Monday 19th December 2020
The pain and the pleasure of waiting
I’ve been waiting with bated breath – waiting on behalf of Bridgy, my stepmother.
She generally lives a quiet life in Sussex; but her absolute passions in life are art and theatre. In a normal year, she would make a monthly pilgrimage up to London to go to an art gallery, followed by an afternoon at the theatre. And Bridgy’s absolute favourite trip of all is her annual Christmas excursion, to the Royal Academy’s winter exhibition and the pantomime at the Palladium.
She booked the tickets for this year’s performance in January, so she has had a long wait, a long time to savour the build up to the highlight of her year.
When lockdown came, and all the art galleries and theatres closed, it was a disappointment. But it also made the anticipation of her Christmas trip all the more delicious.
With a week to go until her outing, Bridgy had got to the point where she could barely contain her excitement. But that excitement was tempered by apprehension – coronavirus cases were rising rapidly in London. She was on an emotional rollercoaster – would she manage to make it to London before further restrictions came in?
Last Monday night at around 4pm, Matt Hancock burst my stepmother’s bubble.
He announced London would be going into Tier 3 at one minute past midnight on Wednesday 16th December. And – yes, you guessed it – that was the day…
Bridgy, not prone to emotional outbursts, admitted to muttering a rare expletive on hearing the news. But she was also sanguine. She knows that the pleasure of the experience, when it comes, will directly correlate to the time she’s spent having to wait.
I sometimes wonder what it must have been like for Israel, waiting, waiting, waiting for the Messiah, long promised by Isaiah… As decades passed by, then centuries, with no sign of a Redeemer, did they wonder if they had misunderstood the prophesies? All told, they had to wait around seven hundred years. During that time, did they lose hope, did they lose heart? Did they worry that somehow they had missed the boat?
And what must it have been like when three or so decades later, after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the apostles announced that the Messiah had in fact been and gone? How did the people feel? Unbelief and scepticism? Miffed, that they’d not been in the right place at the right time to witness Jesus in action? Relief – that at long, long last, God had fulfilled the prophesies, kept His word by sending his Word?
It’s going to be a strange Christmas this year. But unlike my stepmother’s London outing – it’s going to happen, whatever it looks like. Unlike the Israelites before that first Christmas, I don’t need to wonder when my Saviour is going to arrive. With much of the usual busyness being forced aside, I’m enjoying the opportunity for unrushed reflection on the birth of Jesus, savouring the taste of God’s promise made good; God incarnate, born for you and me, born to reunite us prodigals with our Father God, who runs towards us with outstretched arms, to sweep us up in His infinite love…
I can’t say that this time last year I ever expected to be worshipping online, at a Scottish Episcopal Church based several hundred miles from me, with a congregation that (but for my sister) I’ve never met in person. Thank you, Lord, for being the God of Surprises – and thank you, friends, for making me feel so welcome.
May the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the wise men and the peace of the Christ-child be yours this Christmas.
Friday 18th December 2020
Waiting in Love
I passed a house yesterday with a Christmas tree in a window and a sign that said ‘Wave to our Gran’. In that moment the mixed realities of our time coalesced in all their bitter-sweetness, fragility and beauty. An elderly lady living alone these long nine months yet celebrating Christmas, with loving grandchildren in the background who may or may not see her over the festive period.
This final Sunday of Advent we are called to wait in love and like many families around the country perhaps you too are in the discussion about whether to take the risk and get together as different generations. What is the loving thing to do when we have been waiting to get together for so long? Waiting in love will look differently for each of us as we discern what is right for our family and particularly for our elderly more vulnerable members. After initial plans for my parents to spend Christmas with one of my brothers they will now be staying at home in the hope that they will be vaccinated within the next couple of months. But that’s been hard, especially for my brother who hasn’t seen them since the summer. Waiting in love, can sometimes mean having to wait longer.
Earlier in the week I hosted a monthly zoom chat for a number of mostly ex CMS mission partners. These are elderly ladies for the most part, who spent decades in parts of Africa and Asia serving the communities there. Inspiring and brave women, one and all. There is a richness and depth to our conversation with so much history and also to our prayers for different parts of the world. Although most of them will be at home alone this year they were talking animatedly of all the cards and phone calls they have received from ex pupils (now mostly middle aged and sometimes people of public significance). Whatsapp is wonderful one lady in her mid-eighties said… ‘I can call Nigeria for free’! Although they are physically alone, and mostly single ladies, their years of service to others have given them a far flung family that still cares. Serving in love leads to a waiting in love that bears fruit in these hard times.
Our reading on this last Sunday in Advent retells the story of Mary’s response to the Angel here am I the servant of the Lord, may it be to me according to your word. Mary too experienced this call to serve, to be available and to wait in love. To wait in love during her long scandalous pregnancy, then through her son’s childhood, his years of controversial ministry. To wait in love and agony as he died and was buried and for the full meaning of the Angel’s message to reveal itself, and to wait after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension for her own journey to end and to finally see him in all his glory.
We are called to wait longer than we would like to wait, we are called to wait often when we don’t know how long we will need to wait nor sometimes even what we are waiting for. Waiting in love helps us redeem this unchosen waiting. Love for God through all the unknowns just as Mary did. Love also for our families who share our waiting and whom our elderly members have served in years gone by and now bear the fruit of that waiting as each family makes the most loving decision they can at this complex and poignant time of our lives.
And now these three remain, Faith, Hope and Love but the greatest of these is love.
Rev. Paul Watson
Monday 14th December
Sorry We Missed You
Like me you might be ordering Christmas presents through Amazon this year, as
restrictions curtail our shopping and gift hunting. I love buying gifts and need to reign it in
at Christmas. My family joke that I have too close a relationship with Amazon…I tried
weening myself off once, even to the extent of using an old password, “no more
2020”…but then COVID came;(
If Amazon delivery people miss you, you can ask them to put your parcel into a “safe
place”, and then they drop by this card saying “sorry we missed you.”
I think I have been missing God these last few months. And as I read this card this
morning, it felt like God saying, “I came to your door, but you weren’t in.” He was sorry to
miss me. And as I think about it, I am sorry too.
Advent is described as a period of waiting expectantly. It has been good to wait and
prepare this season, but I have also been wondering if God is waiting for us..to respond to
his knock, his nudge and his call on our lives. Will we recognise him when he comes?
I realised this more when recently I offered to guide people in Advent retreats through the
Ignatian centre. I was nervous about my first session last week as I had not practiced
spiritual direction for 3 years! My first lady was a lovely Italian lady living in
Birmingham..she was full of the joy of our Lord. The next was a Singaporean living in
Singapore who described a walk in her botanical gardens where she saw a dew drop
being held by a leaf and to her the leaf reminded her of a bowl and I reflected back to her
that it seemed the drop was precious to God and she realised God was hearing her cry,
her tears and that she was precious to him. Another lady is an elderly novice….what do I
have to teach her about prayer? She was reminded of the graciousness of God in his gift
of the incarnation and is teaching me about the meaning of the Eucharist.
