Reflections archive

For the week beginning Sunday 23rd August 2015

…flames of love and peace

Pentecost

Song to the Holy Spirit,
by James K Baxter

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are as the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind of fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your song in the hearts of the poor.
Guide us, wound us, help us. Bring us to the Father.

[A New Zealand Prayer Book, p. 157–8.]

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For the week beginning Sunday 19 July 2015

Francis the peacemaker

The Peacemakers

How wonderful it is, how pleasant, for God’s people to live together in harmony! PSALM 133:1

This plan, which God will complete when the time is right, is to bring all creation together, everything in heaven and on earth, with Christ as head. EPHESIANS 1:10

The devil is the great divider;
God is the great uniter;
therefore are the peacemakers
called the children of God.
There is great variety in humanity.
Variety in culture
– variety in appearance
– variety of food
– variety of personality
– variety of music…

It is possible to rejoice
in others who are different from us.
It is possible to rejoice
in the spirituality of others,
which may be different from our own.
The aged can rejoice
in the enthusiasms of the young;
the young can rejoice
in the quiet peace of the aged.

Differences and divisions do exist
and must be faced.
Confrontation increases conflict;
search for mutual understanding
leads to peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers.

Prayer

Lord, make us the instruments of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love
where there is injury, pardon
where there is discord, union
where there is doubt, faith
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light
where there is sadness, joy
for thy mercy and for thy truth’s sake.
[Prayer attributed to St Francis of Assisi]

[The above reflection is from Meditations from the Iona Community, 1998, Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow, p. 89]

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For the week beginning Sunday 5 July 2015

hubble-starburst-large-100706-02

Tuning in to God’s wisdom

When we hear people say, “I’m at my wits’ end,” we know how they feel! If you’ve spent time with a toddler in tantrum mode, or an hour on the phone with the IRD, you will probably say the same. You’re so frustrated you can’t go on, you don’t know what to try next.

The phrase wits’ end originated in the King James Version – Psalm 107:27 says, “They reel to and fro, and stagger like drunken men, and are at their wits’ end.” The verse is about people who dither in their devotion to God.

An ancient definition of wit was ‘knowledge’. So, the phrase meant that people were at the end of their knowledge, and probably at a point where they needed to rely on faith. The frustration you feel when you are at the end of your knowledge may be just the place you need to be! It means you can no longer rely on your own understanding, but on God.

‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ says the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’ [Isaiah 55:8,9].

When we look for God’s wisdom we are tuning in to far greater knowledge than we can ever have. We may not know which way to turn next, but God certainly does. So next time you’re at your wits’ end, ask God for wisdom and see what he will do. “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously…” [James 1:5].

By Amberley Parish Priest-in-Charge, Reverend Lynnette Lightfoot.

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For the week beginning Sunday 7 June 2015

Winter has well and truly arrived in our small corner of the Southern Hemisphere! Local landmark Mount Grey/Maukatere below appears in a way known in local Maori lore as ‘floating waka’ – for non-locals, a waka is a large Maori canoe (think ‘migration across the Pacific’, not ‘fishing’).

Mt Grey/Maukatere - Floating Waka

From Michael Leunig’s beautiful collection of prayer/poems: The Prayer Tree:

We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart.
To make warmth and quiet for the heart.
To make soups and broths for the heart.
To cook for the heart and read for the
heart.
To curl up softly and nestle with the heart.
To sleep deeply and gently at one with the
heart.
To dream with the heart.
To spend time with the heart.
A long, long time of peace with the heart.
We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart.

AMEN.

God bless those who suffer from the
common cold.
Nature has entered into them;
Has led them aside and gently lain them
low.
To contemplate life from the wayside;
To consider human frailty;
To receive the deep and dreamy messages
of fever.
We give thanks for the insights of this
humble perspective.
We give thanks for blessings in disguise.

AMEN.

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For the week beginning Sunday 24th May 2015 [Pentecost]:

Something beautiful that you may have forgotten is in our very own
A New Zealand Prayer Book / He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa (pp.157-8).
What is more, something written by New Zealander James K. Baxter.

Song to the Holy Spirit

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You blow like the wind in a thousand paddocks,
Inside and outside the fences,
You blow where you wish to blow.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the sun who shines on the little plant,
You warm him gently, you give him life,
You raise him up to become a tree with many leaves.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are as the mother eagle with her young,
Holding them in peace under your feathers.
On the highest mountain you have built your nest,
Above the valley, above the storms of the world,
Where no hunter ever comes.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the bright cloud in whom we hide,
In whom we know already that the battle has been won.
You bring us to our brother Jesus
To rest our heads upon his shoulder.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
You are the kind fire who does not cease to burn,
Consuming us with flames of love and peace,
Driving us out like sparks to set the world on fire.

Lord, Holy Spirit,
In the love of friends you are building a new house,
Heaven is with us when you are with us.
You are singing your song in the hearts of the poor.
Guide us, wound us, heal us. Bring us to the Father.

flame and dove

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For the week beginning Sunday 17 April 2015:

Here are two invocations of the Holy Spirit, written by the late Kate McIlhagga of the Iona Community. These can be used in worship services or adapted for your personal meditations.

basket

Basketful

Spirit of God,
brooding over the waters
of our chaos,
inspire us to
generous living.

Wind of God,
dancing over the desert
of our reluctance,
lead us to the oasis
of celebration.

Breath of God,
inspiring communication
among strangers,
make us channels
of your peace,

that we may give
in deep thankfulness,
placing the overflowing basket
of our gifts
on the table
of rejoicing.

birds

Invocation

Come Holy Spirit,
come as the robin of the morning,
awakening our hearts
with your song.

Come as the dove at evening,
bringing blessing and peace.

Come as the blackbird at noonday,
gladdening your world with joy.

Come to us
as we come to worship,
that we may
sing to the Creator,
grapple with the wounds of creation
and find peace
through active prayer.

From The Green Heart of the Snowdrop, Wild Goose Publications, 2004.

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For the week beginning Sunday 26 April 2015:

The Heart of Stone

There are times when I’ve cried out,
“God, give me back my heart of stone
and a ladder so that I can climb
up to my head and live there
with doors and windows shut on feeling.
God, God, I’m tired of all the hurt.
For a little while, let me live
a second-hand life. Let me tread
the safe path of other people’s ideas.
Just let me drop this awesome responsibility
you have given me, to grow
through love and pain.”

Then I remember what it’s like
to exist with a heart of stone.
How cold and dead I felt inside,
and how divided the world was
when viewed without love in my heart.

Remembering, I pour myself before God
and whisper into His waiting,
“My God, there is no going back.
It has to be a soft heart,
one that is vulnerable
to the love and wounding
which is life,
which is growth,
which is You.”

Keep within me, my God,
the heart of flesh.

by Joy Cowley

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For Sunday 8 February 2015:

jesus heals on sabbath

An extract from Philip Gulley’s book, The Evolution of Faith (2011).

How We Can Be Like Jesus and Other God-Bearers

If God-bearers are those who’ve permitted themselves to be enlivened by the Divine Presence
to the extent others of us have not, it stands to reason that the only thing keeping us from
doing so is our own unwillingness or inability to engage the Divine Presence at a richer, deeper
level. I’m presuming God desires this fuller relationship with all her children […].

One’s inability to embrace the Divine Presence is both voluntary and involuntary. Some consciously
choose not to undertake the personal transformation required. Perhaps they doubt their ability to
live at such a heightened level, believing that role might require more than they can reasonably or
honestly offer. Perhaps because of negative experiences with religion, their image of the divine is
not a  positive one and they prefer to achieve a higher awareness through humanism or some other
secular means where dependence on the divine is not foremost. Such people are to be
commended for their integrity and self-awareness. I believe God is joyfully present even in those
persons who, because of their life experiences, find it difficult to even imagine God, let alone
embrace him.

Others are so wearied and harassed, they are unable to give their full attention to the Divine
Presence in their lives. These people are neither to be scorned nor made to feel guilty. Indeed,
Jesus felt especially drawn to such people and regularly offered words of hope and comfort to
them. Perhaps one day their lives will permit a fuller, more engaged response to the divine. This
might well be the case for many of us who find our attentions occupied by the demands of
education, employment, marriage, care of our children or parents, physical challenges, or any
number of matters that claim our energy and focus.

While some persons make the voluntary decision not to respond fully to the Divine Presence,
others are incapable of such a response, burdened with emotional and mental illness that
compromise their ability […] But if Jesus reflected the divine priorities, we can be confident
such people are met with great mercy and compassion.

What we are all called to do, despite our varied abilities to respond, is embrace the Divine Presence
as thoroughly as we are able. The embrace of some will be tentative, even meagre, but it will be
the best they can do, and their efforts should be met with appreciation, joy, and thanksgiving, just
as the widow with only her mite to give was commended. Others, whose love, soul, strength, and
mind are great, will engage God more profoundly. A special few will absorb the divine priorities so
fully that they will astound us with their wisdom, grace, and courage.

In a Quaker meeting I once pastored, an elderly woman had committed herself to works of mercy.
As I got to know her better, I was astounded at the many ways in which she had blessed hurting
people. Though her income was modest, she lived simply to she could give generously. Though
her many commitments kept her calendar full, she still found time to be present for those who
needed comfort… Because of her humility, she was reluctant to talk with others about her own
accomplishments. But one day she let slip the principle that guided her life, when she said to me,
“Little is much when God is in it.”

I have thought of that many times since, appreciating its truth more and more as the years pass.
Little does become much when love is present. Love does magnify our works. Jesus knew this.
He knew even the smallest gesture of love could transform the darkest situation, and so fully
committed himself to divine love that we are still awed by his life. Believe me when I tell you this:
we can be like him, and like all the other God-bearers our world has known. It is key to the
future of our faith.

Who was Jesus? One whose awareness of the Divine Presence within him was so keen, and his
response to the Divine Presence so full, that he was empowered to live and love so powerfully
that those who encountered him were often made whole themselves and more fully equipped
to say yes to that same Divine Presence that was also in them. 
We can be like that Jesus. We can be
like him when we say yes to the Divine Presence that is also in us, as thoroughly as we are able.
As we do that, our lives, and the lives of others, will be transformed. God’s joy will be in us,
and our joy will be full.

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For Sunday 21 December 2014:

Let’s Party!

In Isaiah ch.1 v.14 we read,

“Your New Moon Festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.”

We are getting very close to the “silly” season again. Our lives seem to be filled with parties, concerts, carol services, coffee dates, breakups, shopping sprees, and gourmet meals, simply because we enjoy them, though sometimes they become pressures. Our feet ache, our budget is stretched, our waistline expands while our sleep diminishes, and the shops, for all their beautiful displays and amazing choice, often fail to provide the right present for that special family member.

What should be a wonderful meal and a happy occasion is spoiled because the recipe apparently is not right or the cooker or the clock simply will not co-operate. The special carol service is planned down to the last detail but for one reason or another someone is disappointed and doesn’t hesitate to tell you so.

It seems to me that the giving and receiving of pleasure should not be hard work. We all have different temperaments. Those of us who are spontaneous may need to give the gift of consideration for their organised and planning oriented friends. On the other hand the planners may need to give the gift of relaxing their expectations – all in the spirit of love.

We should take note of God’s word to the Israelites. He was fed up with their festivals and feasts. There were apparently even too many sacrifices – though I suspect the problem was more with the spirit in which they were offered. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings”, God declared in verse 11. That makes me wonder if he cringes at some of our Christmas celebrations? Should we be thinking twice about some of the things we do at this season of the year, or at least think about the spirit in which we do them?

However, I am sure that if our celebrations bring joy, God will be happy that we enjoy celebrating the birth of his Son. After all, he gave us the gifts of hospitality, and generosity, music, time, and family – he actually gave us JOY itself. Christina Rosetti wrote a beautiful poem for this time of the year – it is called “Love came down at Christmas” and it concludes like this:

Love shall be our token,
Love be yours and love be mine,
Love to God and all men,
Love for plea and gift and sign.

