Sunday, 15 November 2009

Mark 13:32: No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.



Mark’s Gospel is the shortest of the Gospels; the oldest and, in many ways, the most down to earth. It doesn’t seem to have the agenda that the Jewish Matthew puts on his or the Gentile Luke on his. It’s an easy Gospel to read – the memories of Peter; a straightforward man. So this End of Days chapter is not really about THE END but it is a bit of a wake up call.

Our relationship with Jesus, my relationship with Jesus, is very often guided by the idea of his humanity. That he lives a normal life; that I can imagine the type of person he is; that I can empathise with what he is trying to do – as a man. I often pray to him as a brother - as he tells us to, and feel comfortable with the idea – although, obviously the most ideal of brothers.

And that can be a problem – that we forget that Jesus always carries within him that otherness that is God; that is as much him as his humanity. the Incarnation isn’t a body going spare with God in it – he is God made Man. And so his Mission isn’t just three years of walking and talking; it isn’t just the healing and feeding; it isn’t ‘just’ the trial and the crucifixion. He is already looking ahead; to the ‘what happens next’ – for each and every one of us.

And that is it; Jesus is, was, will be the Word. Whatever led to his presence on earth, the Word was, is always here. He has his place in the Trinity, pointing always to the Father, encouraging trust in the Holy Spirit.

His living ministry plants seeds, makes wine and bakes bread; feeds the hearts of those who want to follow him to the Kingdom; to the Father. And that Kingdom needs to grow, knowing that the world is against it; needs to grow strong, knowing that the world is devious and will try to overcome it. That is our task and it is not easy; we are warned not to be fooled because this is simply another time of growing and the Son of Man will return to see what we have harvested.

The Gospel suggests that this coming is imminent to the lives of the disciples yet we think we have spent two thousand years waiting – and what Season is just around the corner? The Son of Man returns – he returns every year, every month, every day. We don’t have a date in our diary, something to look forward to – the coming is always imminent - the time is now - and we should be doing our best not to be caught sleeping.


wordinthehand09

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Mark 12:44 - ‘from the little she had has put in everything she possessed’

Reflection

It’s funny how some things that the Lord tells us seems to mean more to him than others. Surely, more important to where the Gospel writers are coming from; everything the Lord says must be important you would think? Yet even Jesus seems to have his favourite subjects.

Jesus is watching a woman in the Temple; one of the little ones; the poor ones; the ‘don’t really matter’ ones and perhaps, as he is watching her, he is reminded of his own mother. Perhaps he is reminded of the scrimping and saving that she had to do before and after Joseph’s death. After all; there was no likelihood that they were a well-off family. Joseph was no more than an odd-job man and their place in the community is suggested by the comments of those who hear Jesus preach – ‘this is only the carpenter’s son’, ‘only Mary’s son’ – with the veiled addition of ‘who does he think he is?’

Yet it seems that Jesus is certainly brought up to be a good Jew; to know about the traditions of his faith; to know them but not to understand them and not always to accept them.

At the beginning of this, Jesus says ‘I tell you most solemnly…’ I love that phrase. It’s a ‘look at me when I’m talking to you. I’m not ‘one of the lads’ now’ phrase.

Because, to the ‘lads’ it will have been a little thing; a non-event. Widows give pennies every day, rich men give more – that’s the way the world is. We see success and generosity in £ signs rather than percentages. We find it hard to appreciate that 100% of very little is still 100%.

But if we give all we have – no matter what – what more is there? And whilst the world may hardly notice, God thanks us.
it’s a compelling thought that, rather than sitting enthroned in splendour at the front of the church being feted by the church-ians, God actually spends His time at the back, in the shadows, watching as all the little goodness’s, sacrifices and graces are carried out by the unassuming, unknown, undervalued Christians in the community; who are giving all they have.


Contemplation

All I have

This, I think, is where it gets difficult. Many of us are committed to our faith, we do go to church; we do give to charity; we do try to help others. How hard it is, then, to think that we may still not be doing enough.

