The invitation….

How do I live as a person of peace

In a world of pain and despair?

How do I speak hope,

Show love,

Accept and include?

Only owning the smallness of my

Heart, accepting my blindness,

And offering them anyway

To be transformed

By a larger love than I have known,

A deeper peace,

An open invitation,

Then finding myself

Both larger and smaller,

To step into the pain, the loss,

Despair, and hopelessness,

Offering myself for healing,

Joined with love,

For loves sake….

I reflect the invitation…

We reflect the invitation…Studio_20170915_104612

 

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Love….

Love has me,

love holds me,

through my doubts and fears,

often unacknowledged, unnoticed,

Love does not let me go.

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Love has me,

love holds me,

through rejections,

questions, fallings, failings,

Love does not let me go.

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Love has me,

Love holds me,

calls me out, and

calls me on,

to life, even in the darkest days,

love does not let me go.

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Love has me,

love holds me,

I quake at this truth,

too deep, too sure

for my muddled mind to grasp,

but love does not, will not, cannot,

let me go!

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Dying and rising…

photographerI am pondering the story of Lazarus ( John 11), not the part where he dies and is subsequently raised, but wondering what if felt like to be released from his grave clothes to a new chance at life. Did he rejoice at his release, finding a new freedom, renewed health and a zest for life, or just maybe did he resent being woken and returned to his earthly family?

I guess that these are questions we don’t ask, perhaps we daren’t ask them, obviously we say he was as overjoyed as his family, and as astonished as his friends and other onlookers, he certainly became a topic for conversation, even curiosity, much as we see people rubber-necking at a motorway accident to ascertain what has gone on, was his life from that point on a side-show?

Perhaps he longed for the silence, and sleep of the tomb, the long wait for the ultimate resurrection, for this we know the earthly Lazarus died not once but twice. I write this as someone who had to persuade themselves to get up today, I did wake early-ish at 6:45am, came down stairs fed the cats, made tea and took it back to bed where I listened to the radio for a bit before reading my book and deciding that a snooze was in order, three snoozes later and it was 11:45am. At least I can say that I got up this morning, but the temptation to simply go back to sleep again, for just another hour, was overwhelming.

I also say this as a friend of someone who lives with such daily pain that he would like to go to sleep and not to wake up, he is not being flippant he means it! Other friends have an elderly relative who longs to be released from her earthly body, so much so that, that is her daily prayer, she is a good age and life holds nothing but frustration for her.

I also write this as one who has had the horrible task of telling the consultants that if my son were to go into cardiac arrest one more time that they should not revive him, there is only so much trauma one body can take. Enough to say that he didn’t, instead he pulled through, but my sobering reflection is that for a brief time it felt like all of the life had drained from me, and I would gladly have given it to him if that would help, maybe I did in a way, for in letting go life remained.

Back to Lazarus then, in the tomb, waking to the sound of the voice of Jesus calling his name, was it a shock, or was it something he simply could not help but respond to, I guess when the Lord of life calls you to life there is nothing to do but respond, and so he did, feeling his way out of the darkness still wrapped in grave-clothes with a cloth covering his face. Emerging like a mummy from his tomb the onlookers are instructed to unbind him, while Lazarus had taken the first steps he needed help, he probably also needed tenderness and care and time to come to terms with what had happened.

Yesterday I found myself sitting in my GP’s surgery, it was a follow-up appointment to see how I am getting on, normally I strive to be my most positive self, to show myself to be coping, to appear to be as strong as I can. Yesterday however I told the real and full truth, I am struggling and am not as strong as I might appear. We discussed some options and I left, still signed off, and relieved for being able to say things are not as they should be. I am being given time and care, and I reflect that I was using the bindings of grave clothes to keep me together and hold me until I could re-enter the tomb of my despair, I hadn’t been living well and certainly not in fullness, and that is no way to live.

A few weeks ago when I raised the flag, and said I was not coping it was in response to an inner conviction that enough was enough and that I wanted to be well and whole, from an onlookers perspective things may look worse for me, but they aren’t. It is not enough to walk through life held together with the graveclotes of despair and a mask of coping, I decided that I could not sustain that anymore and simply pulling myself together to get through certain tasks was unhelpful to me and everyone else concerned.

I sense that I am being unbound from my grave-clothes, mask off and sat at the kitchen table nervously sipping tea and hoping that people will receive me just as I am, battered and bruised and not a little wobbly, taking life one day and one step at a time, looking for fullness, longing for life, a life that comes from a laying down of the masks, dying to live.

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Let down?

photographer 2I am not a stranger to telling people that it okay to be angry with God, that God is more than big enough to take our anger and frustrations, hurts and pains and more than able, and even willing to receive them as a part of who we are. I stand by that, if we need to express anger and pain and sorrow and frustrations in our prayers then we need to, it is a part of being real, and I truly believe that we need to be real in order to make it through life….