Since joy and love came down at Christmas, let’s prepare now
to celebrate and share God’s love with others. How can that
possibly be a burden?

Rev’d Lynnette Lightfoot

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For Sunday 14 December 2014:

By Joy Cowley

The Shepherd’s Message

Luke 2: 15-20
Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told to them.

COME LET US ADORE HIM

Come all you shepherds and shearers.
Put down your blades,
kick the fleece into a corner
and hurry on down to the birthing place.
Christ is with us.

Not in a stable this time,
but a house-truck parked down by the creek
under a snow of manuka blossom,
Mary, the baby, two cats and a dog,
and Joseph making pancakes over a little gas stove.
Go quietly now, for this is holy time.
Kick your boots off at the step
and go in with open eyes, ready to be surprised by God.
Christ is with us.

yhst-37939424361191_2027_161446281

Madonna and Child by Jason Jenicke

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For Sunday 7 December 2014:

First read Isaiah chapter 40, verses 1-11.

Meditate on the image of God in the mind of this prophet. Enter into this with your own imagination.

Some music for your meditation:

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For Sunday 30 November 2014:

An absurdity

First Sunday in Advent

The following is from Aotearoa Psalms (Joy Cowley and Terry Coles):

God of the Absurd

God of the absurd,
Creator of the feeding of pelicans,
the flight of pukeko,
the departing of baboons,
the singing of peacocks
and the hurrying of camels,
God of everything quaint, funny, incongruous,
you are the God who made me
and knows me through and through.

No one better than you
understands the contradictions
of my make-up, that mixture
of the sublime and the ridiculous
that is me. So, my loving Creator,
when I am experiencing the tension
of opposites, and am buried deep
in self-examination, please stop me
from taking myself too seriously.
Tune my ear to the laughter
of your universe,
and help me to understand it
as my own.

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For Sunday 9 November 2014:

In time of crisis

images-2

The meditation below by Michael Leunig [from A Common Prayer, Harper Collins, 1998]
speaks of the precious gift we can receive in a time of crisis or disaster, when we think
we have come to the end of our own resources.

We struggle, we grow weary, we grow
tired. We are exhausted, we are distressed, 

we despair. We give up, we fall down, we let 
go. We cry.  We are empty, we grow calm, 
we are ready. We wait quietly.
     A small, shy truth arrives. Arrives from
without and within. Arrives and is born.
Simple, steady, clear. Like a mirror, like
a bell, like a flame. Like rain in summer.
A precious truth arrives and is born within
us. Within our emptiness.
     We accept it, we observe it, we absorb it.
We surrender to our bare truth. We are
nourished, we are changed. We are blessed.
We rise up.
     For this we give thanks.

AMEN. 

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For Sunday 2 November 2014:

A series of reflections on the ‘hidden life’ from Henri J. M. Nouwen’s collection, Bread for
the Journey: Reflections for Every Day of the Year. 
[Images not original]

jm_200_NT1.pd-P7.tiff

The hidden life of Jesus

The largest part of Jesus’ life was hidden. Jesus lived with his parents in Nazareth,
“under their authority” (Luke 2:51), and there “increased in wisdom, in stature, and in
favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). When we think about Jesus we mostly
think about his words and miracles, his passion, death and resurrection, but we should
never forget that before all of that Jesus lived a simple, hidden life in a small town, far
away from all the great people, great cities and great events. Jesus’ hidden life is very
important for our own spiritual journeys. If we want to follow Jesus by words and deeds
in the service of his Kingdom, we must first of all strive to follow Jesus in his simple,
unspectacular and very ordinary life.

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solitude

Hiddenness, a place of intimacy

Hiddenness is an essential quality of the spiritual life. Solitude, silence, ordinary tasks,
being with people without great agendas, sleeping, eating, working, playing … all of that
without being different from others, that is the life that Jesus lived and the life he asks us
to live. It is in hiddenness that we, like Jesus, can increase “in wisdom, in stature, and in
favour with God and with people” (Luke 2:52). It is in hiddenness that we can find a true
intimacy with God and a true love for people.

Even during his active ministry, Jesus continued to return to hidden places to be alone
with God. If we don’t have a hidden life with God, our public life for God cannot bear fruit.

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quiet time_12x16.500

Hiddenness, a place of purification

One of the reasons that hiddenness is such an important aspect of the spiritual life is that
it keeps us focused on God. In hiddenness we do not receive human acclamation,
admiration, support or encouragement. In hiddenness we have to go to God with our
sorrows and our joys, and trust that God will give us what we most need.

In our society we are inclined to avoid hiddenness. We want to be seen and
acknowledged. We want to be useful to others and influence the course of events. But as
we become visible and popular, we grow dependent on people and their responses and
easily lose touch with God, the true source of our being. Hiddenness is the place of
purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves.

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simple house

Protecting our hiddenness

If indeed the spiritual life is essentially a hidden life, how do we protect this hiddenness
in the midst of a very public life? The two most important ways to protect our hiddenness
are found in solitude and poverty. Solitude allows us to be alone with God. There we
experience that we belong to God, not to people, not even to those who love us and care
for us, but to God and God alone. Poverty is where we experience our own and other
people’s weaknesses, limitations and need for support. To be poor is to be without
success, without fame and without power. But there God chooses to show us God’s love.

Both solitude and poverty protect the hiddenness of our lives.

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For Sunday 26 October 2014:

she_annointed_his_head_large

Jesus at Simon’s house

(from Come and See, 2008, Text by Joy Cowley, Photos by Terry Cowley, pages 104–5.)

Matthew 26: 6-13
… a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment, and
she poured it over his head as he sat at the table. But when the disciples

saw it, they were angry and said, ‘Why this waste?…’

THE ANOINTING OF JESUS

She was judged by the way she worshipped you.
It was not the done thing. She was over the top.
The righteous disciples condemned her
and criticised you, too, because
you accepted her gift with gratitude.

You said her name would be remembered
wherever your word was preached,
but was her name remembered?
Of course not. She was seen as interloper,
a woman of doubtful reputation
whose emotions ran out of control.

Today, I look at her and her love for you.
I look at you and the way you knew
what was in her beautiful heart.
Then I look at myself and wonder
about the judgements I place
on people who worship you
in much the same way as she did.

I can spend the whole day
reflecting on that.

Thought for the day

Can we accept that other people love God as much as we do? That
others rejoice in their religion as much as we rejoice in ours?

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For Sunday 19 October 2014

Whoops! This reflection is missing, sorry.

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For Sunday 12 October 2014:

flatbread-3

Knowing our limits

“Great crowds gathered to hear him and to be cured of their ailments. And
from time to time he would withdraw to lonely places for prayer.”  Luke 5:15 (NEB)

In his life,
Jesus felt the need of both
giving and receiving strength.
He was ready to teach,
to heal,
to speak. …

But when he came to the limit
of his human self,
he knew it,
he did not give dry stones to those
who came seeking bread
just because they came.
He retreated,
for renewal with God.

He prayed for strength. …
How can I do without God’s refreshment?

[From a blade of grass: different devotionals by Gladis and Gordon de Pree, Zondervan, 1967]

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For Sunday 5 October 2014:

Baldwin St

Roads

by Joy Cowley

I enjoy looking at other people’s roads.
They are different from mine
and yet basically the same.
They all facilitate journey
from here to there, self to other,
and they are all inter-connected.

The fact that I love my own road
with its comfortable landmarks
and familiar faces,
doesn’t restrict my appreciation
of someone else’s neighbourhood.

And if I go into another area
and walk a mile or two with someone else,
I return as a larger being.
The love of my own road is deepened,
the appreciation of other roads is widened
and I am blessed in the knowledge
that all roads lead to God.

[From Aotearoa Psalms: Prayers of a new people, 1989, NZ: Catholic Supplies Ltd]

Reflection

Meditate on what it would mean for our world if we all (beginning with ourselves) learned to appreciate one others’ “roads”. Pray for God to open your heart, to increase your awareness and understanding of the lives of others, and to deepen your gratitude for your own ‘road’.

For Sunday 28 September 2014:

Spring 2013 St Paul's

Cherry blossom at St Paul’s

We are the glory of God

Living a spiritual life is living a life in which our spirits
and the Spirit of God bear a joint witness that we belong
to God as God’s beloved children (see Romans 8:16). This
witness involves every aspect of our lives. Paul says,
‘Whatever you eat, then, or drink, and whatever else you
do, do it all for the glory of God’ (Romans 10:31). And we
are the glory of God when we give full visibility to the
freedom of the children of God.

When we live in communion with God’s Spirit, we can
only be witnesses, because wherever we go and whomever
we meet, God’s Spirit will manifest itself through us.

The fruit of the Spirit

How does the Spirit of God manifest itself through us?
Often we think that to witness means to speak up in
defence of God. This idea can make us very self-conscious.
We wonder where and how we can make God the topic of
our conversations and how to convince our families,
friends, neighbours and colleagues of God’s presence in
their lives. But this explicit missionary endeavour often
comes from an insecure heart and therefore easily
creates divisions.

The way God’s Spirit manifests itself most convincingly
is through its fruit: ‘love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
goodness, trustfulness, gentleness and self-control’
(Galatians 5:22). These fruit speak for themselves. It is
therefore always better to raise the question ‘How can I
grow in the Spirit?’ than the question ‘How can I make
others believe in the Spirit?’

[From Bread for the Journey: Reflections for every day of the year, by Henri Nouwen, 1996, pp.192–3]

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For Sunday 21 September 2014:

H.I. tower & blossom 2013

Holy Innocents’ Church tower & blossom, Spring 2013

Worship

Come, let us bow down and worship him;
Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker!
He is our God;
we are the people he cares for,
the flock for which he provides. Psalm 95: 6-7

In God’s presence we are not alone:
we join with the whole family of God on earth;
we join with men, women and children;
we join with the able, and also with those
handicapped in body or in mind;
we join with those in heaven.

We worship joyfully celebrating:
The existence of God.
Beauty in all its forms; the beauty of nature;
the beauty of animals; the beauty of the human form;
the beauty of artistic creation.
God’s love for us;
His gift of Jesus;
the readiness of Jesus to love till death;
His glorious resurrection.

We worship humbly in prayer for forgiveness:
Words spoken, action taken without thought
or without love.
Words and actions of support,
unspoken or undone.
Fear of others, jealousy at their success;
our own failures projected by us on to others.

We worship humbly in prayer for ourselves:
Supplication for our great need — vision and 
imagination: to see the world,
and to recognise new possibilities;
to see the work of the Holy Spirit in others;
to know in failure, whether we are right
and must continue, or wrong and must change.

We worship humbly in prayer for others:
For the worldwide Church;
for its unity and for its faithfulness
in sharing the Good News;
for its fulfilling of the task of serving
the poor and deprived;
for those who can enlarge the vision
of men and women
through their skill in artistic creation.

Prayer:
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, my soul!
I will praise Him as long as I live;
I will sing to God all my life.

[From Meditations from the Iona Community, by Ian Reid, Wild Goose Publications, 1998]

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For Sunday 14th September 2014:

Negev desertEmpowering God

I will bring your people home. Isaiah 43.5

God is all the time watching over
and guiding his people.
This was true when his people were
slaves in Egypt.
Their situation seemed to be hopeless.
This was true when he guided them
to a new land.
This was true when his people  were in exile in
Babylon. Return to their own home appeared to be
hopeless. He watched over them as they
returned home.

Let us meditate on individuals or groups.
For some a new day has dawned.
Let us give thanks.
For others that new day has not yet dawned.
Let us pray that they may be open to God
who is watching over them and
seeking to empower them.
Let us therefore be filled with hope for them.

