YOUR World (Five Minute Friday)

When I was asked to write and record some prayers of intercession for our church service next week, I queried if there was anything specific they wanted. The reply came back:

If you could record prayers covering:

The world

Those in need

Those who are suffering

Our local Community 

Our families and friends.”

Wow, that’s quite a big topic I thought, where to start?

And, to be honest, I struggle with praying about the big issues – you know, things like global warming, international politics, that sort of thing. I mean, they just seem so … big. It’s hard to know how to pray effectively.

Then there’s the small issues. Here I’m on firmer ground – more practised perhaps. I believe in a God whose love means He is invested in what may seem the most unimportant details to others but matter to us, as any caring parent does. And I am used to coming to Him with my concerns for my family and friends. But leading others to do the same – feels different.

But I was saved by this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt word https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/09/24/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-your/. It gave me a new, hopeful and inspiring angle to take when I considered that I/we would be praying to God in this way:

“Lord, this is

Your world

Your people in need

Your people who are suffering

Your Community 

Your family and friends.”

Add to this the fact that God doesn’t just love the world from a distance but has come and been part of the nitty gritty of it in Jesus, Who knows what it’s like to suffer and be in need – and my perspective changed.

I found I was no longer looking down at a vastness of problems, wondering what difference I could make with my prayers, but looking up at the vast possibilities of God’s love. And from there, wondering which of the concerns laid before Him, He was asking me to be part of the answer to.

And the prayers I have written and recorded are no longer an expression of hope tinged with helplessness but of trust and partnership.

 

(If you want to hear the prayers – and the rest of the service – check out https://www.facebook.com/Fleet-Methodist-Services-101521864819531 Sunday 4th October 10.30am BST)

It’s All CHURCH

During the pandemic I’ve become a more regular at attending church services. Why? Because they went online.

There are complex reasons why my attendance at physical services had slipped off – memories and associations with my parents’ deaths and funerals, fitting around family life where loved ones didn’t feel comfortable attending, depression, weekends elsewhere, responsibilities at previous services making it seem more a chore than a chance to worship, not enjoying being in a crowd. I could go on.

My personal faith didn’t go away – if anything, it continued to grow – but the communal aspect faded.

But when online services started I ‘came back to church’.

It didn’t take me away from loved ones. I didn’t have to get up so early (or even get dressed sometimes!). I could be anonymous if I wanted or I could interact with friends spontaneously in the chat.  If anything, I found more connections this way as we exchanged details about how we became Christians, when we first sang a particular hymn, how much we appreciated our music group.

It was just easier.

And I started to feel at home again.

I also started to see the benefit of online church for people with disabilities and began to connect with some of the online communities. And I’ve seen people who wouldn’t come into a church building attending virtual services instead.

But I can’t tell you how heartsick I feel to see the argument that physical, face to face church is somehow more superior to online church, or even that only physical church is ‘real’ church. In some people’s understandable urge to return to physical services, these comments and attitudes isolate and discriminate against those who cannot or struggle to attend in this way. It denigrates the real relationships and support that exist virtually (a word that doesn’t help because it implies something that doesn’t exist).

I’ve seen the phrase used of ‘watching’ online services. But that’s not what we do – we participate in these services as much (or as little) as our counterparts in a building: we sing the hymns; we listen to the sermon; we pray the prayers; we read the Bible readings. And we interact with our fellow participants online as we react and mull over the whole service.

The only thing we can’t do is receive Communion – and that’s down to Church rules currently excluding it rather than passivity on our part.

As the situation with COVID-19 evolves, with churches reopening for physical services, let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that it’s an either/or situation, or 1st/2nd class version of attendance. Let’s embrace the possibilities of with/and instead, of remembering our wider church family, and welcoming more people through the doors – be they wooden or a computer portal.

The prodigal’s father kept a look out for any sign of his returning, before abandoning any semblance of respectability and running to gather him into his arms. I believe God opens His arms wide to embrace all of His children. Let’s make sure the way our church operates does the same.