So what does it mean to be real? I don’t think it means being perfect, perfection is subjective anyway, and it can also be a mask, I am also no stranger to telling people that they don’t need to be perfect to come to worship/ receive communion/ pray…..

…and yet I am asked so many times about the right answers, is it okay to think/ read do this??? The subjects are numerous, and our desire to be right surely tells us something about our relationship with ourselves, with the world around us ( culture/ society/ peers) and with God ( however we believe in the Divine). I have to confess that I have spent a lot of time and energy in trying to be right, or at least to look right, and in hiding the bits of me that I believed weren’t right. All of this effort in trying to be something I was not and living up to something I thought was required of me resulted in a fractured soul and spirit and a near collapse of myself…

That collapse  led me to a deeper place, a place where I am becoming real, because what I have found even in the deepest times of darkness is that God loves me just as I am, and for who I am, this new knowledge has held and sustained me over the last few years to such an extent that I would now say that while life has challenged me, and while I have been let down and let others and myself down, that God, whose mystery is so deep has simply held, carried and led me through it.

Even in darkness, and when I have not been able to cope with the pain and difficulty of life I have been held, and this I believe is grace in action, a love that receives us just as we are, and we are loved. I have not always known or felt myself held, and I have felt abandoned and crushed, and yet there was more, always something deeper, something never letting me go.

I have found myself on a journey to discovering this known, loved and held self, a journey of encounter with the divine, the one I call God, and with the person of Jesus who as one of my favourite authors, Richard Rohr, often says; ” did not come to change God’s mind about us, but our mind about God.”

As a teenager, I desperately wanted to be accepted, to be a part of something bigger than me, to belong in a deep way that I was unable to articulate. I thought that if I could make myself good enough then all would be well, so I concocted in my head what that might look like and came up with what I can only call a very strange collection of moralistic/ cultural/ and appearance driven goals. Of course I could not live up to them, but I tried, and that trying led me all the way into my mid 40’s, struggling and falling, all the time feeling like a fraud and a failure.

At times I would gain glimpses of grace, and I would even preach and share grace, but I held none towards myself, and though I spoke of a loving God, I felt that, because I had not attained perfection that, that love was not for me! How strange, and yet I suspect that my experience is not uncommon. Church it seems is a hotbed for this kind of thinking, we look for the answers to who is in and who is out, often missing the point, for we somehow do not see that Jesus went out of his way to include the unincluded and did not try to model them in the likeness of the religious elite, in fact he warned them against becoming religious and holier than thou! We miss the fact that Jesus showed love again and again, treating and touching those deemed as unacceptable and unclean with real tenderness, while calling others to drop their masks and pretences and to live in a new way, a way of love.

So what am I saying here, because I sense that this post is a bit of a splurge, I guess I am saying that it is okay to be who you are and where you are, it is okay to ask questions and have doubts, and that you don’t have to have life all together and neatly packaged. I want to say that we are all on a journey, and that journey may take you through unexpected and even dark places. I want to say that God does not require you to get it all right, and is more gracious and accepting and loving than we can possibly imagine. I want to say that we are all included on this journey, and perhaps having compassion with ourselves, because we cannot live up to our own expectations is a good starting point.

So the bottom line is, you have nothing to prove, nothing to earn and nothing to live up to, you are loved and accepted just as you are, the way of the cross is the way of descent into the true value of your true self, letting go of all of those false notions and expectations that we layer upon and surround ourselves with, but dying to self is never easy, it does require honesty and a willingness to own our own mess, but it is a journey worth taking because while it leads us through the shadow of the valley of death, it will lead to new life!

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8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!

11-13 All this is proceeding along lines planned all along by God and then executed in Christ Jesus. When we trust in him, we’re free to say whatever needs to be said, bold to go wherever we need to go. So don’t let my present trouble on your behalf get you down. Be proud!

14-19 My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

20-21 God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us. (Ephesians 3)

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Life lessons…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMost people who read my blog will know that I am struggling with a severe bout of depression at the moment, this is not something I am trying to hide, nor am I ashamed of it, it simply is. I guess that it is something I am prone to, some people are, others aren’t, it requires rest and treatment ( yes I do take medication), and most of all a real honesty with myself.

To say that I am surprised to find myself here would be an understatement, this time last year I had just moved to Sheffield, had begun setting up the Manse and was looking forward to beginning a new chapter of life and ministry. In many ways that anticipation remains.

What I had underestimated however, was the enormous amount of energy that it took me to make that new beginning, from clearing out the old Manse, sorting books and other bits of life accumulated over years and getting ready to make a new start kept me very busy, but it was perhaps more costly than I had imagined. It required a letting go that whilst necessary has thrown into full focus just how much my life has changed.

A 32 year marriage has come to an end, I suspect that it was necessary for both of us, and while heartbreaking is also a good and healthy thing, though to say that in Christian circles is challenging to say the least! Too often we demand perfection, especially from our ministers, and as a minister sometimes seeking help is difficult, enough now to say though that I am choosing to walk the path of grace and forgiveness especially towards myself because I find myself the hardest person to forgive!