In my second week offering these retreats, I was moved by a Hillsong song and it’s lyrics
and shared it with these ladies. It’s called ‘So Will I’ and talks about lines like “ if the
mountains bow in reverence, so will I”, but talking to one retreatant yesterday we noticed
these three lines:
“I can see Your heart in everything You’ve made”
“I can see Your heart in everything You say”
“I can see Your heart in everything You’ve done”
It seems God is always reaching out to us and wants to show us himself in what he’s
made, in what he’s saying and in what he’s done. I feel challenged to keep seeing, to pay
attention and look for the ways he is coming. In my supervision sessions we concluded we
were seeing God “turning up” in these retreats. He is turning up, keep looking, what has
he done for you these past months, what has he been saying…maybe just your name,
what does he want to show you that he has made?
God turns up, don’t be sorry to miss him:).
Monday 7th December
I do not do waiting very well- I am easily frustrated if the lights do not change quickly enough, if the computer goes off line- at the cashline I always seem to be stuck behind an individual seemingly programming a moon launch rather than withdrawing money.
It was, therefore,a bit of a challenge to explore the concept of waiting in relation to Advent-when waiting, generally for me, is a negative experience.
There are two types of waiting-waiting for something that will happen-the lights will change, the computer will get back on line, the cashline will clear –all that is needed is a little patience. Then there is the waiting for something that might not happen-if we are sick we wait to regain our health- while we are waiting to get better we need patience but we also need hope and faith.
Waiting in Advent-what kind of waiting are we talking about? We know Christmas will come so do we just need patience?
I suppose it depends on what we think we are waiting on-if it is just a date ,just a time for socialising and celebration- patience is enough. The 25th of December will come and go and we will eat ,drink and be merry but we will be unchanged.
If we believe that Christmas has a greater significance- the recognition that this is when God through Jesus entered our world and our humanity then we need to look at Advent and waiting in a different way.
In Advent we wait with expectation-for the Christ Child to come again, for more understanding, for a deepening of faith and yes, meeting family and friends with the hope that Christ will be among us.
In Advent we wait for God to act but we must be ready to make room for Him in our lives.There was no room at the Inn that first Christmas-only in the stable so we need to create space for ourselves to welcome God into the world.We need to be ready because we do not know how or when God will arrive into our lives.
In Advent we wait in hope. It is the hope and belief that our existence is not pointless, that being here is not only a random result of evolution. It is the hope and belief that God created all life out of love and that each one of us matters. As we wait in hope we are not alone-we wait with the whole church community past and present.
In Advent we are patient, hopeful and trusting-and we will not be frustrated.
Friday 4th December
A red phone box and waiting in Hope
The phone rang in the red phone box on Wood St, High Barnet, N. London. I was nervous as I waited for it to be picked up. I was in Adelaide, South Australia. It was early October 1989 and I had just arrived there as part of a post university gap year after a few months working on the west coast of the U.S. My girlfriend, Ina, and I had arranged to meet for Christmas in Kathmandu.
I was apprehensive and my breath was a little short as she picked up the receiver. I explained that I realised I needed more time in Australia, and could we wait till I returned to the UK in April. It was complicated by the fact that Ina had already worked in Nepal and was keen to get back again and show me the places that meant a lot to her. In the early summer when we said goodbye to each other we just could not think about not seeing each other for a whole 9 months, so meeting up in Nepal seemed a great plan. The wait just seemed too long.
Certainly if you had told me back in March of this year that we would be in December, still facing a Covid crisis and with very restricted movements I would have despaired. The wait would have seemed too long. And here we are in Advent and waiting in a way we rarely have before. Advent though is also a season of hope and I wonder if there is a viable and measured way of waiting in hope.
Hope is a tricky thing, and the Classical world were very cautious about it, seeing it as a last resort when all else had failed. A disappointed hope can be a cruel blow, especially if we have overcome hurt and disappointment and even heart break and screwed up the courage to step out in hope again. We so often talk about stepping out in faith, but I think we step out in hope too, because it also is an act of courage and movement into the unknown. There is always the possibility (even sometimes the probability) that what we hope for will not come to pass. There is a risk in hoping, but the life giving choice we make to hope says that the risk is worth taking. The hurt of disappointment is worth the energising joy of hope.
It seems also that we discover reserves of hope in just enough amounts to keep us going. A grounded hope knows the reality of circumstances and is not naïve so as to think all dreams come true. It is able to hope enough, a measured hope that looks life in the eye, the distance still to go and the unknowns that lurk in the shadows and says I can hope for today, this week. I have enough certainty about my immediate future to go on. I suppose Ina and I had enough hope we thought for 6 months but not for 9.
Yet you get to that rise in the road and you see there is still further to go, more waiting, and you discover that actually it’s okay. There are deeper experiences and richer moments that come with the added waiting. I certainly found that in my extended time in Australia working in different places and meeting people I would never have done otherwise, especially in the outback.
We have the hope of a vaccine now firmly on the horizon. It has actually come incredibly fast in scientific terms. The end is in sight, well the beginning of the end of this stage of our journey. Advent reminds us that God came at Christmas and because of this the ultimate fate of our world is a hopeful one. The light that came into the darkness that first Christmas still shines today into our dark times. God has shown his commitment to humanity…”The people in darkness have seen a great light.”
I too discovered enough hope to go on, as a very gracious Ina agreed to postpone but I knew I would see her, if only a bit later. She sent me a box of Christmas presents to a small outback town and in April I offered her an engagement ring kneeling on the floor of Heathrow airport arrivals. Willst du mich hieraten?
Rev. Paul Watson
Monday 30th November 2020
For the four weeks of Advent four of us have been asked to share with you an experience we have had of waiting, how we felt and what we learned from it.
Waiting is a daily experience in our time-bound world. No doubt tedious waiting and unexpected delays have always been part of human experience, but our modern world has increased our frustrating waits for persons or events. Perhaps we are more impatient because we are used to things happening more quickly, some things that used to take time now being done instantly. How often we hear the phrase ‘I can’t wait’.
I have looked back on an experience my son Andrew and I had four years ago. We went to Prague for a couple of days to hear the Toronto Symphony orchestra. I had been to Prague previously and on that occasion had enjoyed direct flights from Glasgow. This time in both directions we had to change at Heathrow. On the way we had several hours to wait in Terminal 3. Coming back we had a longer wait in Terminal 5. And then our flight was delayed by a computer glitch. Even on the plane we had to wait because a couple whose luggage had been checked in couldn’t be traced because of the glitch.
The experience was tedious and bewildering. I felt annoyed, apprehensive, trapped and in the end resigned. I was able to read and sleep a little, but what I learned from it was to avoid such a waste of time again! What I should have learned, no doubt, was to have more patience. Paul says, ‘If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:25). I should have tried to put into practice my mother’s maxim: ‘Count your blessings; it really helps.’ In Terminal 5, though overwhelmed by its size and busyness, we had warmth, shelter and food (even if the lack of a queuing system was a pain). Our landing in Glasgow was late, but it was safe and the flight had not been cancelled.
