more. The general view is that when it breaks down or becomes out of fashion, throw it away and buy a new one. Yet do we really need the very latest clothes, gadgets, or whatever? Do we not realize that God will provide for all our needs; note, needs, not necessarily wants. Many years ago the psalmist wrote: Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing. Psalm 145:16 AKJV, whilst later Jesus reminded his followers, and us to consider the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28). Is that not enough?
And remember that throughout this transitory life with its constant changes and upgrades, there is one thing that will remain constant. Returning to that same Psalm we read: Thy kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and thy dominion endureth throughout all generations. Psalm 145:13 AKJV.
Let us rest in that assurance and give thanks to God for all He has given us. Let gratitude be our watchword not greed.
Do you sometimes find that your prayer is, well, rather dry, perhaps even seemingly irrelevant? Do you ask yourself why am I wearing out the knees of a good pair of trousers rattling off words that, whilst familiar frankly do not seem to mean very much? You know that prayer is a conversation between two people, but is God listening? Then try another approach.
Have you, for example considered praying with scripture, either Lectio Divina, which we can consider at another time, or with the imagination? One way of doing this is to place yourself in a Gospel story; to take the part of a character, being with Jesus and being aware of what’s going on and how you are feeling. Now it is important to remember that you are not trying to recreate history. It doesn’t matter if your imagination takes the story in a different direction to the Scripture. Equally it doesn’t matter if the story takes place in 1st Century Palestine or 21st century England, or wherever you happen to live. What is important is what God wants to say to you through this passage. Some people initially have difficulty praying this way but stay with it for it is worth it.
Here is a personal example that I would like to share with you.
On Sunday I looked at the Gospel story of Jesus reading in the synagogue from this perspective.
‘And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day. And he stood up to read; and there was given to him the book of the prophet Isaiah. He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.
And he closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” —Luke 4:16-21
In my prayer I placed the story in 21st century St Mary Magdalene church rather than the synagogue at Nazareth. Having done so immediately I realised that I had read the Epistle at 8am Mass on the day our Catholic brothers and sisters celebrate the Baptism of Jesus. At His baptism Jesus’ ministry on earth began as the heavens opened and a voice was heard saying “This is my beloved son, listen to him”. Luke 3:21.
Is this what God was telling me in this prayer, that I am beloved of God and that He has a mission for me? I believe so.
So what will God say to you if you pray with your imagination? Try it and see.
I’ve often wondered what the neighbours thought when the Wise Men turned up with their entourage at Mary and Joseph’s temporary home where they were resting, after they had moved out of the stable, but before embarking on their journey home to Nazareth. I am sure there would have been a few curtains twitching there, if they had any! Just imagine the scene, fabulously rich men on exquisitely decorated camels, with servants, guards, trumpeters; a whole caravan of attendants. All quite out of place in this humble little village! And the gifts they were taking in to give to the baby! They were priceless! Gold, frankincense and myrrh. I doubt the villagers had ever seen such wealth.
That leads me to ask; what have you to give to Jesus, to God?
In 1872 Christina Rossetti, one of the finest English Victorian poets, considered that question in a poem that later became the well known carol In the bleak midwinter. She wrote:
What can I give Him,
Poor as I am? --
If I were a Shepherd
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man
I would do my part, --
Yet what I can I give Him, --
Give my heart.
Give my heart? At first glance that sounds impossible since the heart is a muscle that pumps the life giving oxygenated blood around the body. Without it quite simply I would die so giving God my heart is really a big deal – I will die! But that was what she was suggesting; that the only gift she (we) could give to God was her (our) life sustaining heart. However, in his book You are the beloved Henri Nouwens reminds us that: In the biblical understanding, our heart is at the centre of our being. It’s not a muscle, but a symbol for the very centre of our being. The point to remember here is that everything we own, everything we are is a gift of God, and that includes our free will. It is this free will that can lead us away from what God wants for us; by tempting us with illusions of wealth, power and etc. By offering our heart to God we are effectively resisting that temptation by putting our old life behind us and starting anew on the path God has laid out for us. As Jesus said: ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’ Matthew 16:25 NIV. It is still quite a challenge and that path will not be easy but it will be so much more rewarding than continuing in the old way. And remember that God has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us. He will walk with us every step of the way; take comfort in that.
So, are you prepared to give your heart to God? And will the neighbours’ curtains twitch when you do so?
I have tried over the last year or so to publish on a theme of gratitude. I hope to be able to continue to do that and so I will start the New Year on a note of thanksgiving.
God turns up in the most unexpected places. It is just a matter of opening one’s eyes to see as you will find in this little illustration:
Over the Christmas/New Year holiday period Network Rail takes the opportunity to carry out major engineering work. All well and good for the future but it does make rail travel during this time very difficult. For one thing trains may be cancelled at short notice, or start and terminate at unexpected stations, with the rest of the journey is taken by bus. Members of our family travelled down by train to be with us at Christmas. They were expected to arrive in the evening. Of course we intended to collect them from the station. Due to engineering work the train would terminate at a nearby station. It was not one with which we were familiar. My wife suggested that we should check out the station earlier in the day to ensure we knew where to pick them up. Just as well she did! On arrival marshals on the station gate refused entry to cars as the car park was full with rail replacement buses taking passengers on their onward journey. We explained that one of our family was disabled, not expecting to sway the decision. However, the marshal took a note of our car number plate which he said he would pass to his colleague who would be on duty that evening. He assured us we would be allowed to enter to pick up our visitors. I did not hold out too much hope that he would do as he said.
When we returned that evening it was cold, damp and foggy. The marshals would have been standing outside for a long boring period of time. Nevertheless, the message had been passed on. His colleague had our details and insisted on walking in front of us as we drove through the car park avoiding the buses, to the station entrance where we were able to collect the family.
That is where I saw God that day, in the kindness of strangers.
Do keep your eyes and ears open this year as you never know where God will appear in your life. It may be in something quite simple. But when He does then your response must be one of gratitude; which I think is where we came in.
I wish you all a New Year in which peace will prevail.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years