Linking with the Five Minute Friday community at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/09/17/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-church/

BEAUTY IN THE DETAIL: in conversation with Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (Part 2)

Last week I introduced you to Keren Dibbens-Wyatt, author, mystic, artist, community builder, and friend. (If you missed it, you can read Part 1 of our conversation here https://thestufflifeismadeofblog.wordpress.com/2020/09/07/a-modern-julian-of-norwich-in-conversation-with-keren-dibbens-wyatt-part-1/) This week I wanted to explore how her new book, Recital of Love, fits in with everything else she creates.

I was struck by the resonance and consistency of Recital of Love with your other work. You write like you paint, drawing attention to the beauty in the detail and with vivid images. I could picture the schoolgirl with her hand up and I want to think further about becoming a ‘perfumier of prayer’. Does one form of creativity help the other, do you think? Are there similarities in how you go about each?

Yes, the art is definitely a part of how I write because I’m a very visual person. The senses are always a big part of how I try to bring things to life. Colours are a huge joy to me and so is the creative process of writing, of bringing something into being, trying to share a joy by expressing it.

Your byline for the Lakelight Sanctuary website is ‘Enabling holy encounter for lost and weary pilgrims’ which made me wonder if this book is an extension of that aim/ministry?

For sure. I see writing as a ministry and all of it is about enabling and encouraging those at the bottom of the pile or who sit at the edges wondering if there’s a place at the table for us too.

I will always write with those deemed lesser by society foremost in my heart – the sick, the disabled, the poor, women and girls – because I believe they are powerfully on God’s heart too. And I especially feel that compassion for those within the faith, who are marginalised or not deemed worthy.

I write with a reaction in mind, by which I mean, there is a result that I am hoping to get, a hope I am longing to encourage, or a laugh I am wanting to hear!

Recital and much of my work overflows from prayer. I write because the words need writing or the story needs telling. If I have an aim, it is summed up in the wonderful poem Saint Francis and the Sow by Galway Kinnell. (https://galwaykinnellpoems.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/saint-francis-and-the-sow/)

I want to reteach people their loveliness, that is, how lovely they are in God’s eyes. That’s probably at the heart of my ministry.

Finally, I was going to ask you about who influences you. I know you’ve mentioned Richard Rohr but the book also reminded me of Colin Urquhart’s My Dear Child – with that similar personal love letters from God theme.

I’ve not read that, Liz, so thank you for the recommendation! Yes, Richard is a great spiritual teacher – he’s taught me so much, and affirmed my faith journey in Christ. I am forever indebted to him for the way he and The Center for Action and Contemplation share hard-won wisdom with us all.

Other influences are saints, including Julian, Teresa, Therese and Francis, but also writers. C. S. Lewis, Dennis Lennon, Jennifer Rees Larcombe. Martin Laird and Carl McColman continue to be indispensable guides to the mystic life.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is a hero of mine in so many ways.

A lot of fiction writers and poets too of course, as my writing is quite lyrical. Toni Morrison and Jane Austen are two favourites. But then so are Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett!

But I’m primarily influenced by prayer and nature.

It’s been great getting to know Keren better. And I can only encourage you to buy her books.

Recital of Love: Sacred Receivings by [Keren Dibbens-Wyatt]

Recital of Love, published by Paraclete Press, is now available from a variety of bookshops and online shops, including Amazon where you can find a number of Keren’s books: https://smile.amazon.co.uk/Keren-Dibbens-Wyatt/e/B01IN9AXL0?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1599945495&sr=8-1

You can connect with Keren and find out more about her writing and art at https://www.kerendibbenswyatt.com/ and discover more about Lakelight Artisans at https://lakelight.org/

WAY (Five Minute Friday)

Hi Everyone! Back to poetry with this week’s Five Minute Friday prompt.  https://fiveminutefriday.com/2020/09/10/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-could-free-training-for-writers/

I wrote this  back in April and it’s not where I am now but maybe it’ll chime with some of you.

WAY

PART 1

The way is dark

As I edge fearfully forward

Afraid to fall,

Afraid to bring another down with me,

Struggling to hold them up

While my own legs shake,

Arms tremble,

And stomach churns bending me double.

Each step proves

The evenness of the path

But in this black pitch

I am blind.

Whispers of companions

Touch my arm

From time to time

As we all anxiously

Feel our way.

