Yesterday folks found ways of worshiping that were largely untried and rarely imagined in the way are church. Was it just a wee gaggle of people desperately doing their own thing, hanging out their Sunday best on the cyber washing line? I wonder if we (particularly Presbyterians) need to widen our spiritual imagination: look up - see who you are worshiping with. What we sing and pray and recite flies like a little bird to and from the cracks of our hearts nest; but where does our fledgling praise fly to? The little bird of our worship carries us into the worship we can't see... ...with the saints and angels in the nearer presence of God. We don't create worship here so much as we join in with the true worship there. If we think of worship there as some holy individuals, or crowd surrounding a bigger, superior individual then our spiritual imagination needs to grow. The saints and angels are persons endlessly travelling into God's knowing them, a personal knowing that endlessly gives of itself to the saints and angels as they know God as they are known: a knowing that never comes to an end. Worship is a wonder and mystery with the everlasting pulse of love running through it all. When we meet to worship however we manage to do that whether alone, one or two of us or with the help of technology, we become part of the worship that in the nearer presence of God is endless, blissful joy. As we find new ways of worshiping together May our spiritual imagination look up and on that journey May the saints and angels watch over you...
This mornings service can be found on e above link.
Tomorrow our wee church gets together in a whole new way. I'll be posting on Facebook and on the web site something for us to reflect on: story, song, poetry, letters, good news - allowing the Holy Spirit to open up our lives to the presence of God - the same as any Sunday. The same but different. How that's done I'm sure it develop over the weeks we cannot meet together. In Jesus God has dirt under his finger nails. He thirsts and hungers, laughs and cries. He knows friendship and loneliness. He brings others home to themselves, as the beloved gift they truly are. Where was he found? Among people who were isolated and couldn't be touched, the lepers, cast offs, bleeders, ignored and forgotten. That's where he still wants to be. That's where he is. Always. I wrote this song some time ago now, accompanied by 3 gifted friends, to try catch a glimpse of him passing this way. See you tomorrow @ 11:00.
On Wednesday we held a service to remember Jean Thomson, one of our own. It wasn’t the service we had intended, with the sudden closure of church buildings throughout the country. There were many folk who really wanted to be there, but were denied the opportunity because of the risk.
So we are making space here to remember Jean, and making available some of our reflections
How might Jean have us remember her today? Not I imagine, as if we could tell her story cover to cover. I never saw her as someone who needed to constantly announce to the world What she was doing on Facebook or twitter. Her natural independence, Her thoughtful, seriousness of mind, And the ease with which she kept company with herself, Shaped around Jean a friendly reserve Free from the anxiety of needing everyone to know her story. If Jean sometimes seemed a closed book, There was a great story lived inside, But one whose pages she would share when and where she chose, With those she loved and were her friends. So, remembering Jean today Is not telling more Than she would have us say, But remembering just a few of the pages She shared with us from her story – in her matter of fact way. As we know Jean loved to cross stitch, and knit And many a gift was generously made for a new born or a wedding hanging in someone’s home in a distant part of the world. What if we remembered her life today As if it were one of her intricate and beautiful pictures Patiently, and lovingly stitched with the thread of living. The first thread appeared in 1947 born to Tam and Eileen Lithgow, Growing up with sister Isobel The stitch of her childhood Woven at Bellside, in Clelland From happy days shared with their parents, spinster aunt and bachelor uncle and the menagerie of haulage lorries Belonging to the family business. No surprise then that Jean Was confident behind the wheel of a car before she gained her licence to drive. Even from an early age, There was a thread of fearlessness That ran through Jean; She and her friends thought nothing of cycling the miles on the main road from Clelland to Edinburgh just to see the Forth Rail Bridge and then back home again. Now if that expedition involved a race Then I’m sure Jean would have wanted to win - Because competing was stitched through her story: Jean loved to compete - not least on the badminton court. She was a skillful and highly competitive player Beginning with the Wishaw Badminton Club before later qualifying as a coach, when for many years she and her good friend Anna Anderson coached children at Law Primary School and were stalwarts at Law Badminton Club. For many years’ badminton was a hobby and a passion for jean, And she only finally gave up when ill health frayed the thread of her game. The stitch of Jeans working life was woven with pleasure as a Medical Laboratory Technician, and other than a short spell as a school technician Jean gave herself to that role with delight, skill, and attention detail Both at Law and Wishaw General Hospitals. It was in 1969 Jean and Campbell were married And together they brought into the world their two daughters, Isla and Morag. Over the years the cross stitch of family life Had many patterns But on Sunday, as we spoke together, Among the memories that found us Were of the lovely times spent as family on holiday at St Andrews; Year on year in the static caravan - not to mention - the adventures of trampolining As well as the trips to Jersey and over to Ireland. And although Jean and Campbell separated some 12 years ago sewn between them was the stitch of friendship and she would never hear anything said against him. Where we to ask Of late, what was the favourite part of her picture? There’s little doubt, being a gran to Max, Donald and Duncan. Jean was the kind