But surely there are limits on what we can give and still live with all the family and personal needs that we have.

Is there a point to making ourselves poor?
Is the main thing that we give what we can?
Is it that we resolve each time to give more?
Is it that we give knowing that it is not enough and still give?
Is that we do not call attention to ourselves when we give?
Is it that God will take what we have – when we’ve got it?
Is it that God will not ask for more than we can give?
Does it matter where our giving comes from; love or guilt?
How do you decide which is the most worthy cause?
What if the cause turns out not to be genuine?

I don’t have answers to any of these questions –

but they are certainly worth thinking about this week.
You may have some of your own.

And if you get an answer – let me know!

wordinthehand09

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Drawn from Psalm 89



I was one voice, Lord
Singing your faithfulness and your compassion
A song that repeated my own heart
‘I will love you always’.


The heavens caught the air
Stars bursting with melody across the skies
The metre marking light speed
In praise of Love eternal.

As above, so below
The rhythm of Earth’s lifeblood throbbed.
The cadence of the tides
Love’s own heartbeat.

The compass of the Universe turned
Drawing harmony and counterpoint together
Creation wove the score in rainbow shades
A celestial symphony.

Magnificent, but too much
I am just one voice in this song of the spheres
And all so far above me
I have lost my place.

Only a sigh, Lord
But a remembering of where we first met
In the pause between breaths
In the rest of a heartbeat.

That is where you are, Lord
The music refined by the mystery of your Presence
Your song to me in the spaces between
‘Always, I will love you’.
wordinthehand09

Drawn from Psalm 46


I rest in the Sanctuary of the Lord

Knowing that God alone is my refuge.


I am deafened by the worlds demands

Overwhelmed by its rages and torments


The seas swell and the mountains quake

The uproar of mans greed echoes through the night


Angry voices call out for revenge

Broken hearts for rescue.


But not here


Here is a Holy Place


This, my refuge

Deep as a mountain pool

Hopeful as the dawn sun

The home of the Most High


Heart’s ease is here

Soul’s friend is here

Spirit’s food is here


My Lord and my God


The Lord speaks and the world melts away


Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know

Be still


wordinthehand09

1 John 3:3 - We shall be like him because we shall see him as he really is.

Reflection

If we ever worry about how well we are, or are not, doing at being a good Christian; at being Christ-like; we should not be too hard on ourselves.

Think about the disciples that lived and were taught by Jesus, all those years ago. They had the benefit of weeks, months and years in his company; of understanding the importance of sheep and fish and vineyards; of seeing the mannerisms and nuances that accompanied the parables and the teachings. They had the benefit of ‘being there’.

And yet, still they got it wrong; regularly and outstandingly. They saw what Jesus did and still did not always see that they were meant to be like him. Maybe they saw his behaviour as eccentricity to attract the masses or to ridicule the Temple.

They were right and (at a push) left hand men; there must have been some authority in their closeness to the Lord; something that marked them out as ‘better’.

Surely they were not meant to be poor, persecuted or meek; surely they were not to be servants and less than servants; surely they were not meant to give up their lives in order to live the life of the Kingdom?

Why do we think Heaven is ‘up’? Why does Jesus ascend? Why the mountains? Does God have to use these metaphors and imagery because that’s how we think; we have to see that rising up out of this place to that place; and that place being better?

We will be like Christ when we can see him as he really is; really is.

He is a servant – how do we accept the role?
He is an obedient son – What sort of children are we?
He turns away from the world’s temptation – do we?
He loves unconditionally –Hmmmm?

Our ambition to be Christ-like is in itself a paradox – involving a lot of letting go and letting God work in us. Becoming less so that we may become more.


Contemplation

I have a problem with some images of Jesus; particularly the gentle, meek and mild image. I don’t really know where that idea of Jesus can help me in my life. I do like the Temple-crashing Jesus and the other times that he stands up to those who refuse to listen.

