day 20…It’s the end of the world as we know it

COVID 19

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?

day 19…a Sunday story

KatinkaBille on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
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. 

day 18…a prayer

Colin Sinclair, the Moderator of the church of Scotland, has written a prayer for the times we find ourselves in. I share it here for anyone looking for words to pray:

In our hour of need we turn again to you, for we have nowhere else to turn.
We put our faith in you, because you have proved your faithfulness time and again.
We reaffirm our love for you because you have never let us go.
We thank you that you are not distant from us
but have drawn near, in your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.
He has shared our life, tasted our death and defeated it;
He understands our worries and our fears.
Help us to respond as your children now.
 
We pray for this pandemic spreading across our world,
remembering all who have lost loved ones
and praying for those seriously ill at this time.
 
We uphold the National Health Service
as it responds to this added pressure on its already overstretched services.
We pray for doctors and nurses and all in the caring professions,
who work to help and support people as best they can.
 
We remember those working behind the scenes
testing samples, confirming results, giving information to patients.
We uphold others trying to understand this virus better
working to create an effective remedy.
 
We pray for our Governments in Westminster and Holyrood,
as they work with the best medical advice
to guide us on how we should respond
and what action we should take.
 
We pray that these guidelines might be taken seriously
and that all would put them into action.
May this crisis bring out the best in us, not the worst.
Help us to live by faith and not by fear;
to build bridges not barriers,
and to resist all who would speak ill of any other group.
 
May we not forget our responsibility to one another,
not least to the vulnerable and voiceless in our communities.
 
Help us to find ways of keeping in touch and offering reassurance
to those with underlying health issues;
for any who feel particularly vulnerable
or in danger at present.
 
As the virus spreads
we pray for the disruption it causes to normal life,
bringing new fears and anxieties:
We pray for those who have been laid off as their work disappears;
for financial hardship for individuals and businesses;
for the impact on the economy and pensions, when austerity has already left its mark.
 
We pray for those whose trips, both for business and pleasure, have been cancelled;
and others where events, long anticipated and planned for, have been postponed;
for those making contingency planning for home-based work or child care or exams.
 
May our inconvenience not blind us to others’ loss.
 
We remember those
who cannot visit loved ones in locked-down care homes;
for the elderly whose social contacts have been severely curtailed;
help us to find creative ways of keeping in touch,
of assuring them they are not forgotten or ignored.
 
May congregations find new ways of living though this time.
May we not forget our faith but draw strength from it.
 
So may our worship be heartfelt,
our fellowship deepen
and our service increase.
 
God of grace and God of mercy,
hear our prayers at this time.
 
Strengthen us, by your Spirit, so that:
we may carry on our lives as best as we are able,
looking out for others,
showing love in action,
being faithful in prayer,
and bringing encouragement, hope and peace;
always trusting in you.
our Rock and our Redeemer.
These prayers we bring to you.
in Jesus’ name.
Amen.
 

Day 17…in the end is my beginning

An acorn and felled tree…
This morning, the weather remembered there are elements other than rain. We awoke to a beautiful blue sky, the kind Philip Larkin describes in High Windows:

The sun-comprehending glass,
And beyond it, the deep blue air, that shows
Nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless.

We tidied up our lodge and drove down to the winter garden cafe. It has an open air veranda that looks up to the snow peaked hills and the ancient evergreen trees that rise like gayzers made from dark green wood, looking down towards the spires of red brick churches in the town below.

We drank coffee and stood on the Veranda, listening to birdsong, getting ready to go home. I have known these human beings since I was 12. We know more than we can say; more than we need to say; more than we’ve found ways of saying.

We thanked one another for the time spent laughing, disagreeing about politics, watching football and just being in one another’s company.

With an unspoken reluctance, we turned our back on the Perthshire hills, that were modestly magnificent in Spring sunlight underneath the azure sky. We said goodbye to each other.

And it was that saying goodbye. It was resonant with something, as if the wind off the hills brought with it the breeze of that goodbye which is the last goodbye. Like touching what’s most precious about being human and at the same time feeling it pass through your fingers – the people you know and love, who are fragile and time bound, and part of a shared story that will disappear from sight as quickly as the cloud that no doubt hides the Perthshire hills tonight.