Let us meditate on the past, present and future:
of our own lives,
of the life of our families,
of the life of the Church,
of the life of our country,
of the life of the world

[From Meditations from the Iona Community, by Ian Reid, Wild Goose Publications, 1998]

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For Sunday 31st August 2014:

The Daily Office

A second excerpt from the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero, continues on from last week’s reflection and examines the Daily Office in more detail. What is it and why do it? Below are passages excerpted from Scazzero, pages 157-162:

sunrise_birds_by_regayip-d5ubgutThe term Daily Office… differs from what we label today as quiet time or devotions. When I listen carefully to most people describe their devotional life, the emphasis tends to be on “getting filled up for the day” or “interceding for the needs around me.” The root of the Daily Office is not so much a turning to God to get something but to be with Someone.

The word Office comes from the Latin word opus, or “work.” For the early church, the Daily Office was always the “work of God.” Nothing was to interfere with that priority.

I first observed and experienced the Daily Office during a one-week visit with Trappist monks in Massachusetts. The basic elements of Trappist life includes four elements— prayer, work, study, and rest. Yet it was their intentional arranging of their lives around the prayers of the Daily Office that moved me. This was their means to remain aware of God’s presence while they worked and to enable them to maintain healthy balance in their lives. ….

This experience with the Trappists launched me on a journey over the next two years to visit a variety of Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox monastic communities to learn more….

David practiced set times of prayer seven times a day (see Psalm 119: 164). Daniel prayed three times a day (see Daniel 6:10). Devout Jews in Jesus’ time prayed two to three times a day. Jesus himself probably followed the Jewish custom of praying at set times during the day. After Jesus’ resurrection, his disciples continued to pray at certain hours of the day (see Acts 3:1 and 10:9ff).

About A.D. 525… Benedict structured these prayer times around eight Daily Offices, including one in the middle of the night for monks. … “On hearing the signal for an hour of the divine office, the monk will immediately set aside what he has in hand and go with utmost speed… Indeed, nothing is to be preferred to the Work of God.”

All these people realised that the stopping for the Daily Office to be with God is the key to creating a continual and easy familiarity with God’s presence the rest of the day. It is the rhythm of stopping that makes the “practice of the presence of God”…

Next week’s reflection will look at the main elements of the Daily Office and the variations in frequency, timing and content that can be adopted to suit individual needs and preferences. In the meantime, reflect on your current devotions. Are they about ‘getting something from God’ or ‘being with God’? When do you take your devotional time? How long is it? How do you use scripture in your devotions? Do you read commentaries? What parts of scripture do you read? Do you sing or listen to music? And how are your devotions working for you in terms of your being aware throughout the day of God’s presence?

Blessings for the week.

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For Sunday 24th August 2014:

God’s rhythm for us

This week’s reflection is an excerpt from the book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Pater Scazzero, from Chapter 9, ‘Discover the rhythms of the Daily Office and the Sabbath: Stopping to breathe the air of eternity’. Next week, we will consider the Daily Office (or Liturgy of the Hours/Divine Office) in more detail. This excerpt introduces the concept for those unsure of its purpose or its value in their life with God. Scazzero is an experienced pastor of an evangelical denomination whose spiritual life and marriage underwent a major crisis. The book is the result of the discoveries he made among the riches of the Church’s ancient heritage and how these helped to transform his spiritual health.

Excerpt (from p.156-7):

Stopping to surrender

At the heart of the Daily Office and the Sabbath is stopping to surrender to God in trust. Failure to do so is the very essence of the sin in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve legitimately worked and enjoyed their achievements in the Garden of Eden. They were to embrace their limits, however, and not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They were not to try and see and know that which belongs to the almighty God. God was teaching them that, “after the full flowering of their achievements and activities, they [were] invited, not to be active, not to accomplish, but to surrender in trust …. Action, then passivity; striving, then letting go; doing all one can do and then being carried … only this rhythm is the spirit realised” [Robert Barron].

As theologian Robert Barron argued, at the heart of original sin is the refusal to accept God’s rhythm for us. The essence of being in God’s image is our ability, like God, to stop. We imitate God by stopping our work and resting. If we can stop for one day a week, or for mini-Sabbaths each day (the Daily Office), we touch something deep within us as image bearers of God. Our human brain, our bodies, our spirits, and our emotions become wired by God for the rhythm of work and rest in him.

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For Sunday 17th August 2014:

Choosing Joy

Joy is what makes life worth living, but for many joy seems
hard to find. They complain that their lives are sorrowful
and depressing. What then brings the joy we so much
desire? Are some people just lucky, while others have run
out of luck? Strange as it may sound, we can choose joy.
Two people can be part of the same event, but one may
choose to live it quite differently from the other. One
may choose to trust that what happened, painful as it may
be, holds a promise. The other may choose despair and be
destroyed by it.
What makes us human is precisely this freedom of
choice.

The joy of being like others

At first sight, joy seems to be connected with being different.
When you receive a compliment or win an award, you
experience the joy of not being the same as others. You
are faster, smarter, more beautiful, and it is that difference
that brings you joy. But such joy is very temporary. True joy
is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile
and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It
is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion,
a fellow traveller.
This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.

[From Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey]

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For Sunday 10th August 2014:

The Bridge (by Joy Cowley)

There are times in life
when we are called to be bridges,
not a great monument spanning a distance
and carrying loads of heavy traffic,
but a simple bridge to help one person from here to there over
some difficulty
such as pain, grief, fear, loneliness,
a bridge which opens the way
for ongoing journey.

When I become a bridge for another,
I bring upon myself a blessing,
for I escape from the small prison of self
and exist for a wider world,
breaking out to be larger being
who can enter another’s pain
and rejoice in another’s triumph.

I know of only one greater blessing
in this life, and that is,
to allow someone else
to be a bridge for me.

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For Sunday 3 August 2014:

On kindness

Some words on kindness, from a variety of origins. Any or all can be used
as a starting point for fruitful meditation.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger
and all wrangling and slander, together with all malice,

and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you.
(Ephesians 4:31–32.)

Kind words can be short
and easy to speak,
but their echoes are endless.
(Mother Theresa)

Kindness 
in words creates 
confidence.
Kindness in thinking 
creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving 
creates love.
(Lao Tzu, 6th cent. BCE)

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world.
(The Buddha, c.563–c.483 BCE)

KINDNESS 
IS MORE IMPORTANT
THAN WISDOM,
AND THE RECOGNITION
OF THIS
IS THE BEGINNING
OF WISDOM.
(Theodore Isaac Rubin)

One kind word
can warm three winter months.
(Japanese Proverb)

When a blind man
carries a lame man,
both go forward.
(Swedish proverb)

Wise sayings often fall
on barren ground;
but a kind word is never
thrown away.
(Sir Arthur Helps)

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For Sunday 27th July 2014:

Stepping stones

Stepping_stones_over_the_River_Cover_-_geograph.org.uk_-_416069I was part of a small EFM study group for four years, meeting fortnightly as we read the Hebrew Scriptures in Year 1, the New Testament in Year 2, Church History in Year 3, and Theology in Year 4. We also took part in weekly group spiritual reflections, using several methods. EFM (Education for Ministry) is designed to give lay people a small taste of the knowledge and tools that ordained ministers are equipped with—not with the goal of ordination but for the enrichment of their spiritual journeys and lay ministries.

Many aspects of the four-year study were illuminating and helpful, and one of these was the Stepping Stone method of spiritual autobiography. There isn’t scope here to describe it in detail, but it entails reviewing one’s life in order to trace major periods, episodes/events and people that have led one to the place where, spiritually, one is now. The aim is to identify about 10-12 things that have acted as stepping stones along the way. In EFM groups, this is done privately and the results recorded in a journal. A member may then choose to share one or two stepping stones with the group.

This spiritual review can be a useful exercise to do at any time. It can help you to understand why you are where you are, and whether it is time to move on and take another step. It can help you be at peace with people and events in your life, and learn to be thankful for the things that have shaped your spiritual path—even the painful things. It is surprising who and what ‘comes up’ during this exercise, and it isn’t the same every time. What is important to remember is that all of it, without exception, is redeemed by God in Christ, and that we are accepted and invited into God’s love no matter what our history. Sometimes, we are fortunate enough to discern God’s presence through it all as we look back on our Stepping Stones.

Years after my EFM studies finished, I came across a poem by Kate McIlhagga, which may be helpful as a prayer to be said before embarking on a spiritual autobiographical expedition. I reproduce an excerpt of it here. Happy sailing!  Blessings. G.

Give me a candle of the Spirit, O God,
as I go down into the depths of my being.
Show me the hidden things,
the creatures of my dreams,
the storehouse of forgotten memories.
Take me down to the spring of my life
and tell me my nature and my name.
Give me freedom to grow,
so that I may become that self,
the seed of which you planted in me
at my making.
Out of the deeps I cry to you, O God.

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For Sunday 20th July, 2014

Prayers for peace and justice

candle_Candle_light_1010Last week was a terrible one for many, with the conflict between Israel and Hamas escalating, and the alleged missile attack in Ukraine which killed everyone on board the passenger jet plane MH17. On Sunday a few of us gathered for Evening Prayer at St Paul’s, in Leithfield, to remember refugees and the victims of war and terror, and to pray for justice and peace in the world. One of our gathering read this poem/liturgy by the late Kate McIlhagga of the Iona Community to lead us into a time of intercession, silent meditation, and lighting of candles.

Nourishing our own inner monasteries

Let silence be placed around us
like a mantle.
Let us enter into it,
as through a small secret door;
stooping,
to emerge into
an acre of peace,
where stillness reigns
and God is ever present.

(Silence)

Then comes the voice of God,
in the startled cry
of a refugee child,
waking
in unfamiliar surroundings.

Then comes the voice of God,
in the mother,
fleeing with
her treasure
in her arms, and saying
‘I am here.’

Then comes the voice of God,
in the father
who points to the stars
and says,
‘There is our signpost.
There is our lantern.
Be of good courage.’

(Silence)

O Lord, may the mantle of silence
become a cloak of understanding
to warm our hearts in prayer.

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For Sunday 13th July 2014:

The mindfulness of the mystics

pets-and-elderly-peopleMystics are noted for their awareness of God’s ‘immanence’. Immanence is a technical term used by theologians; its origin is related to the word ‘mansion’, a type of dwelling. The term is used theologically to express the nearness and in-dwelling presence of God in everything.

Mystics have a gift — a heightened awareness of the immanence of God — but it’s not a gift they take for granted; instead they cherish and perfect it through spiritual discipline and practice. This may require more time and effort and solitude than most of us are prepared to give! Yet every one of us is capable of turning our attention to God and seeking God in all situations. This is not about making doomed efforts to ‘explain’ everything that happens as ‘the will of God’. It’s about cultivating an awareness of God and looking for God, a kind of sacred mindfulness.

It may be helpful to note than many mystics have found inspiration in the natural world in their search for and devotion to God. We may suffer spiritually when our days are too often spent far from nature (like in front of this computer screen!). If, for any reason, our access to nature is limited, just having an animal nearby or a plant to contemplate—or even a view of trees and sky from a window—can lead to fruitful meditation and a greater awareness of the in-dwelling sacred Spirit. We can’t all be famous mystics, but let’s be mindful of God and enjoy this precious life we have been given.

From Hildegard of Bingen:

The earth is at the same time mother.
She is mother of all that is natural,
mother of all that is human.

She is mother of all,
for contained in her are the seeds of all.

The earth of humankind contains all moistness,
all verdancy,
all germinating power.

It is in so many ways fruitful.

All creation comes from it,
yet is forms not only the basic raw material for humankind
but also the substance of the incarnation of God’s Son.

From Mother Julian of Norwich:

I saw that God was everything that was good
and encouraging.

God is our clothing
that wraps, clasps and encloses us
so as never to leave us.

God showed me in my palm
a little thing round as a ball
about the size of a hazelnut.

I looked at it with the eye of my understanding
and asked myself:
‘What is this thing?’
And I was answered: ‘It is everything that is created.’

I wondered how it could survive since it seemed so little
it could suddenly disintegrate into nothing.