This probably says a lot more about me than about Jesus.

Because Jesus did teach gentle, meek (still not convinced about mild) but that these attributes could be, should be, strengths.

That authority was not about having the power to makes changes but having the desire to makes changes and to make them for the good of others.

Perhaps this week pray about one of the times that Jesus did make himself a servant; the washing of the feet, cooking the meal for the apostles and see it as the gift it was.
Then perhaps look at some of the times in your life where you have had to, where you still do, take this role, maybe against your will or at least without good grace. Then make a conscious effort to see the hand of Jesus holding yours, making what seems menial, holy – becoming a little more Christ-like.

Mark 10:50 - ‘Courage,’ they said ‘get up; he is calling you.’

Reflection

Many of us feel that this life is a journey and that the time that we spend here, whether good or bad, are footsteps that lead us towards the Kingdom and towards God.

Some of us are fortunate enough to be sure that we are always on the right path; that we are doing our best and that Jesus is with us already as we travel. Our prayers are full of hope and thanks for his company.

On the other hand, some of us are less confident about the pathways; less sure that the turns we take are still heading the right way; less optimistic of Jesus’ presence and are struck by the feeling we are struggling to do it on our own.

For those of us who feel blinded by our own doubts and fears –prayers have a different meaning. When we pray it is a calling out to the dark; asking for God’s hand, God’s eye, God’s voice. ‘Let me know you are there!’ But not really expecting an answer.

And then, suddenly, the dark replies; but it is not dark, it is light; blinding light full of Grace. After all your calling – he is calling you. So what do you do?

Does the knowledge of your doubts, the reminding of your weakness leave you hiding behind disbelief, rooted to the status quo? Or do you leap to answer, full of courage that, at last your prayers have been answered. Ready to find your feet walking solidly in his footsteps; seeing the route marked clearly and your place in the world shining.

When God calls, when Jesus calls, we always have the choice – to hear yet to ignore – or to have the courage to stand and be heard, to ask for what we really want, to be healed, to find love.


Contemplation

Those who have eyes

For many people the idea of not being able to see is a terrible one. We cannot imagine not being a part of the visual world and all that entails. But sometimes in faith we become blind. Locked behind rites and traditions that create a place where enlightenment is not for you. God’s presence being a gift for saints and prophets, while we follow the rules and stay within the lines.

Jesus is not good at lines, he tends to cross them regularly and with challenge. But then he waits to see what reception he will get. He makes the invitation – he doesn’t force himself on us – what happens next is always our decision.

In prayer imagine yourself cocooned in darkness, gathered in to yourself, with just a tiny beacon deep within calling out to God. The mediation from last week – maranatha – calls out to the Lord.

Then, believe that he has heard, and that he is there within arms reach, asking what you want.

What do you want?

Paul’s letter to the Hebrews 4:16 - ‘Let us be confident’

Reflection

Recently, we have been talking about becoming less – less of who and what we want to be; less of what the world expects; less involved in ambition or climbing social ladders. As we give away more and more; how should becoming less and less make us feel?

As we give up more, we become poorer, and what does that mean?

What it should mean, and certainly why anyone would want to do it, is that we become happier and more centred in who we are. Once we have turned the idea of less being a negative we can start to appreciate what it is we are doing.

We all know that there are ways where ‘less’ turns what seems a negative into a positive; we can lose weight; we can become less stressed; we can de-clutter our houses and our lives. Once we start discarding what we don’t really want we can start to focus on what we do really need. Like martial arts practitioners, climbers or even fishermen we can pay attention to what is important, to what the goal is. I wonder if that is why Jesus started with the fishermen, seeing that ability in their eyes.

Becoming less also means that we become compact; we can join up our thoughts and our actions without having to work through the lists of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if only’s. We develop an instinct for what is right. We may still be veiled from God but there is a lot less veils to worry about.