Waiting in the Bible usually has a positive meaning, even if it includes longing and tension. It combines acceptance of the present situation in faith and assurance in hope for the future. There were devout people when Jesus was born who were ‘waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38). They received the good news from Anna that their King had been born. They had awaited God’s timing. They had waited long. Now they rejoiced in the coming of a mighty Saviour.
Friday 27th November 2020
Weaving the Cloth
Yesterday evening I heard a great quote : ‘we are living in times when the cloth is being woven.’ I found these words very evocative and have been wondering why! You know how certain lines just suddenly hit you at an instinctive level, bypassing your reasoning and going straight to a moment of recognition. Aha…yaaas…I didn’t realise I was waiting for these words to land in my life, but now that they are here they really describe/evoke/ define/inspire…etc., take your pick! I wonder if there have been any words, or images that have had that effect on you recently?
When there is such wholesale change in our world and with more to come, our inner compass is looking for signs and clues that can help make some sense of what is happening. The phrase, the cloth being woven did that for me!
Firstly I think it is because I am a great lover of tweed materials …I love the earthy robustness, the natural colours, the longevity and the sheer coolness of wearing something that is so rooted in my Scottish identity.
Secondly weaving a cloth is a creative process that takes various threads and materials…in the case of tweed , starting from the wool of a sheep, and through weaving then together emerges a whole new …scarf, jacket, waistcoat, bag, etc etc, that did not exist before. That we weave together a variety of threads from different sources and with different colours and even textures, speaks very powerfully to the way in which differences can enhance and enrich a community, a church, a world.
Thirdly weaving can often include threads that have come from material that has been unravelled and now can be re-purposed. I love this last one particularly as it really speaks to our context as it seems things are being taken apart and we have a chance to weave them together again in a repurposed and fresh way. Also in our own lives God can take our varied experiences, even the ones we wish had never happened, and our personal weaknesses and weave them together with our joys and confidences into a richly multi textured life. The Apostle Paul was alluding to this when he said in Colossians 2:2 I want you woven into a tapestry of love, in touch with everything there is to know of God.
As we look ahead at the next few months we see hopeful threads…being allowed to gather in a bubble at Christmas, three vaccines that look promising for the spring, that in less than 4 weeks the days will start getting longer again, Christmas services and carols online and so on. Let’s see what we can each of us weave over these winter months. Traditionally the winter months in the highlands of Scotland were when these house-based activities such as weaving and spinning were primarily done. Who knows perhaps this season will be a very memorable one for us in ways we don’t expect.
(The phrase the cloth being woven is embedded in a fuller quote: I think we are back to square one. We may timidly admit that we are living in times when the cloth is being woven, when we have to tell one another the basis of our hope, the questions we have and join with each other in the expression of our faith. (Gert Ruppell World Council of Churches 1995). It is 25 years since this was said regarding the mission of the church at that time and it is still true today.)
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 25th November 2020
Lover of my Soul
Recently I spent a couple of hours researching suitable hymns to play at my ordination to the priesthood. While I was listening to old favourites, I came across an album of music by Vineyard Worship called Come, Now is the Time to Worship. It is full of songs which express love, gratitude and devotion to Jesus. One song in particular has good memories for me because a friend chose it as her entrance music on her wedding day.
Who is this that appears like the dawn?
Fairer than the moon brighter than the sun
You’re the lover of my soul
Draw me into you, draw me into you
Who is this that beckons me to come close?
Beauty beyond words surrounds me when you’re near
You’re the lover of my soul
Draw me into you, draw me into you
We will run, we will fly, we will be together
We will laugh, we will cry, we will be together
Who is this that wipes the tears from my eyes?
Just one glimpse of you steals my heart away
You’re the lover of my soul
Draw me into you, draw me into you
Very romantic, isn’t it? There’s no specific mention of Jesus, but the clue that the song is about him, and addressed to him, is found in the words ‘Lover of my soul’. Other hymns describe Jesus in this way, one example is a hymn we played in church recently:
Jesus, lover of my soul
Jesus, I will never let you go
You’ve taken me from the miry clay
Set my feet upon a rock and now I know
I love You I need you
Though my world may fall I’ll never let you go
My Saviour, my closest friend
I will worship you until the very end
The Bible tells us that Jesus loves us more than we can understand or imagine. He is the one that can love our souls perfectly because he knows and understands us completely. Jesus is always ready to forgive us and will never leave us no matter what. We can trust Him, especially when we are suffering or in pain, because he promised he will always stand by us through good and bad times.
It isn’t just modern worship songs which express devotion to Jesus as the lover of our souls. Some of you may be familiar with the hymn, Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly, written by Charles Wesley in 1738. He wrote it as a testament to his love for Jesus. Wesley praises Jesus as a source of refuge, guidance, and salvation in times of uncertainty and grief. He expresses the joy he finds in the love of Jesus despite the challenges and difficulties of life.
Jesus, lover of my soul, Let me to Thy bosom fly,
While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high:
Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide; O, receive my soul at last!
Other refuge have I none; Hangs my helpless soul on Thee;
Leave, ah! leave me not alone, Still support and comfort me:
All my trust on Thee is stayed; All my help from Thee I bring;
Cover my defenceless head with the shadow of Thy wing.
Thou, O Christ, art all I want; More than all in Thee I find;
Raise the fallen, cheer the faint, Heal the sick, and lead the blind.
Just and holy is Thy name, I am all unrighteousness;
False, and full of sin I am, Thou art full of truth and grace.
Plenteous grace with Thee is found, Grace to cover all my sin;
Let the healing streams abound, Make and keep me pure within.
Thou of life the fountain art, freely let me take of Thee;
Spring Thou up within my heart, Rise to all eternity.
During these tough times when it can be dark and lonely, take comfort in Jesus’ everlasting love for you. He knows your fears and anxieties, your struggles and feelings of being overwhelmed. He will not leave or forsake you but is with you always. Perhaps the words of these hymns will help you to express your own devotion to Jesus.
Friday 20th November 2020
Change and Uncertainty
I asked a friend recently how he was finding the change and uncertainty of recent days. He replied that he doesn’t mind the uncertainty but really does not like the change. His wife however, he said, loves change but hates the uncertainty, and as her work involves a lot of international travel she is really missing that. Don’t you just love the incredible variety that makes up our humanity?! This variety is seen even more at pressured times like this when we all experience what is happening in slightly different ways.
As you reflect back on your own life you can probably see where you discovered more about yourself under difficult circumstances which are often times of growth. We hear a lot about Post traumatic stress which can be very debilitating, but there is also something called post traumatic growth. This is when we grow through situations we would never have chosen for ourselves and which looked very negative and even threatening at the start. Can you identify one or two moments in your life like that?
Change is the way things are different than they were before. Uncertainty is what we feel about the process by which that happens. Whether it is the change or the uncertainty (or both!) that you find difficult or challenging try to engage with it by asking yourself some of the following questions.
- What do I feel like today?
- What is it I don’t like about recent changes?
- What could I grow to like about the recent changes?