The answer came: ‘It endures and ever will endure,
because God loves it.’

And so everything has being because of God’s love.

 

From Meister Eckhart:

Apprehend God in all things,
for God is in all things.

Every single creature is full of God
and is a book about God.
Every creature is a word of God.

If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature –
even a caterpillar –
I would never have to prepare a sermon.
So full of God
is every creature.

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For Sunday 6th July 2014:

cup of lifeThis week a series of five reflections by Henri Nouwen is offered here. They were published in his collection, Bread for the Journey(1996). You could read several at once, reflect, and then re-read them again during the week. Or, you could read one per day on five days as suits your needs or usual prayer and reflection discipline.  Blessings for the week.

The cup of life

When the mother of James and John asks Jesus to give her sons a special place in his Kingdom, Jesus responds: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). “Can we drink the cup?” is the most challenging and radical question we can ask ourselves. The cup is the cup of life, full of sorrows and joys. Can we hold our cups and claim them as our own? Can we life out cups to offer blessings to others, and can we drink our cups to the bottom as cups that bring us salvation?

Keeping this question alive in us is one of the most demanding spiritual exercises we can practise.

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Holding our cups

We must all hold the cups of our lives. As we grow older and become more fully aware of the many sorrows of life — personal failures, family conflicts, disappointments in work and social life, and the many pains surrounding us on the national and international scene — everything within and around us conspires to make us ignore, avoid, suppress or simply deny these sorrows. “Look on the sunny side of life and make the best of it”, we say to ourselves and hear others say to us. But when we want to drink the cups of our lives, we need first to hold them, to fully acknowledge what we are living, trusting that by not avoiding but befriending our sorrows we will discover the true joy we are looking for right in the midst of our sorrows.

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Lifting our cups

When we hold firm our cups of life, fully acknowledging their sorrows and joys, we will also be able to lift our cups in human solidarity. Lifting our cups means that we are not ashamed of what we are living, and this gesture encourages others to befriend their truth as we are trying to befriend ours. By lifting our cups and saying to one another, “To life” or “To your health”, we proclaim that we are willing to look truthfully at our lives together. Thus we can become a community of people encouraging one another to drink fully the cups that have been given to us in the conviction that they will lead us to true fulfilment.

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Drinking our cups

After firmly holding the cups of our lives and lifting them up as signs of hope for others, we have to drink them. Drinking our cups means fully appropriating and internalising what each of us has acknowledged as our life, with all its unique sorrows and joys.

How do we drink our cups? We drink them as we listen in silence to the truth of our lives, as we speak in trust with friends about ways we want to grow, and as we act in deeds of service. Drinking our cups is following freely and courageously God’s call and staying faithfully on the path that is ours. Thus our life cups become the cups of salvation. When we have emptied them to the bottom, God will fill them with “water” for eternal life.

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Emptiness and fullness

Emptiness and fullness at first seem complete opposites. But in the spiritual life they are not. In the spiritual life we find the fulfilment of our deepest desires by becoming empty for God.

We must empty the cups of our lives completely to be able to receive the fullness of life from God. Jesus lived this on the cross. The moment of complete emptiness and complete fullness became the same. When he had given all away to his Abba, his dear Father, he cried out, “It is fulfilled” (John 19:30). He who was lifted up on the cross was also lifted into the resurrection. He who had emptied and humbled himself was raised up and “given the name above all other names” (see Philippians 2:7–9). Let us keep listening to Jesus’ question: “Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?” (Matthew 20:22).

For Sunday 29th June 2014 (Feast of St Peter & St Paul):

I will turn aside

Our God can call us to turn aside and see something new, a new possibility, at any time.
This turning aside might be for something small or it might be for something great
—something that will change everything for us and for others.

We might be asked to turn aside from a well-worn path just for a moment,
before returning to accustomed habits and occupations. But what if we are asked
to leave behind the future we thought was mapped out for us, and strike a new path,
fraught with risk? There are great opportunities for growth, but will we risk it?
Perhaps saying no is a greater risk.

Moses, after forty years of ‘being’ one thing (a shepherd at Midian), turned aside
and ultimately accepted a new destiny, one that he had probably never before considered.
The following reflection on Moses is from a blade of grass, a lovely but probably
out-of-print book of devotional readings from 1967.

“And Moses said, ‘I will turn aside and see 
this great sight, why the bush is not burnt…'”
Exodus 3.3 (RSV)

There was work
for this man to do.
There was the daily job
of being a good sheep-herder.

Yet when the unusual happened,
duty did not blind his eyes
or dull his senses.
He had time to step aside
and see
and wonder.

And when God saw that he had stepped aside to see,
God called to him and said
“Moses,
the place on which you stand is Holy Ground!”

What
if he had not had time
to turn aside
and see
and wonder?

[From a blade of grass, by Gladis and Gordon de Press (1967).
Zondervan: Great Lakes, Michigan, p.96.

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For Sunday 22nd June 2014 (Te Pouhere Sunday):

The load not carried squarely

How many of us think that sin is a problem for us personally because we have broken a ‘law’ and have earned punishment? This legalistic view of sin is tied to a similarly legalistic view of the role of Jesus: he ‘had’ to die in order to take the ‘necessary’ punishment for our ‘law-breaking’.

Yet there is another way to look at sin. Sin is sin because of how it bends our nature away from the good that we are capable of; it causes us to be divided in our selves, and to live in exile from where we long to be. It hurts us, it hurts others, it hurts our world; it damages our relationships, and fractures communities and nations. It is not so much a crime as an affliction. And it is not only personal but corporate.

What is it that we, the afflicted, need? Not so much a reprieve from punishment — a ‘get out of jail free’ card — but healing and wholeness. In our Christian tradition, we cling to the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus as the source of our healing and of our continual rebirth and renewal. For us, he is the image of the living God: the self-giving and eternal Spirit who moves constantly to create and renew, and who wills the good of all. As we take this spirit into our own being, it’s like drinking in a much-needed medicine, sometimes sweet, sometimes not so easy to swallow — but life-saving all the same. We are offered a healing cup (it is not forced on us) and we would be wise to drink of it often; drink of it constantly; drink of it deeply. And pass the cup to others.

Before we can receive this healing cup, we need to recognise our affliction. We need confession, or self-understanding. Below is Michael Leunig’s beautiful and insightful prayer on this subject. God bless.

God help us to find our confession;
The truth within us which is hidden from
our mind;
The beauty or the ugliness we see elsewhere
But never in ourselves;
The stowaway which has been smuggled
Into the dark side of the heart,
Which puts the heart off balance and
causes it pain,
Which wearies and confuses us,
Which tips us in false directions and
inclines us to destruction,
The load which is not carried squarely
Because it is carried in ignorance.
God help us to find our confession.
Help us across the boundary of our
understanding.

Lead us into the darkness that we may find
what lies concealed;
That we may carry it towards the light;
That we may carry our truth in the centre
of our heart;
That we may carry our cross wisely
And bring harmony into our life and
and our world.

AMEN.

[From Michael Leunig, The Prayer Tree, 1990, HarperCollins.]

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For Sunday 15th June 2014 (Trinity Sunday):

How ‘open’ are we to the presence of God with us? Are we so ‘on-task’ (or so tired?) that we go for long periods without noticing or recognising the everywhere-ness of God, the God here with us? This is to miss out on the richness of life. May God’s Spirit open our hearts again today.

Shells

This morning we walked along a beach
which seemed to be full of God’s aroha.
Sky, sea, sand, they were all alight,
splash and dazzle, sparkle, shimmer,
dancing in a celebration of love.
Everything round us was praise.

Then we came to a bed of shells.
They were lying halfway between the tides,
as neat as a parable.

Some of the shells were turned up
like cupped hands filled with gift.
All that was beautiful in the day
was contained in their openness.
But others were turned face down
with their backs to the celebration,
enclosing nothing but their own darkness
and emptiness.

Light. Dark. Full. Empty.
Open. Closed. Yes. No.
It gave us something to think about
as we continued along the beach.

[by Joy Cowley, Aotearoa Psalms: Prayers of a New People]

nz paua shells

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For Sunday 8th June 2014 (Pentecost):

Prayer is never private (Part II)

prayer-partner-appHere is a further excerpt from Stephen Cottrell’s book, How to Pray, from page 19. We continue to unpack the myth of praying alone. What difference can it make to your prayer life to know you are not praying alone—even if you feel you are?

Happy Pentecost!  Alleluia!

Excerpt begins:

The prayer of the church on earth (that’s us!) is joined to the prayer of the Church in heaven

When we pray, the song of our prayer – or, should I say, the song the Holy Spirit sings within us – is joined to the music of the saints and the angels.

I remember many years ago preparing to celebrate a mid-week Eucharist on a cold and snowy winter’s night. Usually we had a congregation of ten or twelve people. On this night only one person turned up. She felt embarrassed about being the only one and poked her head round the sacristy door just before the service was due to begin and said, ‘Oh, don’t worry just for me.’ ‘But I’m not doing this just for you!’ I replied. I then explained that I was very glad she had turned up but what we were participating in was the prayer of the Church, and in this we all needed our visions expanded to see that we were surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses and in solidarity with Christian communities all over the world who were also gathering to celebrate the Eucharist. I understood her embarrassment but I wanted her to know that she was not alone. The church was full of angels.

Of course it doesn’t feel like this most of the time, but this does not make it any less true. And whenever the Eucharist is offered the truth that the prayer of the Church on earth is united with the prayer of the Church in heaven is affirmed when the priest says, ‘Therefore with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we proclaim your great and glorious name, for ever praising you and saying…’ And then we all join in a hymn of praise to God, ‘Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.’

Get it? Heaven and earth. That is the scandalous truth of the Christian faith. The glory of the Lord fills the whole of creation. God is not confined to the heavens; he is available to us on earth.

The Christian life can be very personal, but it can never be private. But this is precisely how many people see it. They want their own private relationship with God: they readily talk about my faith and my prayers. We must vigorously challenge this view, otherwise the whole Christian faith is reduced to a private option with no claim upon the whole of life. In fact the very word ‘private’ comes from the Latin verb privo which means to steal! The Christian life is corporate and public, and whenever we imagine that being a Christian is just about me and God, we rob the Christian faith of its true catholicity.

There is no ‘my’ with God. It is always, as the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer affirms, ‘our’.

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For Sunday 1st June 2014 (7th Sunday of Easter):

Prayer is never private

prayer-partner-appThe following is an excerpt from Stephen Cottrell’s book, How to Pray, starting at page 18. In this passage he begins to unpack the myth of praying alone. We will continue on this theme next week.

Praying together

There is no such thing as private prayer! What I mean by this is that when we pray (even if we happen to be physically on our own) we are caught up in something much bigger than ourselves.

When we pray we are in solidarity with Christian people everywhere

Within the body of the Church we are supported and encouraged by each other’s prayers. At any one time when you sit down to say your prayers there are countless millions of Christian people all around the world who are also praying. You probably cannot hear them; you may feel very isolated in your own faith, perhaps because it is not shared by your family and your friends, but the truth remains: you are not alone.

We need also to remember that time does not exist for God. In God’s eternity all prayer is one. Even if you were the only Christian person left in the whole world, still you would not be alone. To God a thousand years are like a single day (2 Peter 3.8): the voice of your prayer is joined by the voices of Christian people who have gone before us.

When we pray the Holy Spirit prays within us

Our prayers are joined to the prayers of Jesus to the Father. This has a very practical application. Many people find prayer difficult precisely because they believe it to be private. They believe it to be something which is primarily dependant upon their own effort and ability. But the deepest truth about Christian prayer is that when we pray it is actually not us but the Holy Spirit praying in us. ‘When we cry, “Abba, Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,’ says St Paul (Romans 8.15-16).