And we become better at hearing God speak in our lives; seeing God’s hand in what happens in the day; understanding why what happens, happens. Not all the time, for who can know God that well, but more than we did.
And when we are able to reach that quiet God space within us, knowing that God is there; not as an angry judge, or a vindictive puppeteer but as a parent and comforter, then we can approach that place with confidence and eagerness. The simplicity of being less – the simplicity taught by Paul, by Francis and Chiara and many other saints – is a simplicity that says ‘I know you are there’.


Contemplation
Maranatha

The Maranatha method of contemplative prayer is the confident call to a God who wants to be with us.

To pray in this way you need a comfortable and quiet place where you can have silence for at least twenty minutes; you should be sitting in a relaxed but upright position – imagine the housemaids or the bridegrooms friends waiting for the Lord’s return. This is an expectant mediation. You might light a candle or close your eyes.

Once you are comfortable and relaxed in the body, taking a few deep breaths and moving any immediate thoughts away. This is time to begin the mantra – Maranatha. Try to say it and repeat it as part of your breathing, as quickly or as slowly as is natural for you.

The phrase itself is Aramaic and mean two things depending on how you say it,
Ma -ra – na-tha – means ‘come Lord’
Mar-an – a-tha - means ‘Lord, you are here’

But don’t worry about trying to say it in a particular way. You should aim to do this for about twenty minutes; you can build up from five or ten if you wish. As you pray you may feel yourself distracted by thoughts or noises, take a second to admit to yourself that you have been distracted but it is gone now; and continue. You may find that the word goes into silence and this is absolutely fine for however long you can manage it.
After twenty minutes, say thank you for whatever has come to you (and that could be nothing but the rest from the day) maybe listen to some reflective music and take some deep breaths and stretches, before continuing with the day.

Mark 9:38 - ‘because he was not one of us we tried to stop him.’

Reflection
One of us

I was told on good authority this week that there are now over 60,000 ‘Christian’ denominations in the world all claiming to know the Truth.
Only a few years ago it was 30.000; what is happening to the Truth?
It seems that, like beauty, Truth is in the eye of the beholder and if you don’t agree, then you are not one of the chosen; not one of us. People are being exiled or founding new churches on the strength of a translation, an idea, a tradition, a taste in music or prayer. As had been mentioned recently we are in danger of becoming church-ians.

How dreadful; how human.

Jesus warned us that our faith would mean that we would be criticised and persecuted; that our faith would set brother against brother but did he mean within the faith itself? Surely not? What happened to the communities of the early church who lived wonderfully together?

When did being a Christian mean judging other Christians?

It seems since forever; as the disciples did it; Paul’s communities did it. It seems that, except in fleeting moments of Divine Grace, that is how humanity operates. ‘Give us rules, Lord so that we may judge others by them.’

And didn’t God try that one for thousands of years before Christ. The Ten Commandments that turned into 600-odd precepts of ‘what if’s’ and ‘how about’s’. Wasn’t that why God became incarnate –to show ‘flesh and blood’ how ‘flesh and blood’ should behave.

Jesus gives us examples - be as children.
Love one another as I love you – without judgement, prejudice or barrier.
Be open to the Spirit who guides you through me to the Father.
Don’t let the world get in the way.

Jesus himself says ‘anyone who is not against us is for us’ – another simple phrase that we can choose to put limitations on by deciding who is ‘us’.

To belong to Christ we should try to love others as ourselves.
And when it comes to others; let Jesus decide who belongs to him.


Contemplation
What if God was one of us?

This week I was in (separate) conversations with a Methodist and a recently converted Catholic. It seemed ironic that I actually had more in common with my Methodist friend as in both conversations we were talking about division within Christianity.