My children have all left home and are busy building their own lives, this is wonderful and right, and I would not have it any other way, but it leaves my once bustling and busy life remarkably changed. Of course none of them have ever lived in this home with me, but just maybe that is part of the grief and emptiness I feel, but it is also an opportunity to pause and ask myself who I now am!

I spent some time yesterday at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it is one of my favourite places, one of the exhibitors Tony Cragg’s exhibition is entitled “A rare category of objects”, an open air sculpture, Elliptical Column, is made from stainless steel, and stands tall in the formal gardens, reflecting the scenery around it. As it twists and turns upwards those reflections take on different forms, much like they do in the far cruder hall of mirrors in a fairground. I spent sometime taking photos of this, reflecting that my life has twisted and turned and changed in ways that I would not have expected, and that I really do find myself more than a little disorientated. Taking time to take stock, to find my feet and to re-orientate myself include the necessary act of lamenting and letting go, that which I had done physically I am now doing emotionally and mentally, and dare I say even spiritually for on this journey my realisation of the patience, love and grace of God has grown and deepened. A strange gift of brokenness perhaps, but a gift nonetheless.

I moved on to walk the grounds, making my way down to the lakeside, around and then back up the hill. At this point my foot was aching, having torn the ligaments a few months before it is still healing, because of this I did something I have not done before; I followed the paths back up the hill. Now that might seem like an obvious thing to do, but the shortest way to the top of the hill is just to go for it and not to stick to the paths which meander slowly taking the slower, longer and less steep route! As I walked the paths it occurred to me that in my rush to “be better”, I have not been allowing myself the time nor the space to heal, I have wanted to rush things, to take the shorter route, and in doing so I have not been allowing the Spirit’s work in my life in the way that I have needed it.

To say I am bruised and battered, I am not whole, I am struggling is not the easiest thing to do, but that is where I am. So, this time, I am choosing not to rush things, I am choosing to reflect, to let go, and to recieve the gifts of life that come through grief, lament, and change. I will look for the rebuilding of life and allow it to slowly emerge, bit by bit, step by step. I am already overwhelmed by the love and care I am being shown by people here, and by those who send messages and comments. I am not alone, many have walked similar paths, many know the reality of depression, many are simply bruised and battered by life, and many face challenges and unexpected changes just as I am.

In our fast changing world, and in a church that finds itself disorientated by change I wonder if my experience may, when I have had time to process and heal, be a gift in a strange way….

I wonder, but right now I am simply giving myself to the process, a life lesson in itself!

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Hope remains…

No place to go,

No headstone,

No memorial,

Photos too painful,

Memories mixed,

Anger, pain, brokenness…

Condolences are muted,

Or unspoken

As there are no words or cards for this,

Only an acceptance

That what is

Is not what might have been….

Closure made unavailable,

Shock still surfacing,

Set off by chance encounters,

Brief conversations,

Tastes, sounds, and smells…

My dreams invent different scenarios,

Raw and real,

And they do not end well…

But I believe,  I choose to believe,

That this darkness will end,

That suffering will cease,

And a day will dawn

When I laugh and smile

With a fresh lightness,

My spirit will soar,

And what now feels impossible

Will be possible….

Tomorrow I will light a candle

On a new day

Once more, for

Hope remains

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My desire…

My desire, my deepest desire,

is to know the peace of the deep love

of the Divine,

( who I call God)

to find myself held in mercy,

in grace,

to know myself forgiven,

holding all my shadows and inconsistencies

gently, yet boldly,

emerging from my darkest memories

to say, yes this is me,

and I am loved,

then to become a channel of that love,

to risk the sharing

of my soul,

to allow the beating of my heart,

to settle into time

with the heartbeat

of creations rhythm,

that I am one,

and you are one,

and we are one,

held in love…

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25-26 “If you decide for God, living a life of God-worship, it follows that you don’t fuss about what’s on the table at mealtimes or whether the clothes in your closet are in fashion. There is far more to your life than the food you put in your stomach, more to your outer appearance than the clothes you hang on your body. Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God. And you count far more to him than birds.

27-29 “Has anyone by fussing in front of the mirror ever gotten taller by so much as an inch? All this time and money wasted on fashion—do you think it makes that much difference? Instead of looking at the fashions, walk out into the fields and look at the wildflowers. They never primp or shop, but have you ever seen color and design quite like it? The ten best-dressed men and women in the country look shabby alongside them.

30-33 “If God gives such attention to the appearance of wildflowers—most of which are never even seen—don’t you think he’ll attend to you, take pride in you, do his best for you? What I’m trying to do here is to get you to relax, to not be so preoccupied with getting, so you can respond to God’s giving. People who don’t know God and the way he works fuss over these things, but you know both God and how he works. Steep your life in God-reality, God-initiative, God-provisions. Don’t worry about missing out. You’ll find all your everyday human concerns will be met. ( Matthew 6: 25-33)

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