Torches in unfamiliar hands

Briefly illuminate

A few feet ahead.

I wish I too could say

‘one step enough for me’*

But my wounded faith is impatient

And desperate for aid.

The tiniest pinprick

Teases and calls my eye

But I can’t tell

If it is the end

Of this journey,

An opening back into daylight,

Or just a lamp at a bend in the tunnel.

I stumble on.

PART 2

The way is dark

My stomach anxious

My heart fearful

Take my hand, Lord,

Take our hands

And lead us on

Don’t let go

Don’t let us slip

Out of your grip

PART 3

My daddy had strong hands

On our daily holiday walks

Even when our path was steep

And rubbled

And seemed beyond

The ability of my little legs

Unending, unendurable

He trudged on

Leading the way

Never letting go

My small fingers safely lost

In his enormous muscled grasp

And if I faltered or tripped

He would pull me up and on

With shoulder wrenching power

Or sometimes moved behind me

To push me up

Some impossible incline

His stamina bottomless

Right now, Lord, you are

Shoving and yanking me

Up and on

I can feel the pain of it

And know the need

To lean into your strength

For I have none

I am still that small self

Unable to see beyond

The immediate climb

In front of me

But I will try to trust you

Rely on your taller view

Believe your knowledge of the route

Be my Daddy

And give me your strength

*from Lead Kindly Light https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DwJqCQoa2b0

A MODERN JULIAN OF NORWICH: in conversation with Keren Dibbens-Wyatt (Part 1)

This week I’m excited to introduce you to an author friend, whose new book Recital of Love is out tomorrow (8th September).

Recital of Love: Sacred Receivings by [Keren Dibbens-Wyatt]

I first got to know Keren online when I was on long term sick. I was starting to realise that depression is something I will live with all my life and I was beginning to find an understanding and sense of community with others with chronic conditions. Keren was one of these, whose appreciation of the detail and beauty of nature, undimmed by her ME, matched mine. She turns that love into exquisite paintings and poetic prose.

So come and join me in conversation with someone I’ve never physically met but has proved to be a soul friend:

You describe yourself as a mystic and I wondered what was the path, the influences and experiences that brought you to this spirituality?

It was a long, slow process.

In the stillness and quiet, in the purposelessness, when I took time to be with God, he was relating to me and living in me, speaking things to me and showing me pictures and mysteries. It was amazing, wonderful, and I had no idea what was happening or what I was supposed to do about it. Vicars I spoke to, hoping for guidance, had no clue what I was talking about.

When I discovered the word “mystic” it was like a lifesaver buoy being thrown out to me because I thought I was becoming a spiritual anomaly. I felt like a freak, because this isn’t a Christian tradition that’s much spoken of in Protestantism.

To know other people had been having similar experiences in their prayer lives for centuries, both within themselves and their relationship with God was a huge relief. I suddenly knew I was not alone, that there was this host of witnesses who could teach me about what was happening.

Do you think your ME has played a part in this? I ask because I am fascinated, from my own experience of how God uses even the worst to shape us and help us grow, and also how these times can often be the most creative.

Most definitely, in the sense that if I had not been so ill, and unable to work, the space and time God needed to bring me into that fold just wouldn’t have been there. I’m quite a high achiever and always trying, striving, so I doubt as a well person, whether this path would have fallen open before me. That’s not to say God couldn’t have brought me here another way, but I would say he has certainly used this illness to draw me into himself.

The suffering is also part of it. When you suffer pain or difficulty, or when you have to come alongside those you love who are suffering, it changes you. It changes your perspective, forces you to accept your own smallness and the fact that you are not in control of anything. I am sure that in some ways too, it leads us into Christ, because suffering always deepens the Cross for us. Those things are all gateways into a deeper prayer life, to harder questions.

When you talked about your ‘seeings’ I immediately thought I’d read that word somewhere before but afterwards realised I had mistaken it for Julian of Norwich’s ‘shewings’. But I think that’s a valid connection to make and I see that you have compared yourself and your situation to her.

Yes. Finding Julian was incredibly important to me. And the word “shewings” too. I think if I look in my prayer journals I’d already formulated that word ‘seeings’, or had picked it up perhaps from my reading. But when I found her word for it, my heart sang, because yes, that’s exactly what they are! And being shut away from the world is of course another thing we have in common and so I call Julian my “go-to” saint.

