Hope or Hopeless?

Rabbi Hugo Grynn used to tell a story about his family, who were sent to Auschwitz when he was a little boy. In the midst of the concentration camp, in the midst of the death and horror all around them, many Jews held onto whatever shreds of their religious observances they could, without drawing the ire of the guards. One cold winter’s evening, Hugo’s father gathered the family in the barracks. It was the first night of Hanukkah, the Jewish Feast of Lights.

 The young child watched in horror as his father took the family’s last pad of butter and made a makeshift candle, using a string from his ragged clothes. He then took a match and lit the candle. “Father, no!” Hugo cried. “That butter is our last bit of food! How will we survive?”

”We can live for many days without food,” his father said. “We can not live a single minute without faith and hope. This is the fire of hope. Never let it go out. Not here! Not anywhere!”

 Christian hope is fundamentally different from optimism. Christian hope locks its steely eyes on the devastation of the world around it, and readily acknowledges that things may not get better. Christian hope does not bury its heat in Christmas cheer and artificial lights, but like an Advent wreath glowing stronger and brighter each week, this hope pushes its way into the brokenness of the world clearing a path in the wilderness so the true light might burst into the darkness.

It’s been a tough period for the Lavenders recently, and we’ve found out that we have some friends who go above and beyond what might even be called exceptional friendship!  We’re also knowing that some things have seasons, and the pain of letting go and seeing something you cherish wither and perish is sometimes soul-destroying.  but we hold to our Advent faith in a God who comes into the midst of brokenness and brings hope, even when everything else seems hopeless.  This is the pattern of faith, hope in the midst of hopelessness, new life through death and dying.

I’m hoping that Advent really does lead through Christmas and Lent to Easter and resurrection.  May it be like that for you too.  Maranatha!

“The test of ch…

“The test of character posed by the gentleness of God’s approach to us is especially dangerous for those formed by the ideas that dominate our modern world. We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel — or one desperate for another life — therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today. Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright.”

I appreciate the need for a questioning mind.  But here, Dallas Willard at his uncompromising best, reminds us of how the challenge of genuine transformation towards Christlikeness is not shaped by a standing at the margins and disengaging from the Christian community.

My World – at the moment!

My World - at the moment!

I was going to post something about what’s happening here in Kandy, but decided that there’s too much to reflect on at the moment for me to make any sense of stuff. I need space and time – but here’s a photo of my world at the moment. Wind rustling through the trees, and extreme humidity at the moment! Oh, and God’s turned up quite a bit too!!

Lonely in a crowd of thousands…

Starbucks,  Harrods. Boots.  The Bridge – bar lounge and dining. Yo Sushi!  WH Smith.  World of Whiskeys.  I’m surrounded by shops.  And people!  People shopping.  People browsing.  People counting the cost.  People forgetting the cost.  People spending money they’ve saved.  People spending money they’ve never had.  Nervous people, frightened people. Excited people, happy people.

And me.

Poor little old me!!

I was last here at Terminal 3, London Heathrow Airport back in March, at the beginning of my Sabbatical, when we left these chilly yet familiar shores for the distant deserts of Dubai, before travelling on through the tropics of Thailand to the far away country of Australia.  On that occasion I was with my family and two friend, and the journey was made easier by the companionship and by the sense of anticipation concerning the adventure which we were about to undertake. 

This time, I’m on my own.  And though I’m going to be staying with people I know, right now I’m on my own, desperate to share in the moment with someone, eager to delve into details and explore the experiences that will no doubt come my way.  This feeling may only be temporary, but right now it seems that I’m alone.  I’m sure many people in our towns, cities and villages know the feeling all too well on a daily basis, as the world may seem to pass them by at an alarming speed.

But I’m not alone.  My God is with me.  Even if there are no friends or family with me, I know that there is one with me who sticks closer than a brother.  My God watches over me, walks with me, and amazing though it may seem, communicates with me, undeserving though I may be of any gift from God.

I’ve found that gift, and still need to remind myself that I am never truly alone.  The greatest challenge however, maybe motivating myself to help others discover that neither are they alone.

And if our God is with us, who can stand against us?

Learning to pray

The last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about praying – what it means, or doesn’t mean, to this Baptist Pastor who spends so much of his vocational life praying with and for others.  The challenge for me, as I anecdotally know is also the challenge for other ‘professional christians’ , is that when I give prayer the priority it deserves, and really invest my heart and soul into maintaining that vertical communication with God, my spiritual life is enriched, my horizons are broadened, and my focus on those things that truly matter and that are of lasting significance is regained.