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For Sunday 25th May 2014 (6th Sunday of Easter):

Recently Rev’d Bosco Peters started a discussion on his blog about the idea of ‘vocation’, and how the term has come to be associated with a calling to the special ministry of priests, religious brothers and sisters, and so on. He points out that, while some are called to that way of life, others are called to marriage, and that this too is a vocation. To read more of this interesting post, see liturgy.co.nz

The vocation idea came into focus again today as our parish held a service of ‘Messy Church’ (a late afternoon service for adults and children featuring music, prayers, Bible stories, multi-media, craft activities and a shared supper). One of the most valuable things about Messy Church is the opportunity it gives many older parishioners to spend time with, get alongside and support parents in our community.

Messy church3

Here is the late Joy Cowley’s much-loved poem on the vocation of parenting.

Family hymn

While the Angelus breaks the evening air
and prayers wash through cloisters,
Christ makes waves in his bath
and wants to know
if tiger sharks have fur.

While the scholar sits in awe
over an ancient manuscript,
tracking the history of his faith,
Christ nestles against her mother
and tells from a book held upside down,
a story about some clowns
who make rainbows out of icecream.

While the priest at his desk,
somewhere between the front door
and the telephone,
writes another homily on love
and wonders if someone remembered
to repair the lectern microphone,
Christ comes sleepy and a little tearful
into his parents’ bed
and says, as he plants cold feet
on his father’s back,
“I love you a big much, Daddy.”

While pilgrims journey
from shrine to shrine
on a long and well-blessed path,
Christ, laughing, takes her parents’ hands
and shows them the short-cut to holiness.

[From Aotearoa Psalms: Prayers of a New People]

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For Sunday 18th May 2014 (5th Sunday of Easter):

A section of the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem

Reading: 1 Peter ch 2, v 2-10

In this passage, the author reminds his readers that they, who were once not God’s people, have by an amazing act of grace been made God’s people, and he points out the responsibilities of this fact. He exhorts followers of the risen Christ:

„Come to [God], a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen 
and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be
built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual
sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 
(v. 4-5 NRSV)

The following is a short poem/liturgy which is intended to be used in church as a call to worship:

Living stones

Come as living stones,
the thumb-print of the mason 
on each heart.

Come as living stones,
the imprint of the maker
on each soul.

Come as living stones,
the honing of life’s suffering
on each mind.

Come to be made
into a house,
a community of God’s purpose,
a place of habitation and welcome,
a place to come to
and a place to go from.

The liturgy was written by Kate McIhagga, who composed poetry and liturgy for the ecumenical Iona Community until her early death in 2002. It was published in 2004 by Wild Goose in a collection entitled The Green Heart of the Snowdrop.

Reflection

As you slowly read the liturgy again, hear the call to worship God with your life and all your heart. Consider these points:

We go to church to be ‘made into a house’
A house has important functions—it gives shelter from the wind and the rain, and the heat of the sun. It is a place of safety. Is your church a place people can flee to or seek out in times of trouble? Or a place to run away from? A house is also a place to co-habit and be a family, to eat, drink and be merry together (or weep together)—a home to grow in. Is your church a place where you and others can grow up/grow old together?

The thumbprint of God
Do you know you carry the imprint of the mason, the thumbprint of God on your heart? How has your life’s suffering and joy shaped you? Every stone is unique. Remember, whether you feel it or not, you are ‘precious in God’s sight’. What would it be like to carry an awareness of this fact with you as you go through your day? And to see in others the thumbprint of God?

How God’s house is built
How does it feel to be part of something bigger than yourself — to know that it is only together that we make ‘a place of habitation and welcome’ to use McIlhagga’s words? The author of 1 Peter lived in a society that understood very well that no-one can thrive while others around them crumble, that we are in this together. Each stone in a house is there to help hold in place the other stones around it, and itself to be ‘held’ by others. What does this mean for your church and what does it mean for you?

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For Sunday 11th May 2014 (4th Sunday in Easter):

breakersLast night the roar of the sea could be heard along the coastline here in North Canterbury as massive breakers pounded the stony beaches. It was a very still night and the tumbling of stone on stone reverberated powerfully, causing wooden houses to vibrate. This morning dawned clear and serene. The waves rolling in from the Pacific are still large, but no longer alarming, and the beach is beautiful in the bright winter sunshine.

Whether our life is presently in the middle of stormy seas or in a calm in-between space, this poem by the late Kate McIlhagga of the Iona Community, may have something to say to us.

Breaking Sea

The waves hurl themselves
at the shore
like chariots racing;
so I hurl myself
at you, O God,
for comfort and for peace.

The glorious light of your presence
lines the horizon,
but still the breakers come
grey
cold
wet,
topped with a froth of white.

You could drown in that,
sucked under
by the relentless power
of the sea.

The waves heave and surge,
as I toss and turn,
one minute open to hope,
the next overwhelmed with loss.

As you power created
the power of the sea;
as your calm
rests on the distant horizon,
may I rest in your peace
and choose to hope.

by Kate McIlhagga
(from the collection, The Green Heart of the Snowdrop)

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For Sunday 4th May 2014 (3rd Sunday in Easter):

Leunig_Michael-Michael Leunig, the celebrated Melbourne poet-philosopher-cartoonist, will be at this month’s Auckland Writers Festival. His whimsical drawings, often accompanied by beautiful prayers and poems, have been published in several volumes, including his latest, The Essential Leunig. He is a great believer in the importance and power of a life lived mindfully, contemplatively, prayerfully.

This first week in May is the beginning of our New Zealand winter (and don’t we know it!). Here are two of Leunig’s poem-prayers on this theme. Sadly, the relevant illustrations are not shown here. Enjoy (and contemplate). Easter joy to you all.

From Michael Leunig, A Common Prayer (Harper Collins, 1998)

Dear God,
Let us prepare for winter. The sun
has turned away from us and the nest of
summer hangs broken in a tree. Life slips
through our fingers and, as darkness
gathers, our hands turn cold. It is time to
go inside. It is time for reflection and
resonance. It is time for contemplation.
Let us go inside.
AMEN

From Michael Leunig, The Prayer Tree (Harper Collins, 1998)

We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season to cherish the heart.
To make warmth and quiet for the heart.
To make soups and broths for the heart.
To cook for the heart and read for the
heart.
To curl up softly and nestle with the heart.
To sleep deeply and gently at one with the
heart.
To dream with the heart.
To spend time with the heart.
A long, long time of peace with the heart.
We give thanks for the blessing of winter:
Season the cherish the heart.
AMEN

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For Sunday 27 April 2014 (2nd Sunday in Easter):

This week’s reflection is adapted from Still Waters Deep Waters (ed. Rowland Croucher, pp.155-160). Croucher’s book is for people who struggle to set aside time for daily meditation but prefer to devote a larger chunk of time once or twice a week.

If you have a good stretch of time, read the whole thing, pausing to meditate and reflect whenever you wish. Alternatively, read the Bible quotations and the ‘reflection’ to begin with and let these ‘percolate’ for a day or two, saving the ‘other quotations’ and prayers for next time. Easter blessings to you all.

Life’s loose ends

Bible quotations (from the Good News Bible)

‘How long are you going to keep us in suspense? Tell us the plain truth: are you the Messiah?’
‘Tell us,’ they asked Jesus, ‘are you the one John said was going to come, or should we expect someone else?’
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice… ‘My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me?’
Now we see only puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we shall see face to face. My knowledge is now partial; then it will be made whole, like God’s knowledge of me.
‘I do not know if he is a sinner or not,’ the man replied. ‘One thing I do know: I was blind and now I see.’
‘Do you want us to pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. Let the wheat and the weeds grow together until harvest.’
‘I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’
O Lord, how long must I call for help before you listen, before you save us from violence?
‘I still rebel and complain against God… How I wish I knew where to find him, and knew how to go where he is. I would state my case before him and present all the arguments in my favour. I want to know what he would say and how he would answer me.’
(References: John 10:24; Matthew 11:3, Matthew 27:46; 1 Corinthians 13:12; John 9:25; Matthew 13:28-29; John 16:12; Habakkuk 1:2; Job 23:1-5)

Reflection

We all live in a world of loose ends. It seems that God is not very tidy, any more than nature is neat and tidy. He leaves us with many questions unanswered, and they are the deep and important questions. It is perhaps one of the sure signs that we have left infancy and childhood behind that we not only recognise but are also grateful that this is so. This is part of our growth as persons.

There is something in most of us that would like to have everything tied up in neat parcels, and tucked away in appropriate pigeon-holes, so that these matters no longer perplex us, or compel us to think about them any more. But this is not how God works. How comforting and safe it would be if we were always told what to do, particularly in the field of ethics, but God does not absolve us from the responsibilities of the freedom he has given us, compelling us to make our own decisions, and live by faith rather than by sight. […]

It would seem from our reading of the gospels that our hankering for plain, straightforward and authoritative answers to our religious questions and perplexities would not commend itself to Jesus. He sometimes declined to give any such simple and direct answers. Instead he referred people to his whole attitude and manner of life, and then sent the question down again to the court of their own judgment for a verdict.

[…] We come as close to the certainty we crave as we are ever likely to do at the point of our commitment to Christ, when we can say, ‘One thing I know: I was blind and I can see — however dimly,’ and trust him for the rest.

Other quotations

Coherency is God’s gift; he gives it freely but it can only be received by those who preserve an untidiness of mind. The tidy mind is not the truthful mind; the utterance that leaves no room for doubt or place for question is the fruit of a mind that is full of unwarranted conclusions. To think truly, and to speak and act truthfully… a minister of the Word must deliberately preserve an untidy mind. This untidiness of mind will irritate him; he will often be weary of living in what seems a mental muddle… Generally his respite consists in the realisation that to bear the burden of this muddle is the true way of preserving real knowledge. (R.E.C. Browne, The Ministry of the Word)

Whenever we are confronted at a crossroads, whenever we are in doubt, whenever our mind sees two alternatives, instead of saying, ‘Oh God, make me blind, Oh God, help me not to see, Oh God give me loyalty to what I now know to be untrue,’ we should say, ‘God is casting a ray of light which is a ray or reality on something I have outgrown — the smallness of my original vision. I have come to a point where I can see more and deeper, thanks be to God.’ That is not perplexity, it is not bewilderment, it is not the anguished doubt of the believer who hides his head and hopes that he will be able to revert to the age of eight. (Metropolitan Anthony, God and Man)

We are not in a rigid and static universe, but one that is dynamic and growing; the important thing is not to have correct information about God but to be susceptible to God’s spirit, to be growingly aware of his pressures upon our life… we are travellers, always on the road, and rejoicing to be on the road, for there, as on the Emmaus Road, Christ reveals himself, not in absolute information, but in the burning heart. (W.B.J. Martin, Five Minutes to Twelve)

Prayers

Thank you, Lord, for the times when I sought a clear word from you
and received it. 

Thank you even more for the times when I did not. 
Help me to understand what you are saying to me
when you are silent.

Give me courage to act on my own insights,
without needing to be told what to do,
and not to pretend to certainties I do not have.

And when I crave more light on my way,
let me be true to the light I already have.

Thank you for the opportunities you give me to grow
according to the design you have for my life,
and for the assurance that one day I shall truly see.

Amen.

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For Sunday 20 April 2014 (Easter Day):

Pause buttonPerhaps we are regular churchgoers but a special season like Easter reawakens us spiritually and re-energises our journey with and towards God. Or perhaps Easter is one of the two times a year we go to church, the other being Christmas. Whatever the case, and whatever stage of the journey we are at right now, spiritual reading can be a valuable part of our growth and development.

Below are two consecutive entries from Henri Nouwen’s wonderful book of daily reflections, Bread for the journey (1996).

Reading spiritually about spiritual things

Reading often means gathering information, acquiring new knowledge, and mastering a new field. It can lead us to degrees, diplomas and certificates. Spiritual reading, however, is different. It means not simply reading about spiritual things but also reading about spiritual things in a spiritual way. That requires a willingness not just to read but to be read, not just to master but to be mastered by words. As long as we read the Bible or a spiritual book simply to acquire knowledge, our reading does not help us in our spiritual lives. We can become very knowledgeable about spiritual matters without becoming truly spiritual people.