(Join me for the second part of our conversation in next week).

Recital of Love, published by Paraclete Press, is available from 8th September 2020 from a variety of bookshops and online shops including  https://smile.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B08DRTTSTJ/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i0

You can connect with Keren and find out more about her writing and art at https://www.kerendibbenswyatt.com/

Not LOUD at all (Five Minute Friday)

Sorry for the very late posting this week. It’s been a difficult one.

Here’s where my thoughts went for the http://fiveminutefriday.com/community/ prompt this time:

God of our silent tears,

Our dry eyes,

Our empty arms.

God of our unspoken words.

Our unwordable feelings,

Our damned up hearts.

 

God of our coffined grief,

Our stifled anguish,

Our weighed down souls.

Hear the loudness of our loss

Though we cannot express it.

Bottle the tears that flow

And the drought that doesn’t.

 

Do not socially distance Yourself from us

For we are in need

Of being held.

We have seen the painful glory of the sunset

Now show us the pale hope of dawn.

 

Hear our prayer.

Goodness and MERCY All My Life (Five Minute Friday)

The quality of mercy is not strain’d

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heav’n

Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes

It is an attribute of kings…

Funny how I can still quote Portia’s speech from The Merchant of Venice all these years after learning it for my O Level English Literature exam. But it’s one of the first things that came to mind when I saw this week’s prompt.

That strange unsettling play, that seems to be a straightforward fairy tale where the hero wins the girl and they cleverly outwit the villain before living happily ever after – except, when examined, the goodies actually behave selfishly, the villain’s behaviour seems the most understandable, and  how long they are likely to live happily ever after seems up for debate. It would be really interesting to write a story of what happened to them all after the ending.

But the other famous quote that sprang to mind was from Psalm 23:

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life

I wondered at this image at first. Goodness and mercy following me? What, like a stalker? Or like two stray dogs hoping for food? Or like our old cat used to when we left the house, reluctant to let us go out to dinner without him?

Or like guardian angels bringing up the rear to protect us from the worst life can throw at us?

I talked about this with my son, who had a different take on these words. He saw it as leaving goodness and mercy in our wake wherever we went, evidence of our lives and character, a gift to those we leave behind us.

I like that idea.

I looked up the etymology of ‘mercy’ too. We all know the idea of it being about compassion, kindness, legal leniency. But it comes from Latin, the same root as the word ‘merchandise’, meaning ‘goods paid for’.

So I like the idea of walking lightly, with ‘price paid’ stamped on my heart and those two companions beside me to prompt me when I forget. But also walking freely because, like tyre tracks, I aim to leave reminders of the same gracious forgiveness and hope for those I meet along the way.

And maybe that’s the problem with the play – they talk the talk of mercy but they don’t walk the walk.

I want to be different. When people remember me, I want them to think of both the abundant goodness and mercy I received and how they spilled over leaving a shining trail in my wake. It would make quite a good epitaph too, wouldn’t it?

Goodness and mercy all my life

May His goodness and mercy follow you too.

HOLE

I don’t know if you can see it. After all, you haven’t lived this place like I have and there’s no ‘before’ photo to help.

But look closely and you might make out the invisible outline of where a full tree used to be.

My neighbours sliced off the top half of the yew tree close to the fence earlier this year. I could have forgiven them easily, even with the temporary damage down to our own plants in the process, as I’d been trimming back its overhang for years to let in more light to our garden. But they did it during nesting time.

I’d watched, day by day, as a wood pigeon brought his gifts of one twig at a time to his mate, landing on one branch, sidling along it and hopping down, then sidling out along another to fly off to find another offering. Always the same circular route, maybe to disguise the exact location of the growing nest. I’d seen them snuggled up on it and quietly waited for the first sound or glimpse of chicks.

Then my neighbours chopped down the tree.

It felt brutal. It hurt – even though it’s not my tree, or my pigeons.

But look at that photo and you can see the ghost of how it used to be. You can see the effects on the tall chestnut behind it, how its trunk has swerved around the shape of the yew, made space in its own growth for it, and how its branches sheltered it.