of gran who would whisk you off to Lapland Or have a boat tree house anchored in your garden; Its fair to say, the obstacles of Lanarkshire buses And the alchemy of their time tables Never got in the way of her going to look after her grandchildren. Jean quietly delighted in being a gran And was equally a delight to her grandchildren. Jean had good friends in the village Whom she regularly met At the church, in the guild or at the craft club That she was a founder member of. She enjoyed the company of her family But was equally content on her own Knitting, tackling a seduko puzzle, potting a hyacinth. What were some of the colours You saw threaded into the life of Jean? A dignity and quiet self confidence That could matter of factually find its voice and speak her mind. Not one to wear her heart on her sleeve Jean never gave herself to effusive displays of affection, But what is easily seen is no measure of what is truly there and reality cherishes the hidden as much as the obvious. There was a deep care, a generosity and kindness in jean These were threads running through the whole of who she was, Along with a tenacity and stubbornness Both of which were to stand by her When she was diagnosed with a life changing illness Some five years ago. There is a line in John O’Donohues Blessing for presence Which says: Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles That seek no attention. The way Jean chose to live with her cancer, The way she outwitted the prognosis of the consultants And still found her way to Ireland and Australia each year And to spend precious time with her family Was a quiet miracle. And supporting that miracle Were the many good friends in the village, particularly Anna, Elspeth and Jennifer. Whose care, friendship and support she greatly valued. As was Isobel Who for the past thirty years, lived next door to her sister. And without this bond, commitment, patience and sisterly affection, Jean would have seriously struggled in recent years. And during that time, she received devoted care from the local community nursing team who became her close friends. And Jean looked forward to their visits, as much for the chat than the nursing care. To keep calm and carry on Is now something of a cliche But that’s how Jean lived with cancer… She carried on doing what she wanted to do Carried on solo trips to see her family oversees Carried on meeting with her friends and family She carried on Sunday by Sunday Drawing strength from worship and prayer. The poet Emily Dickinson Was someone who kept unpublished in her lifetime Some of the greatest poems of the 19th century, And one of her poems strikes me As how Jean took her leave of this world: “Because I could not stop for Death – He kindly stopped for me – The Carriage held but just Ourselves – And Immortality.” In the ancient poem from the book of psalms The writer speaks a prayer: "You have searched me, Lord, And you know me, You when I sit and when I rise You perceive my thoughts from afar. However much Jean’s story was unpublished to most What she lived, Who she was, Her dreams and losses Her hopes and loves Were no secret to God page by page line by line word for word and what was left unsaid between are known to him. And God can only know by love. So today we give thanks That the Story of Jean Is not finished But finds a telling and goes on In the space Christ has made for her Through his life, death and resurrection. As St Paul once told the church in Colossians “you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God." That is where all our stories find their true telling Where each of our stories will be kept and held and told in God.
No Sunday worship No use of the church building for funerals No general assembly
words…words…words…if you follow any social media then I imagine already you are scrolling past more words than are helpful to take in.
I’m not going to add too much to ticker-tape of information that leaves you less and less willing to read on. But there are some words worth listening to. And this morning I’m thinking of St Theresa of Avila, whose words are a prayer for the changed face of our world:
Let nothing disturb you Let nothing distress While all things pass away God is unchanging Be Patient for with God in your heart Nothing is lacking God is enough
These are words worth travelling with a while
So sang REM in 1987…and here we are living it. The end of the world you can distract yourself in, by what you buy, or where you holiday, or where you live. None of these distractions are available anymore. Only the question: what really matters?
Church is made up of those who live as if what really matters is the human being you happen to be with. If so, then everyone matters – not as an idea- but as something that has to be safeguarded, respected and loved. How then should we respond to the “end of the world as we know it?”
Consider what Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from the helplessness of a prison cell, awaiting his execution before the end of the second world war:
Jesus is there only for others. His being there for others is the experience of transcendence. It is only this freedom from himself, this being there for others, even to death, that is the source of his omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence. Faith is this participation in this being of Jesus (incarnation, cross, resurrection). Our relation to God is not a “religious” relationship to a highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable…but our relation to God is a new life in being there for others…the neighbour who is within reach in any given situation.Letters and papers from Prison, D. Bonhoeffer
It's the quality of Jesus' being there for others that reveals his divinity. Being there for others - is where God happens: in us...through us...with us. being there for others- that won't happen without prayer - the kind of prayer Jacob prayed: "I will not let you go unless you bless me..." And the blessing comes to Jacob, but leaves Jacob with a limp' leaves Jacob wounded. A prayer that wounds. As the poet Scott Cairns says: "The wound is a reminder of his nearness".
A prayer to be there for others. That will leave us with a limp. But who would want to walk without that wound?