- What is it I find difficult about things being uncertain?
- What could I grow to embrace in this uncertainty?
- What is the difference between having a map and following a guide?
I caught you out with that last one didn’t I?! Jesus had a lot to say about both change and uncertainty, the essence of which is to say Trust me! This Sunday is the last one in the Church year and it’s when we remember that Christ is King. This does not mean that he controls everything that happens, including Covid 19. I will say more about that on Sunday. Our world is his but he entrusts it with its own organic and natural processes (including human freedom) and change and uncertainty lie at the heart of this. In nature if something never changes that is not a good sign, it’s inert, dead!
Obviously we can have too much change and uncertainty!!! We need some things we can rely on, some principles we can trust. We don’t get these however from the elusive map, aka the crystal ball, which can tell us exactly how things will be in 6 month time. As a Christian I believe we get these from God’s promise in Christ to never leave us or forsake us, from the values of the kingdom of God, and that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. How we apply that to our lives is challenging and unique to each of us, but it’s certainly a way lot better than letting our circumstances call all the shots.
So…we are living with change and uncertainty, more than the usual amount for sure, but perhaps it’s just a difference of degree and not of kind. Let’s not give our circumstances more power than they need to have, let trust and not fear have the final say.
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 18th November
One of my favourite authors in Henri Nouwen, who wrote many wise and inspiring books. I regularly dip into the ones I have including an anthology called Seeds of Hope. It seems to me that hope is something we need at this time of year, and this year in particular. In his reflections on the transition of autumn to winter Nouwen observes:
“When I walked out I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape unfolding itself before my eyes. Looking out over the Genesee Valley, I was dazzled by the bright colours of the trees. The yellow of the hickory trees, the different shades of red from the maples and the oaks, the green of the willows – together they form a fantastic spectacle…Two weeks from now the colourful leaves will have whirled to the ground and the trees will be bare, announcing the coming of winter and snow…But then we can remember the rich powers hidden underneath which will show themselves again to those who have the patience to wait.”
As we witness the leaves falling and the bare trees that remain, it is a reminder that we will soon enter the season of Advent – the season of waiting and longing for Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World. In my experience waiting can be hard but there is a comfort in considering the miracles that occur every day as God continually tends and cares for creation. Some miracles happen in the hidden depths and only reveal themselves in their due time. Others can be seen at any time, if we care to look, as Walt Whitman points out in his poem Miracles.
Why, who makes much of a miracle?
As to me I know of nothing else but miracles,
Whether I walk the streets of Manhattan,
Or dart my sight over the roofs of houses toward the sky,
Or wade with naked feet along the beach just in the edge of the water,
Or stand under trees in the woods,
Or talk by day with any one I love,
Or sit at table at dinner with the rest,
Or look at strangers opposite me riding in the car,
Or watch honey-bees busy around the hive of a summer forenoon,
Or animals feeding in the fields,
Or birds, or the wonderfulness of insects in the air,
Or the wonderfulness of the sundown, or of stars shining so quiet and bright,
Or the exquisite delicate thin curve of the new moon in spring;
These with the rest, one and all, are to me miracles,
The whole referring, yet each distinct and in its place.
To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,
Every cubic inch of space is a miracle,
Every square yard of the surface of the earth is spread with the same,
Every foot of the interior swarms with the same.
To me the sea is a continual miracle,
The fishes that swim—the rocks—the motion of the waves—the ships with men in them,
What stranger miracles are there?
While we may think of miracles as being the stranger and more amazing things God does on occasion, the everyday miracles God gives us are also to be treasured. As we treasure them, let’s give thanks for them and allow our hope to rise.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 13th November
Wednesday 11th November 2020
Over the past couple of years I’ve become more aware of the creative ways people fundraise at this time of year to support veterans and their families. Those of you who attended St James’ Remembrance Sunday service may have noticed my knitted poppy. It was bought in a wee shop in Paisley last year where local knitters were using their red wool, black buttons and knitting skills to earn much needed cash for veterans’ charities. In one of the churches where I served as a ministry student the beautiful bush decorated with knitted poppies in this photo was on display to raise funds. This year, when it’s been harder for people to sell poppies, it’s even more important to find creative ways to support charities providing daily help to veterans and their families.
Watching this year’s Festival of Remembrance, I was reminded of the range of work those in military service are engaged in. This year many service personnel have been deployed to help meet the demands of the Covid-19 crisis. Some are serving as nurses and doctors in the NHS. Others provide logistics expertise to enable the distribution of PPE and other equipment. Others yet have helped to create the new Nightingale and Louisa Jordan hospitals. Some have given their lives for their country in very different ways to what we usually think of at this time of Remembrance.
As we commemorate Armistice Day, let’s pause and remember not only those who gave their lives in past conflicts but also those who have given their lives in peacetime service too. In one of the best-known verses of the Bible it says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). God’s Son, Jesus Christ, gave his life sacrificially so that all may have everlasting life with him in heaven. As we remember those who followed Jesus’ sacrificial example; who died so that we may freely live, let’s give thanks for them. Let’s do what we can to support those living with long-term injury and illness. Let’s also pray that they, and many more besides, have the hope of freedom and eternal life that Jesus has won for us all.
‘When you go home
Tell them of us and say,
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.’
(The Kohima epitaph)
Wednesday 4th November 2020
Peace in the hide
While we were on holiday we took a drive to a RSPB reserve by the coast. Once we got there we walked along the beach listening to the rumble of the surf. We were an hour away from high tide and pretty much had the beach to ourselves. Dark clouds were brooding but we were dressed for the weather when the rain eventually arrived. All of a sudden, a flock of geese rose up and the air filled with their cackles and calls as they flew close by us and over our heads.
On our return leg we took the path to one of the hides, again having it to ourselves. As the door closed, we settled on a bench and decided to prop open the window in front of us. A deep stillness descended and for a few moments we heard nothing but silence. Then gradually, little by little, different bird-calls could be heard. We became entranced by a bird swimming on the loch in front of us repeatedly dipping under the water’s surface in search of food, creating ripples with each dive.
As we sat there mesmerised I could feel my stress dissipate and my body relax as I inhaled the deep peace of that silence, of nature continuing its activity oblivious to the cares of the human world. Whilst I’m sure that the birds have noticed the changes in our behaviour over the past few months, they nonetheless continue their pattern of life: searching for food, congregating together, coming to rest as the daylight fades.
There was something about being present to their activity – of stopping to appreciate the silence and the peace – that enabled me to feel energy reigniting within me – of being invigorated, made ready for the next stage of the journey.
The words of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem Pied Beauty capture some of what I was feeling that day:
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pierced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Friday 6th November 2020
Light in our Darkness
My husband Mike and I had long been looking forward to our October holiday in Turkey. But as we were packing our bags ready to head to the airport, news came that our trip was cancelled. Suddenly, two unplanned weeks at home lay before us – not the most exciting of prospects when you work from home anyway, as we do, with restrictions limiting our options for going out!