Each of the conversations ended in very similar statements; with the Methodist I agreed with her saying ‘in the end it’s not about you, it’s about you in Christ.’ whilst the other conversation ended ‘it’s not about you, it’s about you in the Church.’ And I couldn’t agree, because as joined to Christ as we may be through the Church, there will always be personalities, opinions and teachings that divide people – that’s human nature. That’s really what keeps us apart from where Jesus wants us to be.

Mark 9:35 - If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.

Reflection
Turning the World upside down

When you look at the world that we live in and then read or hear about the world God wants us to live in; It’s really no wonder that God had to send his Son to us to teach us God’s way.

There is really no time in our lives that we are taught that it is ok to be last, some of us have problems with being second! In our lives we are meant to progress and even that doesn’t mean climbing over others on the way to the top – it certainly means making sure that your own needs and desires are considered as important as everyone else’s. And isn’t that right? Isn’t that what equality is all about? And didn’t God make us all equal? So, if we are all equal, how can it be right that we be last?

Amazing how good we get at arguing our case.

Jesus came into the world in the most un-godly way – born of a woman of no account, in the worst of conditions and most unremarkable of places. The world would almost accept it if this pathetic start then soared into astonishing and overpowering God-ness but it never did. Jesus kept more than his feet on the ground; he spent plenty of time on his knees and in polite society’s version of a pig sty; with the unclean and the ordinary; caring and loving and healing; and telling them how blessed, how good they were, rather than how good he was.

You see bits of God-ness like this in many of the caring professions; nurses, teachers – and we all know people, friends and family, who improve lives and attitudes not through pride in who they are but by letting others know that they are important; that they have talent; that they matter. Hopefully we have all been inspired at some time by someone like this, by actions that put others first. Hopefully we have gone on to treat others the same - even something as simple as when people ‘remember’ their manners – letting someone go first through a door or letting them have the last biscuit.

‘Before you’ is a simple phrase, But it is a phrase that turns the world upside down. If I want you to be happier, more content, more fulfilled than I am; and then if you wish the same for me and we all wish it for each other; then the world will blossom in a race to be last.


Contemplation
Before you

Even in our faith journey we have ambition, it is the way the world makes us. We know we have to try to be more. Our saints tell us this over and over again – Teresa, Chiara, Francis, Julian – all tell us we have to be more…

We have to be more …less

We have to see that God regards service to others as above everything else except service to Him (which is a Catch 22 position anyway as in doing one you are drawn to do the other)

Particularly to do this in love rather than obligation; to be more accepting of others, to put their needs first, to do this willingly and without expectation of reward – gives us our reward. A sense of peace and completion that makes our lives naturally, spiritually better.

Is it easy? No, far easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk – if I could choose who to be nice to… who to put first….but that’s not the challenge.
And perhaps that is where we need ambition – in rising to the challenge of what God asks of us; to follow the example of the God who, according to the world, never amounted to anything.

Mark 8:35 - ‘Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life for my sake will save it.’

Reflection
Who said it would be easy?

I have said it before – I am a plain man. I know what I know - fish, tides, sail. The calling I could not deny. There is something to him that reminds of the stories told by the seafarers – of sirens who sing across the oceans. When he speaks there is nothing to do but listen; when he looks at you – you never want him to look away. There is some truth of that in why I am here, I admit it, yet I am a plain man.

And sometimes that is how he seems – a plain man - he asks a plain question – and the answer is clear – love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness. But the answer is not what you have been living; as though he has called some truth out of you that did not fit the world. The answer complicates your simple life by showing that it is wrong; a simple truth that reveals a life of lies.

When he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ why didn’t I just go with the others? I wanted to; I wanted him just to be a man; to be my friend and companion; to be my teacher.

But no, something opened my eyes and my heart and then it opened my mouth so that I barely knew what I had said. Then, when he spoke I realised what I had committed him to; what I had committed us all to. What would you have done but try to take it back?

I wanted my simple life with the Lord. I wanted him in my simple life, and isn’t that enough? But no, the simple life for me would mean not seeing what needed to be done; who needed to be helped; would mean a life that suited my needs and not others; that kept me safe.
What was ahead was not safe but it was where he was going – and to be with him meant saying goodbye after goodbye to before.

