We were blessed to have Andy Flannagan lead worship for us at our end of year service for MCYM students. He played a song that is one of his next releases which has stayed with me. Possibly because the sea is such a regenerative place for me. I am hoping after many months of lockdown to get a glimpse soon. Life can feel a little wild, cold and dark with the many challenges this season has brought but God is with me on the sea and by the sea
The start and end of academic years are challenging as we seek to get everything that needs to be done to a tight timescale. This year there have been a range of additional challenges. I often turn to Joyce Rupp to get some spiritual wisdom at such times and this week this reflection seems particularly apt.
She begins by quoting Mark Nepo “The aim of spiritual practice, no matter its form, is to untangle the nets that living snares us in”. She then offers a range of reflections using the metaphor of untangling nets:
When we are caught in the web of disagreements and the snares of hostilities that are difficult to mend, may we give ourselves to the effort of untangling the nets of conflict.
When we find ourselves caught up in a overly full schedule and way to much to do, may we find wisdom and courage to pause and loosen the knots of our hurried life.
When we ignore or neglect our fatigue, illness, or pain, may we untangle the net of ignoring our physical self and respond with care.
When we find our faith or spiritual life entwined with indifference or disregard, may we disentangle the knots and repair what needs mending.
When we lose hope for peace because of the world’s endless pain and suffering, may we lean on divine compassion and continue to loosen the knots of hopelessness that seep into our hearsts.
She finishes with a prayer:
O Divine Untangler, you know the journey each of us is on. Remind us often that the slower we are to untangle the net, the harder it is to unravel. Help us to accept and grow beyond any part of our life where the net is too twisted to be undone. Grant us the courage to untie what is possible. In all areas of our live, may we learn the patience of the fisherman, trying to see what is tangled and then to slowly, gently undo the knots, one by one. All to make the web whole again. Amen.
Joyce Rupp Prayer Seeds Notre Dame: Sorin Books 2017, p168.
I heard a phrase similar to this by a commentator today as he reflected on observing the first evening after lockdown in Soho London. It was an observation made after seeing almost no social distancing. I guess this is an ethical dilemma that many of us face. Or perhaps the spectrums of fun, holidays, socialising, going to work, looking after family and friends and health. All of us have to make judgement calls on how we have led our lives over the last almost 4 months. How shall we then live? was a seminal work by Schaeffer many decades ago that seems to ring true as a question and a challenge for us today. Most of us have been contrite over holding seemingly opposing tensions of responsibility to others, ourselves, our work and service and our homes. It seems to me that holding these tensions and responsibilities as all true, valid, is a sign of Christian maturity, not of being indecisive. It is all very well, choosing health over wealth, when I have steady employment and income during covid-19. I choose to hold the complexities of competing needs, and I hope that my need for fun and relaxation will never outweigh my responsibility for the well-being of others.
This is our front garden, the tree which was a beautiful centre piece when we moved in began to bend towards the sun and ended up at an angle of 45 degrees. In lockdown we have gradually been assessing our neglect of our garden and one evening this week Paul got the tree upright again but only by leaning it against our garden rubbish bin.
I couldn’t believe the complexity of the branch system and the way the tree had struggled to grow. I think we largely k ow but perhaps too often forget that what people present to us is what they want us to see and we don’t always see what is underneath, the struggles the challenges, the complexity of life. One of the good things of this time has been the increased willingness for people to be vulnerable and share how they are feeling. May that be one of the things we take forward along with increased empathy and compassion.
This is a Brueggemann phrase and he begins his chapter referring to Paul talking about all creation groaning in Romans 8.22. He then plays with words and talks about a groan without future ‘a relinquishment in which there are no new gifts and no new creation, because the new creation is only promised but not guaranteed’ (p66). One of Paul’s saddest jobs is taking the funeral of stillborn children, utterly tragic, the longed for future not happening, a groan without a future is one of the most awful things that can be experienced. He goes on to argue that we often want a future without groan and that’s just not going to happen, particularly in our current circumstances. As he argues, it is like us wanting Easter Sunday without Good Friday and there are so many attempts to eliminate groan that we are often in denial about the consequences of so many of our actions and choices. He writes ‘It is known among us, that the new creation, from the human side, is a new network of care that requires the end of domination and exploitation, the end of controlling truth, monopolies of certitude, the end of an oil-based comfort, luxury extravagance, and self-indulgence… the cycles of denial can only be broken among us by the truth of groan’ (p67).
Life has to be different in the future but a different life can be very difficult to achieve as many of us know from our own little efforts in our own lives. There may be lots of groaning along the way and we may need to groan because we genuinely feel the pain but there may well be lots of groaning from people who do not like losing their privilege, the status quo that works for them but not others. I am grateful for the prompt to reflect and think and for the metaphor of groan and lament the times I have looked for change without the groan.