But that wasn’t all it was. Not just a sense of finitude – something more than that – much more – the glory in how that finitude is not a full stop, but a comma, before something unbelievably beautiful – an intimation of the way we are all of us drawn into what Christ has done in becoming human, fully inhabiting our life, fully undergoing our death and rising again to – even now – draw us deeper and deeper into what lies ahead: like the words of TS Elliot in the second of his four quartets: In the end is my beginning.

I can’t really describe the overwhelming feeling I had, but listening to the 14th century Anchorite, Julian, comes close:

He that made all things for love, by the same love keepeth them, and shall keep them without end.

Julian of Norwich

That is what I also sensed in our parting; Our finitude is not a full stop – in our end is our beginning. The good news of what Jesus has made possible: we belong to God. In my end, is my beginning, to begin to know the love I am loved with – that will never end.

when we are living, we are in the Lord

and when we’re dying, we are in the Lord

For in our living and in our dying

we belong to God, we belong to God.

Somos Del Senor, CH4 Hymnary

Day 16…where am I?

At the moment, looking towards the future feels a bit like standing on a beach watching a wave rise as it comes towards us.

We find it easy to get lost replaying the past or anticipating the future. How do I live more on the ground I’m standing? Because the moment I’m in is the only moment I have. The moment I’m in is where God comes to meet me.

This hour through which you are passing, the (person) whom you meet here and now, the task on which you are engaged at this very moment- these are always the most important in your whole life”

Paul Evdokimov

Day 15…Scatter thoughts

View from Crieff this afternoon

Coronavirus continues to overshadow what we take for granted and is considered now to be pandemic. Where I’m staying in Perthshire, there is a sense of unspoken unease, and the empty public spaces are like a badly kept secret.

Fear and uncertainty seems to have moved into the neighborhood of all we usually take for granted.

I bring to mind the ancient blessing I daily spoke over patients on the threshold between life and death, when I was a spiritual care chaplain. People for whom the worst was happening to them and those they loved.

The words are not a palliative, but touch something at the heart of every passing moment, and the inevitable change this always brings: God is there. God is already present. I trust that to be true.

One of the things I have become increasingly aware of this lent is that my ability to locate the presence of God, analyze its activity, and then describe it to others, is not that important. To think that it is, is less to do with trusting God, and more to do with trying to control God. God cannot be controlled by me or anyone.

But he can be loved and trusted. So there is only a willingness to trust, that wherever I am, whatever is happening, I can trust I am known by God (and to be known is to be loved).

I don’t even invite God into my life, God is already there, drawing me deeper into his knowing: a knowing that is infinite love. How do I know? My restless seeking is a response, not a initiative.

“You made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you…”

Saint Augustine

So a blessing for these uncertain days and troubling times…

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber;

indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—

he will watch over your life;

the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

Psalm 121

Day…14 Look at the stars

Look at the stars Abraham

So it’s estimated there are as many stars in the universe as there are grains of sand on earth. I read that’s 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe.

When Abraham is old and thinks life is writing a predictable end to his story, God takes him outside in the middle of the night. “Look up Abraham,” God says, “and count the stars -if you can…

…so shall be the number of your children.”

And while Sarah sleeps in the tent, well past the age of bearing children, her old childless husband looks up at the great orchard of light hanging above him, and tries to name each Star…

Isaac, Jacob, Ruth, Mary, Peter, Jesus , then your name…then mine…until there are no more names left.

I imagine the old man dancing under the stars. When he comes back to bed Sarah asks him, without opening her eyes, “What were you doing out there?”

“Dancing with my children.” Abraham answers, his old bones climbing back into bed. Sarah smiles, still not opening her eyes, and says: “Go back to sleep you old fool..”

All of us a part of a mystery Slowly unfolding. All part of something bigger than we mostly can imagine. Our story is more than our story. No one has a predictable end.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Ephesians 20-21

Let the words of Martin Laird be a blessing for wherever you are on the way:

As we journey towards the God who causes us to seek, may we…awake in God who has found us from all eternity.

Martin Laird, Ocean of light