Wondering Wednesdays – glimpses from home

Oxford vision

On Sunday I quoted a Billy Joel song in my sermon – not sure it was much appreciated! The song was you’re my home and the line was “whenever we’re together that’s my home”. I was talking about Jesus being the way being in part about relationship.

I have called this blog glimpses from home because I grew up in the Diocese of Oxford, I was baptized and confirmed there and there is still a sense of home. When yesterday I saw a tweet from the Bishop of Oxford with this vision I had that longing for home feeling – contemplative, compassionate and courageous are words that I have brought with me from my Christian upbringing, I can articulate how each of them have been formed in me. I don’t always do brilliantly at courageous but as a virtue it is one that I really admire in others and are challenged by choices, actions, words.  These words reflect the sort of home I find in relationship with Jesus, they shape and inspire me.

Honest Christianity – singing with integrity

Funeral

Today is our annual memorial service at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. When we were planning our first service 11 years ago we asked ourselves what can we invite bereaved families to sing that would take their circumstances seriously? We found only a few hymns
that we thought took seriously the families loss and our Christian faith. The severity of their pain, and the power of the comfort of the Holy Spirit we remember on this Pentecost Sunday. Today we will be singing one of the original songs we found and one of the new ones our team wrote for a children’s funeral which we included in our funerals and memorial resource booklet (available from http://www.bch.nhs.uk/cpsc. Here are the words to
one of those hymns which is sung to the tune of morning has broken:

Lord of compassion, tender and caring,
Holding our children, hid from our sight,
Starts in the bright sky, angels in heaven,
Gathered around you, maker of light.

These are our loved ones, shining in heaven,
These are our children, held in our hearts,
Candles still burning, softly but safely,
Each light still shining, deep in our hearts.

Lord, may your kindness reach all your people
Give to us mourners help with our tears.
Lord as we travel, hopeful and grieving,
Lighten our journey all of our years. (Written by Nick Ball).

Please pray that these words and other expressions of compassion and love will bring these families some solace, comfort and solidarity on their difficult journey. May they know they don’t travel alone.

Honest Christianity – can compassion be taught?

Compassion

Sally and I have just spent the weekend at a wellbeing and spirituality conference. The question which is the title of the blog was posed by one of the speakers. The neurological evidence shows that practicing compassionate actions creates more compassionate brains. Research also suggested that cognitive understanding of what compassion is or even its importance, does not create compassionate practice. Their research concluded that compassion could be taught but that it was more likely to be received if it was felt to be practiced by the facilitator.

I think this all adds up to many of the things I have talked about in our Honest Christianity blogs. There are known and unknown benefits in practicing the virtues of our faith. To act out the values of our faith when we feel like it and when we don’t. For those of us in public ministry or positions of leadership our lives are very often under scrutiny. Who we are needs to be consistent with what it is to say – but I write that with a bit of self-compassion knowing I don’t always quite live up to that hope I have.

Honest Christianity – being dust people

dust lady
Last week Marcy Borders died. She was more well known as the Dust Lady. She was a survivor when the World Trade Center’s South Tower collapsed on Sept. 11, 2001. She was photographed at the scene by Stan Honda. He recalls,”There was a giant roar, like a train, and between the buildings I could see huge clouds of smoke and dust billowing out.” He ducked into a lobby, where “a police officer was pulling people into the entrance to get
them out of the danger. “A woman came in completely covered in gray dust”. It was later revealed this was Marcy Borders, who was in the North Tower when the first plane hit.

Understandably, she had led a troubled life as she sought to come to terms with want had happened to her. She died last week aged 42 of stomach cancer, which she suspected was connected to 9:11. My reflection and question is should we all not be known and seen as “Dust people?” That we are so close to the tragedies of life, it is impossible for us not to be impacted by the debris. To be so close and involved in the fall out of the sinned against, is a sign of a follower of Jesus, not the clean presentable image sometimes associated with Christianity.

This is what she said later on in her life, “I try to take myself from being a victim to being a survivor now, I don’t want to be a victim anymore.” Can we be covered with the dust of the wear and tear of life, and not feel sorry for ourselves, but count ourselves fortunate for not being so distant from the worst that life can bring to others?

Friday photo – ever open doors

HI Door

I never had an opportunity to ask the Vicar of Holy Island why there were two big holes in the outside doors but I imagine it was to let the nesting swallows fly in and out at will. Thus while the door may have been shut to us as we walked up late in the evening, they were ever open for the birds of the air that Jesus suggests we consider as we think about how God cares for us (Matt 6.26). One of the swallows joined the Eucharist one day – a living reminder of what God’s word says, their beauty and grace evoking wonder in me as I sat praying and waiting to receive the bread and the wine.

Wondering Wednesdays – what does contentment look like?

DSCF2031

Sometimes discontent is healthy, it encourages us to get out of a rut and make changes that are needed.  However, some discontentment can be destructive – never feeling happy with who you are, where you are, what you are doing… I have often been challenged by Paul’s words in Philippians 4.11 where he talks about being content whatever the circumstances.  On our reading retreat one of the chapters I read talked about what is needed to be content – this is what it said:
We now know that contented people – those who could be said to enjoy mental well-being – are compassionate, open-minded, curious and that they feel gratitude for their lives (Siegel and Sieff 2015:138).

I found this observation helpful – it emphasises a need to keep on learning – curiosity and open-mindedness nourish that;  being compassionate I think is necessary towards ourselves as well as others and expressing gratitude is well known as enhancing wellbeing.  So on those days when I am feeling negatively discontent I will remember these words and look for where I can express compassion, curiosity, gratitude or open-mindedness

Reference:

Siegel, D. J. & Sieff, D. F. (2015). Beyond the prison of implicit memory. In D. F. Sieff, ed. Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma. Hove: Routledge, pp.137-159.

Honest Christianity – in your mercy…

prayer

This morning one of ministers used an often used response for the intercessions.  The leader says Lord in your mercy, and our response is, hear our prayer.  It struck me afresh why is it we call upon God’s mercy to answer our prayers?  Why not because you love to answer prayers, your kindness, your generosity?  There are lots of options that connect our human desires and the nature of God.

I had always thought I understood mercy, especially in relationship to grace.  Grace is receiving from God what we don’t deserve (forgiveness, love) and mercy is not being given what we do deserve (punishment, separation).  I have done a reasonable amount of study around grace over the years, but never given the same the same attention to mercy. Grace has always seemed so rich and mercy seemed so deficit, not getting something because I am undeserving and unworthy.

I think this is why it did not make sense to me when applied to prayer, what kind of God wants to not give me something when I pray.  I do not want God’s pity in my prayers nor any other part of my life.

On further study, mercy seems to be more about receiving God’s compassion, kindness, relief from distress. The Hebrew word, racham means compassion, tender affection as in the care of a foetus within the womb. Mercy also has been translated as loving kindness,

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “mercy” is defined as: “a form of love determined by the state or condition of its objects. Their state is one of suffering and need, while they may be unworthy or ill-deserving. Mercy is, at once the disposition of love respecting such, and the kindly ministry of love for their relief.”

Now this seems a much more helpful understanding of asking, an invocation for prayers to be heard and answered calling upon God’s mercy. If this is the nature of God, then I am happy to call upon this kind of God.

Lord in your mercy, protect me in the safety of your womb with lovingkindness, compassion, relieve my suffering and distress.  Hear my prayer.

Amen