Anyway, we made a promise to ourselves to relax and stay away from our computer screens. With winter approaching and the lurking pandemic threatening us with the prospect of not being able to go anywhere or meet friends and family, I elected to get creative and make our home a warm and welcoming nest in which we could comfortably hibernate.
I had recently discovered bottle lights – a string of tiny bright LED lights dotted along a wire attached to a silver battery pack that sits within the neck of an empty bottle. Having ordered some off the internet, I turned a couple of old decanters into lanterns, part filling them with iridescent orange glass pebbles, shards of carnelian stones and snippets of recycled scarlet organza and adding the bottle lights. The effect of “fire and ice” was somehow very pleasing and very Hygge, if you’ve come across that currently trendy Danish concept of comfort.
While I constructed my lanterns I pondered how, at this time of year, people use lights in many guises to brighten the darkness and lift their spirits, even when there isn’t the additional gloom of a pandemic to contend with. We make illuminated pumpkins at Hallowe’en, set off fireworks for Bonfire night and drape strings of lights around our Christmas trees.
Light can help us to release serotonin, the endorphin of wellbeing and happiness, into our brains. And what greater joy is there than that offered by Jesus, the Light of the World? Many Bible commentators believe that Jesus was in fact born during the summer months, but it feels very apt to celebrate Christmas during the dark desert of midwinter nights which serve to make His Light all the brighter.
And, in a portent of spring, following Jesus leads us back to Eden, to fulfil our true purpose of having a deep relationship with God our Creator and Father and to find in His presence the peace our souls crave.
The Light of the World is coming – for you, for me, for everyone! This year, more than ever, that’s something to really celebrate.
Friday 30th October 2020
The Drumbeat of All Hallows
This year, All Saints Day, or ‘All Hallows’ falls on a Sunday. The day is known to the rest of the world as November 1st, the start of another month, another rotation of the earth in its’ journey around the sun. I do love the ring of ‘All Hallows’ though, that echo of an ancient story, a continuous narrative arc through the centuries, of Christians who have gone before us and tried to live out their faith in their time. The church of course has lots of Saints Days for all the premier league saints, but there are so many obscure and less well known saints and this day celebrates their lives.
There is a richness and connectivity that “November 1st” doesn’t quite have. The difference lies, I believe, in the music that those Christians were listening to, the beat that guided and sustained their lives, often through far greater troubles and fears than we will ever have to face. I am going to have to co-opt Henry Thoreau one last time. If someone does not keep pace with their companions, perhaps it is because they hear a different drummer. Let them step to the music which they hear, however measured or far away.
The difference between whether you see yourself in November 1st or in All Hallows this Sunday is whether you are out of step a little with the general drift of things, the vibe as it were, of our society today. Let me illustrate this by the prayers that we in the Episcopal Church end our morning and evening prayers with. We go into our day with this prayer. God most holy we give you thanks for bringing us out of the shadow of night into the light of morning; and we ask you for the joy of spending this day in your service, so that when evening comes, we may once more give you thanks, through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord.
Now that is a drumbeat, a music, that sets your day in a different direction, gives it a different framing. We recognise that there is a God who has watched over us while we sleep and gifts us with a new day. Serving God brings great joy to us and we end our day thankful because we lived congruent with who we are called to be this day . All this has been made possible because of Jesus, our Lord.
As free and responsible people, we have many drummers to choose from but All Hallows reminds us of the generations who have chosen to live their lives this way of Jesus and we are inspired to wake up each morning and have his words guide us into the day.
And at the end of the day, as the shadows draw in we pray these words. Lord God almighty, come and dispel the darkness from our hearts, that in the radiance of your brightness we may know you, the only unfading light, glorious in all eternity. It is good to flush out the stuff we wish we hadn’t done this day and to acknowledge that a degree of darkness is the lot of the human heart. This prayer points us however to where forgiveness is found, where hope lies and where the triumph of love is guaranteed.
This is a prayer we definitely need after watching the evening news, and even more so in these trying times. Just today three people were brutally murdered in the Notre Dame Basilica in Nice and two days ago a Kurdish family of five drowned in the English Channel. And yes, Covid numbers remain high.
We need all the support and structure and inspiration we need this winter. We can do worse than committing these two short prayers to memory and making them the first and last things we say each day. They may help us hear that distant drumbeat of hope and love this world so desperately needs.
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 28th October 2020
I wondered if it was just my imagination then Paul’s Thought for the Day last Friday reassured me that others have also noticed how vivid the autumn colours are this year. The trees have really taken on so many hues of deep ochre and rich red russet. A few days ago I heard an expert speaking on the radio explaining the reason why there is such a rich display of colours this year. It is a result of the wet summer we had combined with the recent cold, frosty September nights. It seems that the weather that was such a disappointment to us a few weeks ago has caused the autumn display we now enjoy.
In his book, Killochries, Jim Carruth tells, through verse, the story of a troubled man who spends a year working on a remote hill farm with an old shepherd. In the early weeks of his time there he observes the changes autumn brings.
On the lower slopes
beneath the farm, a small wood:
browns, russets, yellows.
Horse chestnuts, elms and the rest
catch now only the highest sun.
A single fir resistant to the change
points to the sky, defiant.
I could walk there, I suppose,
hide in its colours.
The following months are shaped by struggle, adversity and loss but through this a new understanding grows within this man.
No-one likes to suffer yet the lessons learned during tough times can develop and deepen maturity within each of us, if we let them. The strength we gain through overcoming hardship and difficulty can help us to have greater hope that the future will be bright. To echo the words of St Paul; present suffering yields future glory. Speaking out of his own experience of suffering and imprisonment, Paul says,
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us….For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience….For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (extracts from Romans 8:18-39.)
Rev. Harriet Johnston
Friday 23rd October 2020
Today Ina and I are heading out yet again to the Trossachs, drawn once more by the autumn colours and this time a walk amongst the birches of Loch Lomond. Each weekend comes round and I can usually adjust my day off to the Friday or the Saturday depending on the weather so that we can make the most of the shortening days. Beauty catches our breath again and again as we come round a bend and walk into a cascade of colour, or catch a panoramic view of ridges unfolding, or notice a glade of ferns -a home for the fair folk. Time and again we find ourselves loitering, noticing, revelling in the gift of this unique moment of cloud, light, shade, heather, bracken and slow turning of the season. You really can’t move until the show is over.
I’m reading Henry Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ which as some of you will know is the reflections of a young man in the late 19th Century who lives in a homemade cabin for two years by Walden pond in Massachusetts . His precise attention to detail through the seasons and his immersion in his natural setting is a delight and an inspiration. Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influence of the earth. It also gave him enough critical distance to look at the life of his peers and the town of Concord with a clear yet sympathetic eye. He returned a humbler and simpler man who spent the rest of his life in the town and its’ environs of which he would write at the end of his life, that “I have travelled a great deal in Concord”. His immersion in nature had sent him home with a deep appreciation of the details of life and the richness that can be found in the most ordinary details if we can but pay attention. After watching nature patiently revealing her secrets young Henry had developed new eyes to see his fellow citizens.