Walter Brueggemann (2020) Virus as a summons to faith. Eugene: Cascade.
I am doing something that I have not done in the first 7 years of doing a weekly blog, I am re-posting one. I went to write something and thought i would check if i had written on the issue before. This is what I found and thought it was an interesting reflection that it seems to sadly stand the test of time.
Does this picture influence your opinion of me? Does knowing I am a Chelsea supporter make you feel more or less kindly disposed towards me or do you just not care about football? One of the questions I wrestle with is “Are all human beings inherently prejudiced?” There have been a few news stories this week (and most weeks) that have strongly suggested that one faction of humanity thinks ill of another and the immense tragedy that arises out of this. While many of us do not act on some of the thoughts and feelings we have, I sometimes find that you don’t have to push people very hard to find that sometimes we think well of ourselves and ill of others. As much as there is to wonder at the positive capacity of humanity we seem to be hard wired to look out for ourselves and our own. But what is so unhelpful is the temptation and sometimes tendency to scapegoat individuals or groups and to talk about them and treat them as less than.
I am persuaded that we are all inherently prejudiced. It may not be about the big things that most often get raised such as racism or sexism but our first response when we see someone reading a particular newspaper or book, the labels on their clothes, the drink they order in the pub, their hairstyle, weight, height, pet, car etc. Because of the very strong reactions certain sorts of prejudice (rightly) gets it then becomes very difficult to own up to our own as it opens us up to judgement – so often a case of the speck and the log (Matthew 7.3-5).
It is helpful to be aware of our tendencies and weaknesses in our attitudes and reactions to others, it is then very difficult to delude ourselves that we are not inherently prejudiced. Once we can acknowledge this we can be constantly vigilant as to the temptations we face. Our God is a God of love and our attitudes and actions need to mediate that in a world which sometimes seems to be far from loving. Surely there must be a way in which to deal with that which threatens us and with which we disagree without either violence or violation being the consequence?
For the past week or so I have had shingles and so have had to get used to a new approach to time management as fatigue, deeper than that in lock down, overcomes me. It has been good for me to rest, to feel liberated to rest and to dip into those bits of work that I can. I am grateful to my colleagues who have been willing to take on the bits of work that are time limited that I cannot do. Tortoise time is working for me at the moment and I need to accept and embrace that and not get impatient with what I can’t do but embrace what I can! A short blog with the energy I have got today!
I am not saying we have too many books but when I searched for this book to take on our trip last year to the Hebrides I couldn’t find it. I came across it this week when looking for something to read while I am recuperating from shingles. It was on a shelf undisturbed for too long! Little bits of the book jar, it was originally published in 1995 and some of the language and concepts our very contextual to the author.
However, a phrase struck me:
“I’m a responsibility-holic. Throw some responsibility out on the floor and I’ll be the first to run to pick it up” (p88).
It’s not something I don’t know about myself and is something I have tried to work on over the years, I can feel over-responsible in all sorts of settings. However, seeing it written so starkly on the page was a bit like when you look in a mirror and suddenly see something as if for the first time. The book was quite autobiographical in many places and while I resonate with nearly nothing of his experience, apart from also loving stones, this did jump out. It is sometimes reassuring to know that others have similar issues, you can feel a little less odd or lonely. I am not sure I will ever completely shake this off but I am trying to make choices and decisions which mitigate against it.
What are your light bulb moments when reading?
M Scott Peck, In Search of Stones. London; Simon and Schuster, 1996.
It was our curate’s final Sunday today. As you can imagine it was a little hard saying goodbye over zoom. I have to say, the clergy and church did a great job to communicate thankfulness towards Jenni and God.
It became very clear during the thanksgiving time that her as a person and her ministry have been very appreciated over the last 3 years. It also became clear that Jenni had very much been herself during her time with us. Perhaps that’s why her time with us has been such a good one, because she had been able to be so authentic. It is also credit to the Church that we encouraged her to be herself. Who she is and what her gifts are, her attitudes etc have been such a great fit for our Church. Both have appreciated each other.
Perhaps this should be our prayer, aspiration and hope for all of us. To be in roles, jobs, vocations, relationships etc where we can be ourselves. Not in spite of our gender, the colour of our skin, ability etc but because of it.
This popped up on my memory this week as we built a coracle to celebrate 30 years of marriage. It seems apt as they are quite hard to get the knack of sailing and that is how it feels to me in this season. I am trying to get ready for a future that is not clear! I love the Brendan story, a Celtic Saint who let the Holy Spirit guide his coracle. I continue to pray to be led and guided but know I need to do my part in building too.