That life has to go. When the eyes, the heart and the mouth are opened it calls you to let go; to surrender to the truth. Once you have seen it, anything else is denial, once you believe it - it is all that you want.



Contemplation
What life?

The basics of Christianity seem very basic – Love God and your neighbour as yourself. So simple that we almost feel that they are not really Commands, they are too nice, too plain.
When actually they are too hard. To follow Jesus means to give up the worldly way of living. To turn away from a life that is ‘all about me’. To give it up and live a life that is all about him.
As the bracelet says – ‘What would Jesus do?’ – and do it.

We are not going to be able to do that by ourselves – for a start to know what Jesus would do we have to know Jesus; to not just believe but to follow; and to follow as closely as the first disciples.
And be prepared - just as Peter did – to get it right and to get it wrong.

Peter was not Satan, but the thought that went through Peter’s head was not God’s. And that’s the hard part. When our minds and hearts speak to us how do we tell where it is coming from?

This is called discernment and is part of contemplation. To imagine a scenario that is causing us trouble; maybe to find and read a piece of scripture that goes with what we are looking for.
To deliberately make the time and the space and ask specifically for God to speak. And then listen.

Mark 7:37 -‘he makes the deaf hear and the dumb speak’

Reflection
Can you hear me?

What I like most about the healing miracles is that the Lord almost always makes contact with the sufferer; he touches them with his hands; he makes mud out of dirt and spit, or just spit. It is as though the creator in him just has to make a few minor adjustments that quality control didn’t catch when they were first made.

Of course, that’s not true – God sees all of us as perfect and our imperfections are usually judgements that we make on ourselves and on others. But if that is the case then why heal them – why should the Lord enter into the same judgement space as us? We end up looking at the argument around suffering – if God can stop it (so easily) then why doesn’t he? But maybe the miracles aren’t meant to deal with the physical bodily healing – impressive to the onlookers but easily dismissed or explained away now. Maybe they are there to give us another message

It may well be that the blind and the dumb man were actually no ‘better’ once they were healed. Certainly the healing would mean that they had been made whole and could become a part of the community and Temple life. But what if they didn’t; what if they didn’t want to; what if no-one listened; what if they were still not accepted and ended up outcast anyway or they just didn’t like what the world looked or sounded like once they were healed?

We are all deaf, dumb and blind in our own ways. We even use this ‘disability’ to make our lives easier! Sometimes it is the judgement call –
a filter on what we consider important or mattering to us; sometimes it is just ignorance – we don’t know or don’t care to know; sometimes it is simply fear – to stand up and be counted, to be accused of being a trouble-maker. This can happen in life, this can happen in faith.

It is a strong prayer – to ask for insight; to ask for eloquence; to ask for understanding as faith should. It is a prayer for healing over our weaknesses and fears. But once the Word gets in; written on or spoken to our hearts, demanding to be released from our hearts, once the healing takes place then it is up to us.
To let the scales drop from the window of our hearts and to live God’s bright life; full of song; full of colours; full of faith and understanding.


Contemplation

‘A-ha’

What a word –‘ A-ha’ – symbolic of that moment when; out of the blue; after all the work and trial and effort has gone into understanding and not understanding and not understanding and not understanding – suddenly – you get it.

And realistically it is like being deaf, dumb and blind because up until then it was all just so much stuff – whatever it was – and then – and who know what it takes – a different angle, a new experience, a five minute break – something will bring that clarity to your mind.

In contemplation, you can try any of the above to open your heart a little more. If you normally pray in one way – try another; if you use music, use silence; if you read, then write; or simply give the whole thing into God’s hands and sit quietly while he makes the adjustments and shows you a different angle.


How lovely to end a meditation with that deep meaningful breath that says ‘A-ha’.