So today as you are reading this or listening Ina and I will be on our way for our weekly nature communion, perhaps to be surprised by the unexpected and possibly to encounter beauty. Also to grow new ways of seeing so we are able to notice those around us in fresh and kinder ways, sensitive to the rhythms of life and the ebb and flow of our emotional seasons. Towards the end of the day we will stop off at Stronaclachar and spend time in the wonderful café on the pier with its glass wall and view down Loch Katrine. As the gloaming gathers on that most fair of Lochs, and as the light rain falls (no doubt!) there comes a re-framing of our troubles and concerns, a gathering up of them into a larger and deeper story. Almost as if we are hearing the bass notes of nature which beat on steadily below the treble of our tumultuous life and offering a solider, more substantial place to ground ourselves. We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.
Such grounding does not mean going to ground. Rather it is an exercise in trust that to love is to go with the flow of the universe which is always expanding, always making connections, always moving towards greater unity (to riff Rob Bell here). This autumn, allow nature, even through watching some of the wonderful nature documentaries or listening to Outdoors, to teach you to see and notice differently, to reframe your troubles a little so that you can hang the treble of your life on the deeper bass notes that run below, right from the heart of God. And then this autumn become one of those folk who reaches out, who makes the phone call, who shows mercy and random acts of kindness.
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 21st October 2020
Changing the Clock
It’s that time of year again! British Summer Time (BST), ends on Sunday 25th October at 2am and time reverts to Greenwich Mean Time. Yes, as it’s autumn, time falls back – clocks go back – an extra hour in bed and it will be lighter in the morning! Of course the downside is it will be dark earlier at night!
Today our electronic devices change seamlessly so it is just battery operated watches and clocks like the one above that needs to be manually changed. To be honest the autumn change does not have too many negative consequences, unless you work nightshift on 24th! Generally if you forget you will just be an hour early at work or church – no one needs to know! The springtime changes can be problematic – more than once the inner doors of St James have clunked open with breathless folk running in at the Agnus Dei – no names!!
At home we remember an unusual event during the clock changing operation one year. Blanche, our hamster had gone absent without leave and after thorough searching hope was diminishing. However, when Elliott went into the garage to change the clock in the car, here was Blanche, thin, frozen, but thankfully alive!
The idea of saving daylight time by putting clocks forward in Spring (BST) was first suggested by Benjamin Franklin in 1784, but the person best known for his tireless campaigning is William Willett who argued that enjoying more daylight would improve health and happiness as daylight encourages outdoor exercise, supports tourism, reduces energy consumption and road traffic accidents.
Counter arguments come in the main from farmers and others whose views are strongly influenced by location, occupation and lifestyle.
The European Parliament supported a proposal to end the practice of changing clocks in European Union states last year. If proposal is adopted time zones will need to be adjusted when travelling to Europe.
For now though it is somewhat comforting to follow a routine albeit something we only think about twice a year. But it is something we have always done and something that is not affected by Covid19. So little else in our lives is unaffected by the Pandemic.
We are all living in dire times. So many people have and are suffering deep sorrows in a myriad of different ways. No one is immune, literally and figuratively.
The challenge for us all is how best do we use our time – our God-given time, during this Lockdown? It may start with the Collect for Morning Prayer –
God most holy, we give you thanks for bringing us out of the shadow of night into the light of morning; and we ask you for the joy of spending this day in your service, so that when evening comes, we may once more give you thanks, through Jesus Christ, you Son, our Lord. Amen
Paul, our Rector, spoke about ways of being a church family on Sunday including – taking time to phone people – doing things we can do without risk to others or ourselves. Opportunities lie with churches joining the G64 Community Response Team – a way of putting prayers into action – to particularly help those on their own.
As well as this of course there is the need for us all to care for ourselves. Depending on our health status there is the need to do what we can. As I write this I immediately think this is not an easy ask. Motivation is undoubtedly easier when there is company, people to encourage, push us forwards. On the other hand we all know of folk who have had to rise to huge challenges and who have provided evidence that time and effort work. So it is not easy, but choices are limited.
So thinking about changing the clock might well be small beer, but it is particularly important for us to keep doing what we can. Encouragement also comes from the skies, as we hear and see the masses of geese doing what they do every year arriving here from their breeding grounds of Greenland and the Arctic – they are not allowing Covid to stop them doing what they can do without hurting others.
So enjoy your long lie on Sunday and enjoy the full day!
Wednesday 14th October 2020
Watching Out for Shortcuts
We have just finished praying our way through the Beatitudes at Tuesday evening prayer and are around half way through studying them together on the Pilgrim Course. They remain immensely challenging and inspiring after 20 centuries. One of the themes that run through them is that appearances can deceive and that we can sometimes find blessing in the unsought for and undervalued experiences of our lives. These can include mourning, hunger, poverty of spirit and so on.
As we were discussing this recently Catherine shared with us these insights from the Mahatma who said once that if more Christians were like their master the whole world would be Christian!
Gandhi’s 7 Dangers to Human Virtue:
1 – Wealth Without Work
2 – Pleasure Without Conscience
3 – Knowledge Without Character
4 – Business Without Ethics
5 – Science Without Humanity
6 – Religion Without Sacrifice
7 – Politics Without Principle
I share these with you today (Harriet is on holiday!) because what they all have in common is the valuing of the difficult side of life. Conscience, ethics, sacrifice, principles etc can be really bothersome at times when we just want to get on with things. The words on the right hand side of the list tend to slow things down, force us into making difficult choices, have to hold difficult conversations, work unseen at times with no guarantee of success, take the long way round when there seems to be a shortcut available and so on.
I met a young doctor recently for coffee who I knew as a pupil in Aberdeen. Being with him reminded me of an impromptu wee thought for the day I gave to my daughter’s group of school leavers at a BBQ in the Rectory Garden. I talked briefly of the career ladder that lay ahead for many of these talented and bright young people. I also though talked of the character ladder that lay alongside this and which at times may hinder or slow their climb of the career ladder and yet how important t is to keep going up both.
In this Covid period I do believe our character is being tested in a greater way than usual. Whether it is Gandhi’s recognition of the importance of doing things well and properly or Jesus’ call to us to look for his blessing in the sometimes hard places and times, we are reminded that this autumn and winter provide a great opportunity for spiritual and character formation. In Jeremiah 29 the old prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon states quite clearly it will be 70 years before they come home. In the meantime they must watch out for the false prophets who say they will be leaving soon. Instead they must plant gardens, pray and work for the prosperity of where they are and try to flourish where they have been planted.
I’m sure it will not be 70 years for us!!! But let’s not wish this time away and just focus on our well-being. Many folk will be going through a far harder time than we are as they lose their livelihood in the coming months, local services maybe cut and so on. Our character as a society will be greatly challenged. What does it mean for us to be salt and light in this context, how can we be Beatitude people, living more like our Master, as Gandhi so longer Christians to do.