As we read spiritually about spiritual things, we open our hearts to God’s voice. We must be willing to put down the book we are reading and just listen to what God is saying to us through its words.

Letting the Word become flesh

Spiritual reading is food for our souls. As we slowly let the words of the Bible or a good spiritual book enter into our minds and descend into our hearts, we become different people. The Word gradually becomes flesh in us and transforms our whole beings. Thus spiritual reading is a continuing incarnation of the divine Word within us. In and through Jesus, the Christ, God became flesh long ago. In and through our reading of God’s Word and our reflection on it, God becomes flesh in us now and makes us into living Christs for today.

Let’s keep reading God’s Word with love and great reverence.

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For Sunday 13 April 2014 (6th Sunday in Lent — Palm Sunday):

How to pray - Cottrell

It’s the last Sunday in Lent, and here in the Southern Hemisphere nightfall comes earlier with each passing day. We have just put back the clocks (until September), and so we are entering into the season of the ‘dark sacred night’ (thanks, Louis Armstrong).

This reflection concludes our Lenten focus on prayer with a final extract from Stephen Cottrell’s book, How to Pray (3rd ed., 2010). We have been dipping into Chapter 3, on prayer ‘Through the Day’ and it seems fitting that this extract is about prayer at the end of the day. Wishing all readers a meaningful Holy Week.

At the end of the day

Often we go to bed and turn over in our minds all that has happened during the day. Sometimes this can bring tremendous satisfaction; sometimes it can be ghastly. We re-live the painful moments, dream up the things we should have said or should have done, plan our revenge or squirm at our failures. We all fall short of being the kind of person we want to be, let alone the person God wants us to be. […]

The real question is: What do we do with all this angst?

There is a Christian tradition of self-examination and confession which might properly happen at the end of the day. This can be formal, as in Chapter 10, ‘In penitence’ […] or it can simply help you to think over the day in your head with some appropriate words of sorrow or contrition.

But at the end of the day there should also be thanksgiving. As you think over what has happened there will be cause for gratitude as well as regret. In most of our lives the grime and the glory jostle together, and by pausing for reflection you will be able to distinguish one from the other and deal with them accordingly.

Night-time can also be a time of the day when Christian couples may wish to say prayers together. This can be in bed, or in your prayer place, or anywhere in the home. Later on [in this book] I will be referring to set offices of prayer [….]. The night office is called Compline, and is the shortest of them all.

But here are a few simple prayers for evening and the close of the day.

Stay with us Lord:
Behold, evening is coming,
and we still have not recognised your face
in each of our brothers and sisters.
Stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ!

Stay with us Lord:
Behold, evening is coming,
and we still have not shared your bread
in thanksgiving with each of our brothers and sisters.
Stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ!

Stay with us Lord:
Behold, evening is coming,
and we still have not recognised your Word
in the words of of our brothers and sisters.
Stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ!

Stay with us Lord:
Behold, evening is coming,
and our hearts are still slow to believe
that you had to die in order to rise again.
Stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ!

Stay with us Lord:
for our night itself becomes day
when you are there!
Stay with us, Lord Jesus Christ!

Lighten our darkness,
Lord, we pray,
and in your great mercy
defend us from all perils and dangers of this night,
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord Jesus, the joy and beauty
of every moment of my life!

Be the last melody of my day song
as it fades into the night.

And tomorrow, when my eyes greet the morning,
be my first ray of sunlight.

Save us, O Lord, while waking,
and guard us while
 sleeping,
that awake we may watch with Christ,
and
 when we sleep, we may rest in peace. Amen.

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For Sunday 6 April 2014 (5th Sunday in Lent):

How to pray - Cottrell

This reflection continues a Lenten focus on prayer with another extract from Stephen Cottrell’s very practical book, How to Pray (3rd ed., 2010).

We have been dipping into Chapter 3, on prayer ‘Through the Day’. Last week we read about the opportunities for prayer at mealtimes. This week’s extract is about fasting — a way of praying with our whole selves.

Please note, this extract has been shortened considerably.

Fasting

Another way of praying is to give up the meal altogether! Fasting is a long-standing tradition of the Christian Church. Jesus would regularly abstain from food as part of his discipline of prayer, and in Matthew’s gospel his teaching about fasting follows immediately from his instruction on prayer (Matthew 6:6-18).

When we fast, we re-focus our lives on what is essential. We don’t just deprive ourselves of luxuries […] but of the very things – food and drink – that our bodies consider indispensable. So indispensable, they appear to be more valuable than God. In the nakedness of the fast we acknowledge the deeper value of God. And we come back from the fast with a deeper appreciation of the gifts that God has provided which we have, for a short while, done without.

Jesus insists that we fast in secret. This is to emphasise the point that it is an encounter with God, not an outward show of religious zeal.

Fasting is a very practical way of praying. It can also be very simple. The Christian year gives us the seasons of Advent and Lent, where Christians are asked particularly to think about self-denial. Many Christians give up one meal a week as a small sign of their dependence on God.

Jesus teaches not only about prayer and fasting in this passage from Matthew’s gospel, but also about almsgiving.[…] This too has a practical application. If we are giving up a meal, we can at least give the money we have saved to help feed those who through no choice of their own are without food. In recent years the United Nations Children’s Fund has introduced the Jar of Grace Appeal. Before each meal, or giving up a meal each week, people are encouraged to drop a few coins into a jar and give the money to UNICEF.

[….] There are many other things can apply to other than food, especially luxuries which we come to depend on…We can also abstain from ways of life, habits and hobbies, and even people! [….] One of the problems with our world today is we have forgotten that without a fast there can be no feast. [….] If we try too make the whole of life a feast, we will end up enjoying nothing, or worse we might start demanding more and more because we are never satisfied […] We can therefore all benefit from a discipline of fasting both to put God first, and to learn proper gratitude for the good things of the world so they neither take the place of God, nor are abused for their own sake.

In this way fasting can be like pruning. Just as individual branches have to be cut back for the whole plant to thrive, so in fasting we discover what is truly essential for life by abstaining from things which are secondary to God. If we allow ourselves to be pruned then we will be fruitful.

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For Sunday 30 March 2014 (4th Sunday in Lent):

How to pray - Cottrell

This reflection continues our Lenten focus on prayer with a further extract from Stephen Cottrell’s very practical book, How to Pray (3rd ed., 2010).

We have been dipping into Chapter 3, on prayer ‘Through the Day’ and this week we read about the opportunities for prayer at mealtimes. At the end of the reading, take some time to reflect and ask yourself if you could add prayer to your mealtime routine, or refresh your current practice.

Mealtimes

Every meal is a sacred time for Christians. We are reminded that the central act of Christian worship is a meal and that the risen Christ made himself known through meals: the supper at Emmaus (Luke 24:30-31) and the breakfast on the beach (John 21:9-12). An abiding image of the Christian life is that of table fellowship with the Lord. In the book of Revelation both the acceptance of Christ as Lord, and the life of heaven itself, are described with reference to meals. ‘Look I am standing at the door, knocking. If one of you hears me calling and opens the door, I will come in and share a meal at that person’s side’ (Revelation 3:20). ‘The angel said, “Write this, Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb”’ (Revelation 19:9).

Again this tradition of the sacred meal flows from our Jewish heritage. The Passover meal is central to Jewish faith, and we understand our Eucharist as the Christian Passover. Every week in a Jewish home through the family seder meal, and through the special festivals of the Jewish year which are also celebrated in the home and nearly always involve sharing food and drink, the faith is celebrated and kept alive. For Jewish children this is the chief way that they learn about their faith.

…[W]e need to think how we can build a moment of reflection into every meal. This is something we can each do quietly before every meal is eaten, but it is also a marvellous opportunity for shared prayer at those times when we eat together with friends and family. It has been my experience that even those friends and members of my family who are not Christians are very happy to stand around the table while the rest of us pray. It may indeed by one of the simplest and best ways of witnessing to the reality and practical relevance of faith. They too, whether they like it or not, encounter the phenomenon of God in a home and not just in a building or service.

Of course, many of us very rarely eat together as a family. Shift work, fast food, hectic schedules all make it less and less likely that families sit down together to eat. [.…] In one sense we need to accept a changing culture. In another we need to challenge the decline of the family meal and endeavour to ensure that as a Christian family there is at least one meal each week where we all sit down together and where there is an opportunity to pray.

When this opportunity comes the prayer should be very short. The food is for eating and I am not at all sure that God is glorified by some great long prayer that lets it go cold! This is simply a time to give thanks. The best prayers before meals are simple thanksgivings, and often set prayers are the most suitable; though […] as children get a bit older they do like making up their own.

Here are some common examples:

O Lord, bless this food to our use and ourselves to your service,
and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.

For what we are about to receive, may the Lord
make us truly thankful. Amen.

In a world where so many are hungry we thank you for food.
In a world where so many are lonely we thank you for each other. Amen.

And these two are slightly more elaborate. Each has a verse and response. On person says the first line and then everyone else joins in with the second:

The Lord gives food to those who fear him:
He is ever mindful of his promises. (Psalm 111:5)

The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord:
You give them their food in due season. (Psalm 104:28)

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For Sunday 23 March 2014 (3rd Sunday in Lent):

How to pray - CottrellAs in last week’s reflection, we continue to focus on prayer, dipping into extracts from Stephen Cottrell’s book How to Pray, 3rd ed. (2010, Church House Publishing, UK). We are reading from chapter 3, which deals with ‘building prayer into what we are already doing,’ — making prayer part of our routine or rule of life.

Last week we read Cottrell’s ideas on greeting the day with prayer. Today we look at prayer when travelling. For readers who don’t travel daily on trains and buses, or spend time driving to work each day, what follows may not seem relevant at first glance. However, most of us have ‘down time’ in our daily lives. These are periods of time, whether minutes or longer, when we are waiting for something to happen, or for someone to arrive, or waiting to go or be taken somewhere, not to mention the times when we are actually travelling.

Think about all these waiting times as ‘travelling’ and see if prayer can make you more conscious of the God who is journeying with you this Lent.

Chapter 3

Travelling

Many of us spend a lot of time each day travelling. The constant bustle and rush of modern life carries us from car to train to bus and back again. But travelling can also mean waiting – at bus stops, at stations, and most irritating of all in long queues of jammed traffic. For many of us it is travelling which shapes the rhythm of our day: journeys to work, picking up children, shopping.

If there is daily routine to the journeys you make then this is another good opportunity for prayer. In particular this might be the time for intercession. We can hardly read set prayers while driving the car, thought this could be done on a train journey each day, but we could use the time in the car to pray for family and friends and for all sorts of other needs.

So much of the time spent travelling is dead time. Prayer – even if it’s only for a few minutes – brings the time to life and gives the travelling another dimension of purpose. The journey to work becomes a tiny echo of the whole journey of life.

Travelling can also be very stressful and very dangerous. To pray while you are driving might be the best cure for road rage (we can replace it with motorway praise!); in our family we always begin a long journey with a moment of prayer once we are all strapped into the car.

Here is a prayer for the beginning of a journey:

May our Lord Jesus Christ go before us to guide us;
stand behind us to give us strength;
and watch over us to protect us as we travel. Amen.

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Sunday 16 March 2014 (2nd Sunday in Lent):

How to pray - CottrellAs we travel into Lent, this page will feature extracts from Stephen Cottrell’s book How to Pray, 3rd ed.  (2010, Church House Publishing, UK) — in particular, chapter 3, on praying at times during our normal daily routine, on ‘building prayer into what we are already doing.’

This extract is from the beginning of chapter 3:

Chapter 3 – Through the day

Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. If you want to pray better, you must pray more.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta, In the Silence of the Heart, p.17.

buttonsuWouldn’t it be lovely if life had the same stop, start, fast forward, rewind and pause facilities as your video recorder? Unfortunately, it is not like this except in prayer.