She’d lived in the village as long as anyone could remember. Her hair was thinning, salt and pepper grey, And her eyes paled by days numbering into more years than polite company would ask for the grand total of. Not that she was ever shy Of letting you know her age, “What is there to hide about that? The longer I’m here the more I’ve got to be grateful for.” It was late when the doorbell rang. She wasn’t expecting anyone. It was Sheila. A young woman who’d lived next door For maybe 3 years now. Grace welcomed her in And walked towards the kitchen: “I was just about to put the kettle on.” Sheila followed her into the kitchen, Watched her plant two tea bags into two cups, fill them from the kettle And out of the crumbs of polite conversation She said, “I’m sorry to call so late, Grace - You’ll think I’m daft but Sometimes, When Billy’s on night shift Sometimes...I get a bit feart. No so much in the summer – But when the dark nights are in... It’s the dark. Imagine being scared of the dark at my age.” “You'll no be the last person to be scared of the dark. The dark’s a trickster - it calls out to all the broken and fearful shapes That hide in the corner of our hearts, the things we can distracted ourselves from during the day." Sat together in the kitchen, as if it were a confession box, Sheila brought out a few of those shapes. “Billy’s Job’s no that secure… There’s talk about moving the plant to India. He doesn’t say, but I know he’s worried. And my sister's no keeping that well –we don’t know what it is… And I was passing the church this morning - did you see all the people arrive for the funeral –of that poor girl - terrible- isn't it- And I thought...you know... I mean most of the time I'm fine I never think twice - but sometimes this fear, it fills up inside me: What if something happened to me; What if something happened to Billy - or one of my family." “You and I know, hen, Out there – anything can happen", Grace said, "Out there canny be controlled -some trouble or other will always find its way to our door. I’ve had my share of disappointment, God knows I’ve seen people away I couldn’t bare to think of losing... But what Iv'e learned is, well, we can choose to live in the endless procession of "what ifs...or we can do something else." "Like what?" Sheila asked "We can trust." "Trust?" The watermill of age often brought tears to her eyes Without the need of emotion, that was getting old for you, But these welling tears were drawn up from the cistern of her heart. "There is a door In every moment we are in. It opens up into a refuge for us. There's a shelter in our days, A safe place for our nights - and we all need a safe place to go to - And God is mine. Each morning I open my eyes, each night before I close them again I go to my safe place: God is my refuge, My shelter, who I trust. I trust him with the people I love and the folk I've lost. I trust him with what I wanted to happen that never came to pass. I trust him with the things I can do and the things I can't I trust him with all I've still to get sorted out." Grace stretched out her arm And pulled back the curtains, Outside the raven wings of night spread into a thick and impenetrable darkness. "I’ve learned how God won’t save me from trouble But he will save me in it." "How can you be so sure, Grace?" Because I’ve lived it, hen: When money was tight, When I had to let go of what I hoped for, When what I never asked for knocked me off my feet. He was there – with me – And that got me through… When my weans were wee there were days when something happened, one of them fell outside or something, and in they'd come, greetin, And wouldn'y settle for anybody else's arms but mine. I'd sit with them in my arms. Their knee wasn'y any less sore, but they came to me and brought what was sore, to be held in my arms. When I cling to God with a child’s grasp He carries me through the terror, Through the unwelcome surprise, Through the helplessness of what canny be changed. He's promised to shelter and protect Those who know his name." "And what is his name?"Sheila asked. "You know his name When you understand how Mercy is more important than judgement; You know his name When love is your first choice and your last; You know his name When the hurting become visible to you and you care; You know his name When everything you have and everything you are Is received as a gift. I learned his name when I was a wee girl singing hymns on a Sunday - Sometimes the words were like arms lifting me up To be kissed by God as I was singing… I trust him." "What’s it like - Trusting God?" Sheila asked. "Sometimes it’s like hanging off a cliff edge And you call out - help -is there anybody there - anybody who can help me? And a voice calls back: Let go – I’ll catch you." "I know how I'd answer that," Sheila said, "Is there anybody else there." They Laughed. "But that’s the point, hen, It’s no until you let go And start to trust him with the weight of all you are living, that you’ll find him there for you." They finished there tea. "Thanks Grace, For taking the time, I mean To listen to me." The young woman rose and went with Grace to the door. "Will it always be like this Grace?" Grace stood by the open door, and before Sheila passed through her voice dropped, as though this was something she'd never said, never told anyone before, "Sometimes, when I’m still and it's quiet and I'm praying, Praying without saying a word, or sometimes I’ll hear a piece of music Or a memory will find me from nowhere, and I catch sight of something… "What is it that you see?" "Something too beautiful for words: How God has made all things for love, That its by love he keeps them, And shall keep them forever. Our troubles are no a full stop, Sheila, they are just a comma, In this life and the day we hand it back - We belong to God. And I know, like in my bones, I k n o w - all will be well." They smiled at one another and said goodnight. And the door closed, and the night was still dark and the whole of it all was held in the bosom of God within the uncreated light.