This funny story illustrates Pete’s point that we can live our lives sometimes like the demented greyhound, driven and disoriented by irrational fears, pursued by packs of bloodthirsty bistro chairs, too scared to simply stop. With so much changing and happening in our lives and context at the moment it is easy to feel uncertain and apprehensive and even a little afraid at times. I certainly wouldn’t call it irrational to be careful of Covid and perhaps even more so to be afraid of the economic climate and changes to people’s livelihood.
But this is my point. These genuine concerns help us to stop and look at some of the more irrational fears and drivers that previously may have had not dissimilar a role to the chairs the dog thought was chasing him. Covid has removed some of these “chairs” by the simple fact that so many things stopped. Much of the frantic movement and inner turmoil that marked aspects of western society eased. Our newspapers are not so full of frivolous news and there does seem a sense of a more measured take on things. When there is a pandemic around and such economic uncertainty it does throw a certain sobering daylight on some of our previous ‘fears’ and ‘drivers’.
The bible also talks about such a recalibrating of our lives. God speaks firmly into the cacophony of human activity, in the words of Psalm 23 He makes me lie down. Into the ‘unexamined momentum’ (I wish I’d thought of Steve Aisworth’s wonderful phrase!) of our lives his voice is waiting for us to slow down and listen. Maybe we can take time to examine the momentum of our lives and what are the things that pull and push them along. Some of it is fine and healthy, other aspects not so much. What are the voices or memories from years ago, that have long outlived their authority or right to speak into your life? What are the dispositions and habits that have their roots in our learning to survive and navigate this wonderful but scary world but which are now preventing us from thriving and growing?
Most of all though God wants us to stop and face our “chairs” and know that we are loved and created by him to be in a relationship with him. This gives us a purpose and security and sense of direction which provides the freedom to be free of fears and drivers. Such stopping and listening can change our lives in the most profound ways over time and liberate us into that ‘perfect love which casts out all fear.” (Apostle John.)
Wednesday 7th October 2020
Running the race
When I got home from church on Sunday I sat down in front of the TV and watched the end of the London Marathon elite men’s race. The runners lapped the 1.3 mile route around St James’ Park repeatedly and the race concluded with an exciting close-run finish between the fastest Ethiopian and Kenyan competitors.
The “Power of Sport” was quoted as being the inspiration for thousands of amateur runners taking part in the virtual marathon in several locations around the world. Amongst them was a group of NHS staff who spoke of how running helped them cope physically and mentally with the demands of caring for patients, particularly since the onset of the pandemic.
Contrary to popular belief, the marathon is a relatively modern race. The 26.2 mile race was inspired by the legend of the Athenian messenger who ran from the battle of Marathon to Athens with the message of victory in 490 BC. However, there is no evidence of marathons taking place until the race was included in the first modern Olympics in Athens in 1896.
Having said this, long-distance races were known in Biblical times as the writer of Hebrews mentions in chapter 12:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
The “Power of the Cross” is the inspiration of millions of Christians around the world. Jesus endured like a runner, taking on every sin; every resentful thought and evil act, so that everyone could be forgiven. He endured for the prize of our forgiveness and salvation. Thanks to Jesus’ selfless suffering we are free, death is defeated and we have the hope of eternal life. This is what it means when people declare that Jesus has won the victory.
This year’s London Marathon was slower than normal partly because it was so wet and partly because there was no crowd cheering the competitors on. It might not always feel like it, but just as there were millions of viewers witnessing Sunday’s marathon, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses; faithful followers of Jesus that are cheering us on. We are not alone, we have each other and many beyond our sight supporting and praying for us to run our race and one day taste the victory we are promised.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 2nd October 2020
Inflatable hot tubs with flashing lights
I was out walking the dog yesterday when I met one of the young mums from our messy church who I hadn’t seen for quite a while. She’s working from home and will be for quite some time to come and, being an outgoing kind of person, misses the office chat and relational side of things. Having a dog gets her out of the house, but otherwise she would be home 12/13 hours a day. Her husband has not been able to see his parents in the south of England as they have been shielding and with his sister in America he feels the distance. Their lovely wee lass has settled back into school again but didn’t find it easy at the start as she had been away for so long. Just a glimpse of a fairly normal family dealing with the fallout of Covid and trying to keep the show on the road.
As I was turning away she said, ‘oh by the way we have started our own business’. Now, being deaf, I thought I’d misheard her, but sure enough so they have. They hire out an inflatable hot tub and apparently are fully booked for the coming few weekends. In the telling of the story she was particularly excited about flashing lights that are part of the whole deal. I said I’d pop by some time and get more details as my head is buzzing with questions, how do you inflate it, how do you get the water in and how does it get hot and most of all about the flashing lights???.
Suddenly though the coming months didn’t seem quite so gloomy as I envisaged all these suburban families discovering inflatable hot tubs and flashing lights reaching into the night sky above Bishopbriggs. As she said to me, ‘with us all having to have staycations we need to make the most of it’. Don’t you just love that, people using their own ingenuity and verve to make the most of where we find ourselves and look for ways not just to survive but to thrive too. Bubbly hot water lit up from below and under the stars on a cold night…well, what’s not to like!
At the start of lockdown in late spring there was quite an outpouring of creativity and I wonder whether as we get into a different kind of autumn than we are used to whether we need to find some of that creative spirit again. Thankfully our movements are not so restricted and apparently Brits have been stocking up on patio heaters and fire pits. We can learn a lot from the folk in the north of Norway who are used to long winters, who enjoy the opportunities that winter brings, and love the seasonal changes and cosiness. Research shows that the more they saw winter as an exciting opportunity to enjoy a cooler climate the better they fared, with high levels of life satisfaction and overall mental health. They also found amazingly enough that these attitudes increase with latitude, in other words the more positive wintertime mind set is most common where it is most needed. (Observer 27th September).
As Christians we believe that the Holy Spirit is God’s creative presence on earth sustaining and energising us. My prayer is that this next few months we will open ourselves to such a wonderful presence and not only survive but thrive, having the way shown to us by a young family who love inflatable hot tubs with flashing lights and want to share the love!
Wednesday 30th September 2020
Tracing God’s faithfulness
Earlier this week I decided to sort through a long-neglected pile of paperwork. Amongst the bills, correspondence and old service sheets, I found a few notebooks including an old journal. Flicking through it I was reminded how often God has faithfully come through for me in the ups and downs of day to day life.
I admire those diarists who record what’s going on in the world and their lives on a daily basis. I must confess I journal in fits and starts, but when I do I find that writing helps me to process my thoughts and prayers. Reading back over what I’ve written later enables me to trace God’s faithfulness; recalling how he’s helped me to overcome each moment of anxiety, given me cause for joy, and brought me through each situation. This gives me hope that he will continue to help me with my present day concerns and his faithfulness is something I can rely on.
Journaling for prayer and reflection is different from keeping a daily diary. This type of journaling is the practice of writing down our thoughts and prayers. Rather than writing comprehensively about life events, the focus is on particular things we have read (a Bible passage perhaps), conversations we’ve had, or situations that have affected us. They may have left us feeling puzzled or unexpectedly joyful and wanting to mull over them and talk to God about them in prayer.