Prayer fast forwards us to God. The Christian life has a kind of ‘already here’ and ‘not quite yet’ feel about it. Through Jesus we already enjoy the fullness of life with God, but we are also awaiting that fullness when we shall see God face to face. It is a bit like experiencing the end of the journey in the middle. [….]

Prayer allows us to rewind. We can be forgiven for the things that have gone wrong; we can always start again with God. [….] We can be forgiven our sins; our memories can be healed; broken relationships can be restored. We can learn to face the future because we need not be prisoners of the past. [….]

Pause buttonPrayer allows us to stop and pause. Finding time and space to pause is the first practical foundation to put in place when we are trying to build a life of prayer. For most of us this need not be about creating special times […] but about building prayer into what we are already doing. 

We need to examine the existing rhythms of our daily life and see where we can most effectively press the pause button. [….]

Greeting the day

sunrise_birds_by_regayip-d5ubgut

This is a lovely and fairly easy way to begin praying. As the radio alarm goes off, or as the first small child jumps onto your stomach, or as you stare at yourself in the shaving mirror, or open the curtains, or put the kettle on, […] pause and pray. Most of us have some sort of getting up ritual. There are things we do nearly every day at nearly always the same time. Identify what your routine is, and then decide when you are going to press the pause button of life and give thanks to God for another new day and for the strength you need to get through it. This prayer need only take a few seconds. You can use your own words, or you could memorise and say the same set prayer each day.

Here are some examples:

O Lord, enable us this day to reveal your glory in all we  think and say and do;
that your presence may bless and strengthen us all the day long,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Lord, the smile of the dawn lights up the sky.
May the smile of your face light up our day.

Almighty and everlasting God,
we thank you that you have brought us safely
to the beginning of this day.
Keep us from falling into sin
or running into danger,
order us in all our doings
and guide us to do always
what is righteous in your sight;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus, be close to me and those I love through the twists and turns of today and be with me at the day’s end. Amen.

This prayer can be said on your own, or shared with a partner. You may even discover that there is some part of your getting up routine which affords you quite a bit of time—like showering or shaving—when you can actually go through the day with God, silently offering it all to him and stilling yourself in preparation.

If, like me, you have small children, you may already be thinking that after you have woken up that’s it, so far as personal time goes, until the evening. In which case this may not be a way of praying that is appropriate; or it might be something which is shared with children. Indeed, changing a nappy might be your place to pause!

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For Sunday 9 March 2014 (First Sunday in Lent):

pets-and-elderly-people

Our holy communion service this morning at Holy Innocents, Amberley, included a blessing of pets. (Photos will be uploaded soon to the Home page.) Many people enjoyed a poem read at the service. Here it is to be enjoyed again at your leisure, and reflected upon.

Do Dogs go the Heaven by Joy Cowley

As a small child, I anguished over the question:
“Do dogs go to heaven when they die?”
People told me they didn’t; but one day
I met a woman who lived very close to heaven
and just as close to earth, and she said:
“Now, moko, just you listen to me.
God made everything in this world
out of his aroha. And I mean everything.
Flies, ducks, mozzies, whitebait, cats and dogs.
Every single creature’s got a pinch of God in it,
and like you’ve always been told,
there’s just no way God can die.
When a little pinch of God goes right back
to God’s great big loving heart.
That’s how I reckon it’s always been
and how it’ll always be.”

I was eight, and I went away comforted,
knowing that my closest friend,
a dog called Don who’d been killed by a bus,
was now living happy and safe with God
who would feed him and take him for walks.

Now, understanding less than then,
but touching from time to time
that “pinch of God” in all things,
I give special thanks to my creator
for the friendship of animals in my life.

I can’t count the times God has loved me
through small furred and feathered things,
how often I’ve been taught through them,
lessons of trust and playfulness,
simplicity and self-acceptance.

And since I believe that heaven
is not so much a place as a state of being,
I can say to my own mokopuna,
“Yes, there are dogs in heaven.”

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For Sunday 2 March 2014:

Moving into Lent

In the middle of this week we enter the period of Lent. The late Kate McIlhagga wrote poetry and liturgy for the ecumenical Iona Community and her images are drawn from the stark beauty of Northumberland, from whose shores she loved to gaze on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. In much of her work she celebrated and explored the cycle of the church year and of the seasons. Her poem Lent is not for the faint-hearted is rooted in her Northern Hemisphere experience of the ‘lengthening’ of days (the origins of the word Lent).

Here in the Southern Hemisphere, we make our Lent journey into the lengthening nights of autumn. We are travelling too and will find ourselves in a different place at the end of our Lenten journey when we take the time to move deliberately and purposefully towards God and Easter. What are the images of the approach of autumn that can spiritually accompany you in your Lenten walk?

Lent is not for the faint-hearted

Lent is not for the faint-hearted.
It demands that we, like Thomas,
put our hand into the side of the crucified Christ.

Lent is a journey towards the cross,
a journey of enlightenment:
from wilderness to feast,
from desert to oasis.
It’s an attempt to identify with the powerless
and the suffering in the world.

~

Lent is not tidy.
The days grow longer,
the ground thaws, there’s mud and dirt everywhere
and the windows need cleaning.

Lent is a journey.
So at the end of Lent
we should expect to find ourselves
somewhere different from where we started.

Lent can be an opportunity
to explore what is the nature
of the promised Kingdom of God on earth
that we long for;
a time to discern
how we are called to work for it.

No, Lent is not for the faint-hearted!

(From The Green Heart of the Snowdrop, 2004, Wild Goose Publications.)

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For Sunday 23 February 2014:

P1030734

Being merciful with ourselves

We need silence in our lives. We even desire it. But when we enter into silence we encounter a lot of inner noises, often so disturbing that a busy and distracting life seems preferable to a time of silence. Two disturbing ‘noises’ present themselves quickly in our silence: the noise of lust and the noise of anger. Lust reveals our many unsatisfied needs, anger our many unresolved relationships. But lust and anger are very hard to face.

What are we to do? Jesus says, ‘Go and learn the meaning of the words: Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice’ (Matthew 9:13). Sacrifice is ‘offering up’, ‘cutting out’, ‘burning away’ or ‘killing’. We shouldn’t do that with our lust or anger. It simply won’t work. But we can be merciful towards our own noisy selves and turn these enemies into friends.

Befriending our inner enemies

How do we befriend these inner enemies, lust and anger? By listening to what they are saying. They say, ‘I have some unfulfilled needs’ and ‘Who really loves me?’ Instead of pushing our lust and anger away as unwelcome guests, we can recognise that our anxious, driven hearts need some healing. Our restlessness calls us to look for the true inner rest where lust and anger can be converted into a deeper way of loving.

There is a lot of unruly energy in lust and anger! When that energy can be directed toward loving well, we can transform not only ourselves but even those who might otherwise become the victims of our anger and lust. This takes patience, but it is possible.

From Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 1996, pp44-45.

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For Sunday 16 February 2014:

Keep on forgiving
forgiveBear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  Colossians 3:13.

Forgiveness is painful. It’s easier to get angry, critical or bitter, or to keep someone at arm’s length than it is to sort out a wrong relationship. But just as you have to squeeze an orange to extract is juice,  or crush a flower to release its fragrance, so it is through the pressures and hurts in our relationships that the love of Jesus can be shown — provided that we learn to forgive.

Simon Peter wanted to know how often he was to forgive someone. He said, ‘Lord, if my brother keeps sinning against me, how many times do I forgive him? Seven times?’ I think he was expecting Jesus to say, ‘Well done, Simon, you’re right again!’ The rabbis used to say one should forgive three times, and Peter must have thought, ‘If I double that and add one for good measure, I’m sure to be correct!’ So he was probably completely stunned when Jesus said, ‘No, not seven times, but seventy times seven.’ … What Jesus meant was that forgiveness was to be limitless.

When we feel we can’t forgive, we need to dwell on what God has forgiven us in Christ, and to depend on the Holy Spirit.

Here’s a practical suggestion. Make a list of the people you feel unable to forgive and then burn that list saying out loud, ‘I forgive these people because God has forgiven me a million times more than I will ever have to forgive them.’

Lord, every time I think of […] I feel angry and hurt inside. I want to release […] from the prison of my resentment and unforgiveness.

From Through the Year with David Watson (edited by Jean Watson), 1982, Hodder & Stoughton, p. 82–83.

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For Sunday 9 February 2014 :

A reflection on the relationship between our inner and outer life
featuring a poem prayer by Michael Leunig, from
A Common Prayer: A cartoonist talks to God (1998 ed., Harper Collins).

Dear God,
We pray for balance and exchange.
Balance us like trees. As the roots of a tree
shall equal its branches so must the inner
life be equal to the outer life. And as the
leaves shall nourish the roots so shall the
roots give nourishment to the leaves.
Without equality and exchange of
nourishment there can be no growth
and no love.
Amen.

Reflection:
If we lead a very busy life and frequently don’t ‘have time’ to pray, to meditate or reflect, to take a walk by the sea, to sit still and just be with God, we may begin to feel like a tree whose branches have spread and grown beyond the ability of its roots to sustain it –especially when the dry summer comes. 
We need to send our roots down deeper into God, into the rich, dark mystery of subterranean waters.

If we spend so much time in solitary pursuits that we neglect the world around us and the other ‘trees’ God has planted in our vicinity, our roots may grow deep but we will miss out on the sunshine and the birds of the air, the feel of the wind in our branches, and the joy that  spreading branches bring to others who may sit in our shade. We need to put on leaf, put ourselves ‘out there,’ reach up into the sunlight and air, gain a new perspective.

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For Sunday 2 February 2014 :

Personal Prayer (from Meditations from the Iona Community,
Wild Goose Publications, 1998)

Reading: “Daniel went home. In an upstairs room of his house
there were windows which faced towards Jerusalem. There, just
as he had always done, he knelt down at the open windows
and prayed to God three times a day.” (Daniel 6: 10)

prophet Daniel

Reflection:
Daniel knew the presence of God by looking to
Jerusalem, the place where so often in the past God
had become present for him

If at our time of prayer it is hard to realise the
presence of God with us, let us think of where in the

past God’s presence has been real to us. Let us in
our imagination return to such a place, to discover
that he is present with us now as we knew his
presence then. Such a place might be somewhere in
our own home, in our home church, on Iona, on a
hill top or beside the sea.

prayer-partner-appIn recognising the presence of God with us, let us
recognise that with him and us are all the saints on

earth, including all whom we know.

In looking forward to our death, let us rejoice we
will be closer not only to God but also to all those
saints with us in heaven, and to those saints still on
earth, including those whom we know now.

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For Sunday 26 January 2014 :

Sacred Ground
by Joy Cowley (from Aotearoa Psalms, 1989)

We are standing on sacred ground.

Let our hearts take off their shoes
and come bare, trembling with awe,
into the Presence which burns too bright
and too close for ordinary vision.
Only a naked heart can see
that all round us, each clump of grass,
every leaf, twig, stone and flower,
is a blazing torch, incandescent
with the one fire which has no name
except “I am.”
And only a naked heart can know
that it too, is a burning bush,
all of us caught in the one fire,
“we are” burning into “I am,”
brighter than galaxy of suns.

Words cannot contain the moment;
but let’s take with us
the feeling of awe and wonder.
Tomorrow’s path might be dark,
difficult and sharp with stones,
but in this sacred place we feel
we may never wear shoes again.

Reflection:
A common theme of the Hebrew Scriptures is the God-given ability to ‘see with the heart’ – the opposite of spiritual blindness and ‘hard-heartedness’. When the heart is humble, soft, or broken, the Spirit may enter  tenderly as healing balm or with a blaze of power to enlighten and enliven. Let’s spend time with God this week and ask to be given naked hearts that can ‘see.’ 

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For Sunday 19 January 2014 :

Freedom from judging, freedom for mercy

We spend an enormous amount of energy making up our minds about other people. Not a day goes by without somebody doing or saying something that evokes in us the need to form an opinion about him or her. We hear a lot, see a lot and know a lot. The feeling that we have to sort it all out in our minds and make judgements about it can be quite oppressive.

