Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Oh dear, another blank page day! How is it that some people can post thoughtful, inspiring blogs each day; whilst others can write uplifting sermons running to 1500 words for two services on a Sunday in addition to their other work, when all I can do is stare at an empty screen trying to think of 500 words that might be useful, helpful reflections for you to think about during the week. My mind is just blank! Perhaps instead of staring at the screen I should use the time to pray to ask God what He wants me to write. After all the words may be mine but the inspiration is His.
But life is a bit like that. Not everything runs smoothly, there are ups and downs along the way in every well-ordered family, society or indeed the world outside. For example, the weather here in the last few weeks has been relatively mild so that we have been led to believe that Spring was on its way. Some of the daffodils are in bloom as are the little crocuses; the roses are in bud, too. Earlier in the week I saw Mrs Blackbird on the lawn with a bundle of straw in her beak; she was off to build a nest somewhere to lay her eggs and in due time to fledge her chicks. New life! Hope! Hurrah! Then this morning we awoke to a covering of snow with more severe weather from Siberia promised to follow over the next week. What then will happen to the blackbird family? Will they survive? Perhaps just as importantly, how will those living rough on the streets cope with this harsh weather? Will they survive? At least one rough sleeper has died of hypothermia in a nearby town recently.
Yet even in the darkest of times there is hope. At the death of her brother Lazarus, a really dark time for Martha and her sister Mary, Jesus told Martha, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. John 11:25-26 and then He asked her: Do you believe this?’ Well, do you? Do I? That is a hard question to answer but it is only by answering “Yes” that we will find hope in the dark times. We need to believe, beyond what our eyes see and our heart feels, in God who, with love and compassion for each and every one of His Creatures – man, bird or beast, brings eternal life, hope, and light.
So you see my prayer was answered: “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,” Matthew 10:19 (NIV) Thanks be to God!
My son-in-law sent me a book entitled ‘40 stories of Hope’. It is book that the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have recommended as the Lent course for 2018. It contains 40 stories, mostly by prisoners or ex offenders, telling how faith in Christ has changed their lives,
Having once been involved in the criminal justice system, I have visited several penal institutions, from the austere, terrifying Victorian inner city prisons to some more modern Youth Offender Units. All had the same claustrophobic effect. Once that steel door clanged shut the outside world was a foreign place and all hope vanished. I was grateful that I would be there for just a few hours, and that I could sleep in my own bed at night. The prospect of being confined in such a place, with a lot of people I did not know, or even want to know, for years on end would have terrified me. It is not surprising to find a high rate of suicide amongst the more vulnerable inmates. Some prisoners were old lags who had spent half their life or more behind bars, but some were young men and women serving their first custodial sentence. That was sad to see especially as seven out of ten young people released from prison reoffend in the first year after release.
Perhaps the saddest visit I had to make was to a women’s prison. Here a number of foreign women were serving a long sentence for smuggling drugs into the country before being deported on their release. You have no sympathy for them? You are not alone. To Mr Big counting his ill-gotten gains safely on the other side of the border she is already ancient history, she was always expendable. To her family she no longer exists whilst her children have already forgotten her. Hope may seem far off for all prisoners but in such situations it must seem non-existent.
Now, before you start throwing stones remember that none of us is perfect; all of us have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Yet to God the Father she, and we, are all His beloved, though erring children. He is waiting for us to repent, to turn to Him. So there is hope because, as Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury says in his foreword to the book. “The resurrection of Christ is the hope for our world, because it proclaims the defeat of all that is evil and destroys human nature”.
Lent is a time to reach out to support those working with people in the criminal justice system. Through growing links with prisons, victim support services and other organisations we can serve God. But on a personal level let us turn away from our sinfulness and recommit ourselves to following Christ. Then hope will be fulfilled as Our Father welcomes us home with open arms.
It will soon be March; that’s three months since we made all those New Year’s resolutions. So how have we got on? Now might be a good opportunity to look again at them to see how many of them we have managed to keep. Some will have been easy to keep whilst others, more difficult to achieve, may have ended up in the bin, at least until next year. Yet if the resolution was worthwhile, and only careful discernment will have determined that, should we not have tried a bit harder? Alone it may not have been easy, but with someone else’s assistance, could we have achieved our goal? Did we not think to ask our best friend for His help and support? Many years ago the psalmist said: ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Psalm 46:1(NIV). Why did we not ask Him to help us? Indeed, later the Evangelist spells out the message quite clearly: ‘Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”’ Matthew 19:26 (NIV). Jesus is always there for us, willingly offering assistance, if only we will take it. Did He not say: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ Matthew 11:28-30(NIV).
I rather like the picture painted here. Jesus as the son of a carpenter would have been well used to making, or helping his father Joseph, make yokes for the local pack animals. His listeners too, would have been familiar with a yoke that binds two animals in tandem. Pulling a heavy load is so much easier if the two work together as one. Jesus then, is here (not there) ready to walk with us, to help carry our heavy load, along the way God has laid down for us, if we will accept his yoke.
Lent starts on February 14th this year. It is a time to turn away from our sinfulness and recommit ourselves to following Christ; the perfect time to look again at our New Year’s resolutions. To tackle those that prayerful discernment tells us really do need keeping. And remember we are not alone for: “With God all things are possible”
Virtually every room in our house has a bookshelf groaning under the weight of books. Having been brought up before the digital age I love the feel of a book; somehow a downloaded eBook is not quite the same. Once I would spend hours browsing in the local library, before taking home an armful of books, on loan for a fortnight. All those wonderful adventure stories set in wild exotic places capturing my youthful imagination. (As I grew up my tastes matured you will be pleased to know!) Even today I find it difficult to pass a second-hand bookshop, whilst the online retailers are just too tempting. What annoys me, though, is to see a book defaced by a previous reader’s annotations, comments or underlining. Often a second-hand book will be covered in other people’s scribbles! Perhaps defaced is too strong a word and maybe I am being pedantic, but I do think that for all the time and effort the author puts into his creation – that’s what it is after all - his work deserves to be treated with respect.
In the same way God took a lot of time and trouble in creating the Universe which, rather like the lending library, he has loaned to us to look after temporarily. Yet do we treat that loaned gift with respect or do we scribble all over it? Sadly, over the years we have defaced Planet Earth in so many ways. The Amazon forest has been, and is being torn down at an alarming rate whilst we all jump into our cars powered by fossil fuel thus adding to the pollution of the atmosphere. Recently we hear that the people of Cape Town in South Africa have to draw water from standpipes because the reservoir supplying the city has dried up. All this is as a result of global warming. There is an argument, of course that says: “I need to dig coal to provide for my family. Someone else can worry about global warming.” And, in the same way, I can still read my scribbled on book. But is this the right approach? In his encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis calls on each of us to take ‘swift and decisive global action’. It is no coincidence that every country in the world, except one, has signed up to an agreement to limit the emission of greenhouse gases to reduce the effect of global warming. The reductions specified are small but it is a step in the right direction.
As I treasure my random collection of books, let me give the same attention to my care of this fragile planet.
Will you pray with me, please: “Lord, bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.” (Pope Francis) I give you, Lord, what I am and possess. Heal my heart. Amen.”
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years