We drove for miles up this little road in California, deep into the forest to find a monastery with a little shop selling things to support the ministry of the nuns there. This is one of the things I bought. I am sometimes distracted, my head full of things I need to be doing and I am not always as fully present as I would like to be. I regret this as it means I don’t always do these smallest things which make such a difference when someone does them to me.
Sometimes fairly random second hand books arrive through the post long after I thought I wanted them. Sometimes I do put things in my wish list and go back to see later. But when books do arrive I don’t always remember the source of the suggestion for looking at a book. Today’s extract is one such book although as I read it I find the poem I read out on Easter Eve and remember again why I ordered it. It was first published in 1981 but the writing speaks to me powerfully today as I imagine I did back then. I sometimes get frustrated at work when people comment about how old some of the books students quote are – if they are not from the same discipline it can be hard to differentiate between classic and out of date. This book is a classic. It is Psalms of a Laywoman by Edwina Gateley. The one I want to share is Let your God Love You. I have thought a lot about God’s gaze, through my own study on shame and also in Stephen Pattison’s book Saving Face.
Before your God.
Let your God
Look upon you.
That is all.
God loves you
With an enormous love,
And only wants
To look upon you
With that love.
Let your God –
Edwina Gateley Psalms of a Laywoman Franklin: Sheed and Ward 1999 p59
A selfie with my friend Liz Dumain who is one of the Assistant Directors of Mission in the Diocese of Birmingham as we wait for the launch of the love your neighbour campaign this morning. See https://www.loveyourneighbour.org/ for full details and to order posters like the one Liz is holding. This is the introduction from the website:
Over many generations people have made Birmingham their home, built it up and found they can belong here. Birmingham is a great city because of its diversity but we cannot take that diversity for granted… We cannot love our neighbour if we do not know our neighbour, understand them and their culture, faith and identity. We all need to build friendships that cement our city together, crossing those differences that can become barriers such as age, social background, ethnicity, sexuality, gender and faith – working for peace alongside all people of goodwill.
We must meet hate with love, confusion with hope, anger with peace and fear with joy.
The ‘love your neighbour’ campaign is owned by us all and seeks to draw people together and to believe the very best for our city and region.
It is rare for work to be flexible enough to get to things which are announced with less thsn 24 hours notice but I am very grateful that I was able to be at the launch of this today and to see a diverse group of people gathering together to say we need to love one another and show kindness towards one another.
I have taken a poster into our local cafe and asked them to display it and Hodge Hill Church will have a banner outside as soon as we can get one although it is a message we have been trying to communicate for a long time!
Love your neighbour, do something kind – a message for all times and all places, not just Birmingham.
Did you ever play loves me, loves me not with daisies when you were young? There were always far too many petals on daisies to fix it to get the right answer! That is why we love this cartoon of David Hayward’s so much – no ambiguity here! This is our 250th post and we wanted to mark it by sharing one of our favourite images. Sally used it the first time she preached at Hodge Hill Church and gave out magnets which she occasionally sees on fridge doors! I have it on a postcard at the hospital and use it as part of our spiritual care activities.
There is perhaps nothing more life-enhancing than knowing that we are loved unconditionally by God. Sadly, many of us will have grown up hearing a message that God’s love is conditional – if we do or don’t do… fill in the blanks for yourself! It was often not said in quite that way but we somehow picked up the idea that it was the case.
As we have journeyed in ministry we have become more aware of the need of two things – to believe this message for ourselves and for it to be the essence of what we share with others. If we know and live in the truth of God’s unconditional love that can be helpful in having healthy relationships where we don’t expect or need to receive all the affirmation we may want from a particular person or ministry setting. God never loves us not…
“Are people born Wicked? Or do they have Wickedness thrust upon them?” is the question that comes at the opening of the musical Wicked which we saw last week. The author of the musical suggests the latter I think. Elphaba – the green witch (who becomes the wicked witch of the west in the Wizard of Oz according to this musical), is misunderstood, the object of prejudice based just on her appearance – she is green! Many of us will have struggled with people who make value judgements about us with just one look or a very short encounter, it may be appearance, it may be our clothes, the place we are, the team we support or one of a myriad of things. We have probably also all done this too – made snap judgements on a flimsy premise which when we get to know people better often turns out not to be true. Elphaba ended up being tricked into things, labelled, scapegoated and regarded with hostility and suspicion – a look around the world shows that this is another story which contains truth for today.
Elphie was my favourite character – and she found someone who saw beyond the difference and loved her uniqueness – Fiyero, who preferred her to the good (traditionally pretty) witch Glinda. On a bad day I sometimes see myself as green – shorthand for odd or different or not like others – but I remember that there are those that love me even when I feel green and that helps me to have hope and I am grateful that my faith means that I don’t see myself as wicked and encourages me to reject wickedness if I might be tempted in that direction!
Last week I had a singing lesson and since then have become much more focused on my breath and have been practising trying to breathe better. It reminded me of something I read on one of my train journeys:
Living in the Spirit is like breathing. Spiritual practice is the in-breath while our loving action in the world is our out-breath. One flows from the other.
So what happens when we do not attend to the in-breath? We begin to become short of breath, ill even.
We may not notice that we are less than fully alive but we have no puff left for the out-breath of our witness in the world.
I like the simplicity of this metaphor, it reminds me yet again of getting the right balance in my life – as a new academic year starts, that’s important!