The desert fathers said that judging others is a heavy burden, while being judged by others is a light one. Once we can let go of our need to judge others, we will experience an immense inner freedom. Once we are free from judging, we will also be free for mercy. Let’s remember Jesus’ words: “Do not judge, and you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1).

From Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey, 1996.

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For Sunday 12 January 2014, The Feast of the Baptism of our Lord:

Adapted with permission from a sermon by Rev’d Christopher Heath (frsparky.net)

“A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:17).

Now the voice of God is rarely heard this distinctly. The first three evangelists only record the voice of God being heard this distinctly twice – here at the Baptism of Jesus and later on the mountain of the Transfiguration. It can hardly be an accident that the words are precisely the same:  “You are …” or: “This is … my Son…”

Yet the one time we hear the voice of God, we hear the words: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Words about relationship and appreciation, not about (more) things for us to do. And we find echoes of this in some of Jesus’ sayings. The action of the prodigal Father, rushing out to greet his returning son, and later pleading with his elder son to join in the celebration, immediately spring to my mind. The saying of Jesus: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Mat 23:37 & Lk 13.34).

Yet it was what Jesus did, rather than what he said, that encapsulates this desire for relationship and to express appreciation. For Jesus went around accepting the hospitality of one and all. Indeed even healing the sick was less important to Jesus than the desire not to allow anyone to miss out on an opportunity to accept him. … The message was one of relationship and appreciation – that they too were God’s children, that God was well pleased with them…

So we as individuals might long to hear God’s voice for ourselves, speaking unambiguously, like it seems God spoke to Paul and turned his life around. Yet the paradigm is that when God speaks it is most often to “hug” us like the prodigal father hugged his son. As Jesus “hugged” his hosts by accepting the hospitality of one and all. We have but to accept being hugged, and allow that Jesus hugs others too.

And we can often wish the Church was more “up front” in public affairs – advising governments and condemning the violent and ungodly “out there” who don’t come to Church or seem disdainful of the particular social mores that we hold to. Again this might lead to good things, but it may as likely also to lead to frustration. Perhaps it is also risks missing the hugs of Jesus that might enable us to hug others, as and when it is appropriate.

And, of course, when I say “hug others” I mean not physically, but far more widely – allowing them to be the person they are, accepting them, not trying to change them. Seeing in others something to contribute to our own lives.

So the words of God to Jesus are applicable to us and to all of humanity: You and I and all people are God’s sons and daughters – God is indeed well pleased with us.

———————————-

For 5 January 2014, the Second Sunday of Christmas:

Cords of Love, by Kate McIlhagga

Mary sits,

the child rocked in her womb
now rocked in her arms.

Joseph stands

the child given to him
now bound to his heart.

We kneel

the child come to us
now capturing our love.

O God, come to us once more,
bind us to you
with cords of love.
Lead us with reins of kindness
and bring us to fullness of life.

(From The Green Heart of the Snowdrop, 2002)

Reflection: What would fullness of life mean for you this year? Ask God to give you the wisdom and courage to seek this.

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For 29 December 2013, The Feast of the Holy Innocents:

A reflection by John van de Laar:

This year, with Matthew’s Gospel as the focus, the Christmas season moves into surprising territory. Having just celebrated the birth of Christ, the Lectionary now tells the story of the massacre of the children in Bethlehem. This tragic event was brought on by the desire of the three magi to worship the newborn king, and by the jealousy and self-protectiveness of the evil king Herod. …[W]e may be tempted to stay focused on the joy and happiness of the birth, and skip over this horrifying story. However, for Matthew’s Gospel, this story is important for us to understand who Jesus was and what he came to do.

When we are faced with suffering – especially unnecessary suffering brought on by the evil or ignorant actions of people – we are often tempted to question God’s purpose, presence and power. But, the Bible never falls into this temptation. Rather, the life of Jesus addresses the questions of pain and evil head on, by showing us how God responds to human suffering, and by challenging us to participate in God’s saving work. This week we witness Jesus entering human experience in human flesh, and we see him immediately being targeted by those who seek to destroy any threat to their power. But, we also see God grieving with, and promising deliverance to, those who are oppressed and victimised.

This week we explore what it means to experience God’s presence and power in the midst of our pain.

Read Matthew 2:13-23

Reflection: The writer of Matthew’s Gospel sought to convince his readers that Jesus truly was the promised Messiah. In order to do this, he portrayed Jesus as a “new” Moses, who brought a “new” law and established a “new” Israel, which included both Jews and Gentiles. This is why Matthew’s Gospel includes the story of the massacre of the children. Like Moses, Jesus lived at a time when the ruler of the nation tried to kill all Jewish boys. Like Moses, Jesus was miraculously rescued from the massacre. And like Moses, Jesus was saved in order to lead God’s people to liberation. This is why Matthew quoted the words of Jeremiah about the “cry in Ramah”. Jeremiah’s original prophecy was actually a promise of liberation and restoration – and Matthew’s first readers would have known this.

Matthew used this story to reveal two important things. Firstly, human empires are inherently self-seeking, self-protective, and, therefore, destructive. They easily sacrifice innocent children for their own survival, and they oppress and imprison those under their rule. But, secondly, human empires are powerless to stop the liberating work of God’s Reign. Not only does God suffer with God’s people, Jesus willingly lays down his own life in order to bring liberation to others. Although he was rescued here, it was only for a time, so that he could confront the full force of evil on the cross and overcome it.

How can you allow the power of God’s Reign to help you to overcome the self- seeking values of all human empires – including your own?

Practice for Today: In times of struggle and suffering, praise is a protest. It declares that we will not believe only what we see and experience, but that we trust in God’s presence and power even in grief. Today, allow your praise to be a protest against any evil that burdens your soul.

Breath-Prayer for Today: I praise you, O God, for your Reign that is never defeated, but that liberates and heals.

Written by John van de Laar © Copyright 2013 Sacredise.

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For Advent 4, Year A, 22 December 2013:

Read Matthew 1:18-25.

The Gospel reading for this last Sunday before Christmas – the fourth Sunday of Advent – speaks of Christ as the one who comes to us as “God with us”. This is more than just a promise of God’s presence. It’s an indication of God’s longing for intimacy with us. God is not “up in heaven” watching us “from a distance”. Rather, God is immersed in our flesh, our experience and our world. The theological word for this is “incarnation” – that God takes on human flesh. This means that everything that makes up the physical world – from our planet to our bodies – is important to God. Spirit and matter are not separate, but are one, and God is to be found within our embodied lives.

There are two powerful messages that we can hear through this truth. Firstly, we can rest in the knowledge that God truly is with us – not just in a once off moment in history, but in every moment and every situation. Secondly, we can offer our bodies, our energy, our lives to God as God’s Temple – the place where God Spirit dwells. And then, as we experience God’s abiding presence within us we become “little incarnations” – people who “carry” God within our flesh and our lives. This means that, as we seek to love and serve others as Jesus did, we also become little “Emmanuels” through whom others encounter God’s living presence.

…When the writer of Matthew’s Gospel tried to explain the significance of Jesus’ birth, he turned to the prophet Isaiah. When the kingdom of Judah was under threat, Isaiah gave King Ahaz a sign – and it was the same one that Matthew described the angel as quoting to Joseph about the birth of Jesus. In Isaiah’s case, the sign was intended to show the King that he did not need to place his trust in human alliances, but that God would be with God’s people and would sustain and care for them. In Joseph’s case, Jesus was the sign that revealed that God was with God’s people, and that the dream of God’s Reign was finally being fulfilled in the world.

Of all the signs God could have chosen to reveal God’s grace and presence, the birth of a child is, perhaps, one of the most unexpected. But, from the outset God seeks to show that God’s Reign is completely different from human empires. In God’s Reign, children are the teachers, and the greatest are the least. And the sign of God’s Reign is the sign of birth, of creativity, of new life.

So, as we prepare for the coming Christmas celebration, let’s remember that Jesus is really not the focus. Jesus is the sign that points to the presence of God’s Reign, God’s life, God’s creativity among us. What does this mean to you today?

Practice for Today: A sign is designed to point us to something that we might not see without the sign. It’s a call for us to pay attention. In the same way, Jesus is a sign that calls us to pay attention to God’s presence and grace among us. Today, make a conscious effort to be mindful of God’s presence in your life.

Breath-Prayer for Today: Teach me to pay attention, Jesus, and to be aware of God’s presence.

Written by John van de Laar © Copyright 2013 Sacredise.

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For Advent 3, Year A, 15 December 2013:

The Way of Growth by Joy Cowley

I used to think that Advent and Easter
were separate events belonging to history
and certain times of the year,
but they are happening every day, every moment,
angels bright as air, chiming:
‘He is born!’ ‘He is risen!’
over every budding branch, each fist of fern,
making sense of the cycle of beginnings
and endings and beginnings in our lives.

The stories of earth which Jesus loved
go on proclaiming his truth for me,
reminding me that death and birth
precede each other on the path of growth.
For something to be born,
something else must die.
The placenta loses life
when a woman gives birth to a child;
The sunset is extinguished for a sunrise;
and my earlier images of Christ
must be crucified in me
so that he can fill me with a greater presence now.

Jesus Christ, Love of God,
Thank you for your daily Advent
and Eastering in my life.
I hold my heart out wide
to embrace the deep mystery of your birth and rebirth in me
and I ask for strength to accept
all the dyings in between.

———————————-

For Advent 2, Year A, 8 December 2013:

Different Drummer by Kate McIlhagga

Creator of the milk white moon that washes the land,
Creator of the bright star that guides us to Christ,
Creator of the welcome sun that floods the earth,
lead us in light and dark.
As day enfolds night and night gives birth to day,
comfort us with your presence.

Spirit of life,
as we traverse the teeming city,
travelling overhead and underground;
as we journey from one deadline to the next,
lead us in light and dark.
As night enfolds day and day gives birth to night,
may we walk to the tune of a different drummer.

Christ, refugee and traveller,
as John cried out in the wilderness,
as John baptised for the forgiveness of sins,
as John proclaimed your coming,
may we, in the strength of our baptism,
be receptive to your Advent voice.

Grant us courage
to confront injustice,
to make the crooked straight.
Grant us the hope of your presence
in our hearts and in our hands and in our world.

(From The Green Heart of the Snowdrop, Kate McIlhagga, 2004.)

———————————-

For Advent 1, Year A, 1 December 2013:

Read Isaiah 40: 1-5

A voice is crying out: ‘Clear the LORD’S way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God!’

In ancient times, roadways were at the mercy of the weather. They became rutted, strewn with stones, and full of potholes. When a great dignitary was planning a visit, he would send a message about two months in advance to announce the visit. Why? So the townsfolk would have time to fix the roads!

Those who see Advent as a journey of spiritual preparation and joyful anticipation realize that we have to prepare. We have to smooth out some bumps, fill some potholes, and ‘smooth out’ the arrival of the Messiah. The gifts, the food, the cards, and the family get-togethers can take their toll on us.

God understands our busy schedules and hectic lives, especially during this Advent season. He is not asking for all of your time, but ask for 100 percent of the time you are able to give him. Don’t rush through a Bible verse while you are eating breakfast and listening to the weather report. Don’t wade through a devotional five minutes before you fall asleep from a frenzied day…. Ten minutes of completely undivided attention and time will give you a better spiritual journey than thirty minutes of squeezed-in time with God.

Your Advent season will be a hundred times more meaningful if you view it as a journey full of treasured and undivided moments with God. Allow God to work within you so that this is a time of joyful anticipation. Work to smooth out your path, calm your nerves, and prepare your heart for the newborn King.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me put my priorities in the right order. Help me prepare my heart to receive the Prince of Peace so that I may experience the peace he truly can offer.

(From Advent: A Calendar of Devotions 2013, by Deborah Westbrook)

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