However, all too often I’m hampered by laziness; too lazy to invest the time creating an environment in which my prayer life can flourish and my spiritual life can be renewed.  I need to constantly work on it, and I need the support and discipline of others around me.  There is a small part of me that occasionally longs for the discipline of living in a religious community, as I once did at Oxford whilst at Vicar Factory; to have the support and encouragement of others around me that helps  one appreciate that prayer is not an individualistic activity, but a participation in the very activity of heaven whilst here on earth.

Someone once said that prayer had a role in people’s minds akin to sex!  They think about it often, even talk about it often, but often exaggerate the role it actually plays in their lives!  And public confession is good for the soul they say, and so here goes.  Now, I know that I’ve probably got a lot to confess, (though nothing about sex to you, dear reader!) and some of you (you know exactly who you are!) can verify those things that ought to see the inside of a confessional – though your discretion would be gratefully appreciated!  No, that to which I wish to confess is that more and more I am relying on the words of others to help shape my praying.  Not that I am unable to pray extempore, nor that I have nothing to say to God which emanates from the darkest and deepest places of my psyche and soul.  It’s just that discovering the prayers that other Christians have fashioned in their own attempt to communicate with God reminds me that prayer is work – the work of the people of God – and that I can join in and benefit personally from that work, as I too learn to pray from those who have gone before; standing in prayer, as it were, on the shoulders of “saints and sinners, fatheads and saints.”

This week, I have rediscovered a prayer written by Martin Luther, a man whom i admire and query in equal measure.  It has spoken to me, and enable me to express before God the deepest longings of my heart.  Isn’t that what prayer should enable us to do – discover that which is bubbling up from the places of drought and flood in the spiritual centre of our beings and throw it like a kite on the winds of prayer, so that it rises above us to reach the limits of our our short grasp and be received as a human offering of aspiration in the cloud of knowing which is God?  I quote the prayer below: –

“Lord, you have placed me in your church as a leader.  You see how unfit I am to administer this great and difficult office.  Had I previously been without help from you, I would have ruined everything long ago.  Therefore I call upon you.  I gladly offer my mouth and heart in your service.  I would teach the people and I would continue to learn.  To this end, I shall meditate diligently on your word.  Use me, dear Lord, as your instrument.  Only do not forsake me; for if I were to continue alone, I would quickly ruin everything.  Amen.”

Tiredness and Spiritual Growth

ImageIt was James Joyce who wrote that ““Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.”  For me, a recent realisation is that these tyrants are often most eager to escape and wreak their destruction, or debilitate and destroy any sense of inner peace that I may enjoy, when I am fatigued or tired.

A further problem is that tiredness is the enemy of mature spiritual thinking, and weariness can lead one to be susceptible to overreactions when challenged.  When I am physically low, it is so often the case that my powers of reasoning, discernment and focus are left hampered by the weakness of my body and mind, and my spirit suffers too!

Another potential problem is that many people are unable to cope with the realisation that our mental health is not a fixed state, but susceptible to change by moods, diets, social and physical environments, and we fail in our relationships if we don’t not allow one another the freedom to be honest, take time out, and recover our strength in order to be better equipped to face the challenges of life.

In case some of you are wondering, I’m not about to jack everything in, and not everything in the above post relates to me.  Except that I know what it is to be very tired, and to be in a position where making important decisions is not the best course of action!  In those moments, Psalm 62 verses 1 and 2 are a source of encouragement: –

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”

As a Christian disciple, I need to to grounded in who God is for me.  And I also need to rest!

 

Fresh Start

starting-over-againI’ve tried to get into blogging before, and failed miserably.  In fact, I’ve tried to get into lots of things before, including clothes that are too small or too big, and especially into new and positive patterns of behaviour, and failed!  You all know what I’m talking about, I hope, because it may have happened to you too.  I’m restarting the blogging now though – and deciding to

I’m told that one of the reasons why so many bloggers fail to keep going is because they are not structured enough, or disciplined enough to keep going even when it appears they have something to say.  I hope that I have something to say, even if I make a fool of myself sometimes, and I’m hoping that I have the ability to plan, so that the things I have to say can find an appropriate outlet!  Sometimes we can try and fit our opinions into a form that is not appropriate.  Been there before – will try not to fall into that trap again!

I’m hoping that on a fairly regular basis I’ll have something to say about the books I’m reading, the music to which I’m listening, as well as the things which are concerning or interesting me.  Enjoy….