Ginny Wall Deepening the life of the Spirit London Quaker Books 2012 p1
Monday evening we heard the song “what the world needs now is love” with the line in it “it’s the only thing that there’s just too little of”. I realized I had not been praying for love when I have been struggling to find the words to pray for the many conflict situations there are around the world. Sunday’s gospel reading was lots of Kingdom metaphors and I am very used to thinking about the Kingdom of God as now and not yet but am longing to see a little bit more of the not yet now! I find this quotation from Moltmann a good summary of what the Kingdom is like and what we hope for:
The promise of the kingdom of God in which all things attain to right, to life, to peace, to freedom, and to truth, is not exclusive but inclusive. And so, too, its love, its neighbourliness and its sympathy are inclusive, excluding nothing, but embracing hope in everything wherein God will be all in all. The prom-missio of the kingdom is the ground of the missio of love to the world (Moltmann 1967:224).
Moltmann, J. (1967). Theology of Hope. Trans. J. W. Leitch. London, SCM.
This is our 200th post on the blog and we wondered what to write about as it seemed a significant marker post for us. We decided to share one of the stories we use and which had an impact on the way we think about ministry. We don’t know who wrote it originally – googling it suggests it may be someone called Francis Dorff but it is online in lots of different formats. It is a story that sheds light on one of our favourite Bible passages – John 13.34-5: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples”. This was said of one of the very early teams we looked after in YFC and it stuck with us. Imagine what the church might look like if we treated each other as if we were the Messiah…
This is the story:
There was a famous monastery that had fallen on hard times. Formerly its many buildings were filled up with young monks and its big church was surrounded with the sound of chants and singing, but now it was deserted. People no longer came there to be nourished by prayer, worship or community. Only a hand full of old monks shuffled through the cloisters and they praised God with heavy hearts.
Near the monastery was a wood and in the wood to lived an old Rabbi who had built a small hut. He would come sometimes to the monastery to fast and pray. No one ever spoken to him but the monks were always pleased to see him. As long as he was there the monks would feel helped and encouraged by his prayerful presence.
One day the Abbot of the monastery decided to visit the Rabbi and to open his heart to him. So, soon after morning prayer the Abbot set out towards the woods and the Rabbi’s hut. As the hut came into view the Abbot saw the Rabbi standing in these in the doorway out stretching his arms in welcome. The Abbot thought it was as though he had been waiting there for him. The two men embraced each other like long lost brothers and then stood back smiling at each other.
The Rabbi invited the Abbot to into his hut. The Rabbi said “you and your brothers are serving God with heavy hearts and you have come to me for wisdom and advice. I will give you the teaching you require on one condition. That when I tell you what it is I have to say you must promise me to only repeat it once. After that no one must say it aloud again.”
The Abbot agreed and the Rabbi looked straight back to him and said “the Messiah is among you.” For a while both men were silent, neither knowing what to say. The Rabbi eventually said “it is now time for you to go back,” the Abbot left pondering the words he had heard.
The next morning, the Abbot called his monks together in the main room. He told them he had been to visit the Rabbi in the woods to receive wisdom from him on their situation. He explained to the other monks the condition the Rabbi had put on the teaching. The Abbot paused with all the eyes of the other monks on him wondering what he might say. Eventually the Abbot said this “the Rabbi says that the Messiah is among us.” The monks were startled by this teaching, “What could it mean they asked each other?” “Who could it be they asked, could it be a brother John or Matthew or Thomas? Could I be that I am the Messiah?” They were all deeply puzzled by the Rabbi’s teaching. But no one ever mentioned it again.
As time went by, the monks began to treat one another with a very special reverence. There was a gentle, wholehearted, and generous human spirit among them now which was very hard to describe but very easy to notice. They lived with one another as people who had finally found something. But they prayed and lived and read the scriptures together as though they were looking for something. Occasionally visitors found themselves deeply moved by the life of these monks. Before long, people were coming from far and wide to be nourished by the prayer life and community of the monks and people were asking to become a part of their life together in the community.
What constitutes a tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help: the suffering face of another which mirrors our own pain, the sense of our physical mortality, the acceptance of our own sin, the beauty of nature, the eagerness and innocence of children, the fragility of the aged, and, of course, not least, moments of intimacy, of friendship, of celebration, of every kind of shared joy, pain or vulnerability. Ronald Roheiser
This week we are on holiday, it is an opportunity for another set of tender moments. Holidays give the opportunity for some family time that isn’t usually possible because of geographical distance. The picture is a previous year’s birthday present having a tender moment with the adorable nephew’s teddy bear! Today the adorable nephew is staying with us, tender moments will include the annual pancake making and the attempts to emulate Paul’s ability at tossing them high in the air! Yesterday Paul and I had the opportunity to create some tender moments as we did one of our favourite day trips which starts with a bacon sandwich and coffee at one of our favourite seaside cafes and includes fish and chips at a different seaside cafe, walking on the cliff and the beach and dreaming together about some new idea…
The other sort of tender moments are not absent but are perhaps less in focus in a week away. However, I did post my first ever selfie on facebook and saw the lines on my face and round my neck and was reminded of my own mortality which tends to happen now when I celebrate a birthday. Facebook, Twitter and Radio 4 mean I am still aware of what is going on in the world which can mean shared tears as well as shared laughter. As I type this Seve Ballesteros is on the television, we listened to the Carpenters in the car – two premature deaths which bring fleeting sadness along with the gratitude of such giftedness.
We also saw some of the devastation of the storms, wrecked beach huts, sandbags, the sort of rock that could kill you if it hit you strewn all over the promenade, this all seemed so poignant on a day when nature seemed so beautiful, so calm. I am really challenged by Roheiser’s concept of tender moments – the nice ones are very easy to grasp and to celebrate but I am so aware of the need for connectedness, for sharing, the good and the bad and to enable people to celebrate our shared humanity. I am reminded of God’s tender moment with Adam and Eve when he clothed them despite of their choices (Genesis 3.21). It is so encouraging to know we can have our tender moments with God when we need them the most.
Ronald Rolheiser Forgotten Among the Lilies New York Image Doubleday p123