It is a tree where a tree used to be.

Oh, there will be regrowth. New branches, new leaves. No doubt my neighbours are benefiting from the extra light coming into their garden. Who knows, it may even permit something else to flourish that couldn’t before.

But at the moment all I can see is the hole.

And it just doesn’t seem right.

RIP Valerie Ann Harrison, Best Mother in Law possible.

A Royal PROGRESS (Five Minute Friday)

If you haven’t read CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series about a crime solving Tudor lawyer, you really should. I’d take them over the prize winning Wolf Hall series any time (sorry, Hilary Mantel). Through the medium of a detective story, they bring alive the social history of the time, making complex politics and religion personal and engrossing.

The novel ‘Sovereign’ is set in York, a city I know well, having lived and studied there for three years. I smiled as I recognised exact locations that I used to cycle past on my way to college.

The action takes place during Henry VIII’s royal progress to the North, an event to simultaneously escape the heat and disease of a London summer, show off his new wife Catherine Howard, emphasise his power, and publicly humiliate any who might have sympathised with the recent mass protest known as the Pilgrimage of Grace.

A royal progress was a yearly event in those days. And it was a massive undertaking as the whole of the royal court decamped to go on tour – nobles, servants, clothes, tapestries, bed, tents. Monastic and grand houses were given the honour (and expense) of hosting the king and his entourage. Public receptions and entertainments organized to entertain.

Nowadays, the UK royal family go on overseas tours for diplomacy and public relations. But they more commonly visit key places for a few hours or a day at most. However, these still demand an enormous amount of preparation and organisation from the host destination.

I remember it well when the Princess Royal came to the hospice where I work to officially open a new facility. Security checks, extra cleaning, etiquette briefings, detailed itinerary and timings around the one building, even a toilet reserved for her sole use (should she need it) with flowers in it for the first and only time!

Part of me felt like this was a lot of faff for just one person, who happened to be designated special because of an accident of birth. But part of me also felt excited and honoured, especially as I was one of those singled out to speak to her individually.

I wonder if we ever think about God coming on a royal tour or progress? After all, He is referred to as King in the Bible. I wonder if we go to the same amount of trouble to welcome Him into our homes and lives?

Of course, God loves us intimately and accepts us as we are, with all our faults, fears, and inadequacies. He doesn’t need His own toilet. But if we love and want to honour Him, then a clean up of our hearts and lives is in order, just like for any guest who we want to feel at home and welcomed.

I suppose the difference is that our Royal Guest rolls up His sleeves, smiles, and grabs the mop or toilet brush to work alongside us to turn our heart into a home for Him.

Forever YOUNG (Five Minute Friday)

My 25 year old son was enjoying watching Fantasia for the first time when I mentioned that I remembered going to the cinema to see it as a child.

“What, in 1940?!” he joked.

Cheeky monkey.

“Of course not,” he continued. “How could you? You’re only twenty one, Mum.”

It’s been a family joke since he was little.

Asked to guess how old each of his relatives were, our five year old decided his youngest grandfather was “at least a hundred” and his mother twenty one. We then persuaded him that only the men in our family aged, all the women in every generation remaining twenty one forever.

It’s remained a family joke. And now both our boys laugh about being older than me.

I remember being twenty one.

Well, some of it.

I remember the excitement of new things to discover, the prospects of all that life might hold, the joys and heartbreak of romance, new places and old mistakes. Hopes held and dashed. Anticipation and anxiety intertwined. The intensity of it all. The ability to do so much on so little sleep.

I don’t miss being that young. Well, except the energy maybe.

Now I’m older, I feel more – well, I was going to say confident, but it’s more like secure, loved. Life is intense but perhaps not all the time. I quite like the calmer, more content, dare I say smaller life.

But I don’t want to lose the passion of my younger self, the willingness to embrace new learning, the wonder at the magnificence and potential of the world. I want to be kinder and more understanding of my fellow human beings but I don’t want to let go of that idealism if youth which holds us to High standards and seeks to make our society better.

I see that in my younger student son. But I also saw it in my parents right up into their eighties.

I like being older. But I still want to be young.