According to the helpful people at The Prayer Course, “Journaling, for those who need reassured, is a legitimate way of praying, as essentially it facilitates an ongoing correspondence of our heart with our Heavenly Father. It allows for our inner, often subconscious, thoughts to become part of our conscious awareness, bringing new perspective and allowing us to assess our inward convictions and heart-condition.”
There are several different ways to journal. One way of journaling is to jot down notes shaped around three levels of seeing:
What are you noticing? What thoughts and feelings are springing up for you as you reflect on your reading, conversation or situation?
What are you wondering about? What is triggering your curiosity?
What are you beginning to realise? Is there an insight that seems particularly important?
Some people like to write using flowing narrative, others prefer jotting down key points, others draw diagrams or other images. Many people use ordinary notebooks whilst others use notebooks created especially for journaling. Some take a digital approach, creating notes on their phone, voice memos, even short videos.
We only remember a fraction of what happens to us and our thoughts and feelings at the time. All of these approaches to journaling help us to treasure what God is doing for us and discern what he may be saying to us in each given situation. All this enables us to trace God’s faithfulness and give us hope for the future.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 25th September 2020
Rabbi Akiva’s Lesson
Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef lived in Capernaum just after the time of Jesus. The story goes that Akiva was ambling along the edge of the water one day. The day was almost over. The light was fading and Akiva, caught up in his meditations, missed his turning and wandered on to the wrong path. Still contemplating a particular passage in Isaiah he found himself in front of the local Roman garrison where he was stopped in his tracks by the brusque bark a young sentry on the wall above: ‘Who are you and why are you here’?
Following the rabbinic tradition, the rabbi responded with a question of his own. ‘How much do they pay you to stand guard and ask that question of anyone that approaches’? No doubt the young sentry was a little taken aback by Akiva’s retort, but realising the intruder was a rabbi who posed no threat to the fortress, replied: ‘Five drachmas a week’. The rabbi then made the young man an offer: ‘I will pay you double that if you will come and stand in front of my home and ask me that at the beginning of each day’.
This wonderful story is quoted in Steve Aisthorpe’s great new book ‘Rewilding the Church’. As Steve goes onto comment, ‘Akiva knew the paramount importance of knowing one’s identity and purpose- and our tendency to forget these most fundamental details’. (p32) He is using this to illustrate the need for the church to be clearer about what it’s called to do, but that is not my primary purpose today.
As we move into another unknown few weeks and months it is easy to find ourselves looking at the news a lot, or building scenarios in our mind about how things might go with Covid 19and the numbers and spread etc, or trying to anticipate what impact this may have on us and our communities and so on. At least this is what I’ve found myself doing and noticing that something of the anxiety that was present at the start of all this 6 months ago has returned. This is where Rabbi Akiva can help us.
By focusing firstly on what we have some measure of control of, and can actually do something about, ourselves, we are encouraged to channel our energies and thoughts in a potentially productive direction bearing in mind that any change in the world needs to start with us. More importantly though in our context today is that these two questions help us to orientate ourselves in very changing times. A boat can face strong cross currents and uncertain seas if its’ engine is working and it faces into the waves. Once the engine (or sails ) of a boat are lost then it is at the mercy of the elements.
We stand a much better chance of weathering (and perhaps even thriving in) the months ahead if we tend to the direction and motivations of our lives and don’t overly focus on the externals which can intimidate and confuse and are ever changing anyway. As Christians we would say we are children of God and we are called to share God’s love with others. That is a key part of who we are and why we’re here. Of course there is more to our lives than that, but if we can keep hold of these two core truths they will offer us both strength and purpose in the months ahead.
Who are you and why are you here?
Rev Paul Watson
Wednesday 23rd September 2020
Discovering New Pathways
Last week the two of us were away for a few days holiday on the east coast. We had fun revisiting familiar places as well as taking new pathways to unknown places. We discovered history and scenery we hadn’t encountered before. As we drank it all in, we found ourselves relaxing and returned refreshed from our journeying.
Today we will begin another journey – on the Pilgrim Course. We are focusing on the Beatitudes – a short but deeply meaningful collection of sayings of Jesus in chapter 5 of Matthew’s Gospel. Each session we begin with prayer and a reflective reading of a bible passage using Lectio Divina.
Lectio Divina is a practice of contemplative reading that allows us to slow down and engage intuitively with a Bible passage. The Prayer Course describes Lectio Divina as a “form of meditation on the word of God that trains us to listen to His whisper speaking personally to our hearts.” Rather than being an intellectual exercise that aims to understand the passage, Lectio Divina enables its meaning to reveal itself through meditating on key words and phrases.
There are five steps to Lectio Divina:
Reading. Choose a passage from the Bible. You might wish to read one of today’s Daily Prayer readings, e.g. Acts 19:1-10 or Luke 4:1-13. Invite the Holy Spirit to come and guide you, then read the passage slowly noticing any words or phrases that stand out for you. Read the passage twice with a minute or two of silence in between.
Meditation. Ponder the word or phrase that you particularly noticed during your reading. Consider how it relates to your life and what God might be saying to you.
Prayer. Having a loving conversation with God. Tell Him how you feel about what he is saying to you. Ask for the grace you need or desire, so that your faith will be deepened.
Contemplation. Rest in God’s presence, taking time to let God remind you of his love and allow what he is giving you to deepen and sink in.
Action. Consider one way you might apply the word you have been given and resolve to live it out in your daily life
According to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The Word of Scripture should never stop sounding in your ears and working in you all day long, just like the words of someone you love… Do not ask,“How shall I pass this on?” but, “What does this say to me?” Then ponder this word long in your heart until it has gone right into you and taken possession of you.”
Lectio Divina enables us to deepen our devotion; our relationship with God, through contemplative prayer. Contemplation is described as “a gaze of faith” or “a silent love”. It invites us to discover new ways of encountering God, refreshing our faith and giving us hope as we journey with him into the future.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 18th September 2020
Being Stable, not Stuck: turning a necessity into a virtue.
So it looks like our movements are getting more restricted again, and probably rightly so. There’s not much we can do about the rules but what do have some measure of control over is how we react to them. For example, if we feel stuck then we may get resentful and frustrated and that actually changes nothing. If however we are able to accept our restricted movements as a call to stability then we could find this autumn a rich time indeed.
Stability is a virtue which has been appreciated by Christians over the years. St Benedict developed his monasteries as places of stability at a time when Europe was going through immense social and economic and even violent change. Monks made a vow to stay the rest of their lives in the same monastery and build a community together. Here are some lines from Michael Cassidy’s book The Road to Eternal Life.
Stability is one of the fundamental values of Benedictine spirituality. Once we begin something we stay with it until the process is complete—whether it is a question of reading a book all the way through from beginning to end, remaining constant during the process of initial formation, or faithfully practicing all the virtues throughout one’s entire life.. Stability is a result of an enduring act of the will giving assent to God’s grace.
I love that last line. It combines the call for us to stick at our commitments through thick and thin with our need for God’s grace to help us to do that. Generations of church members have done this at St James and countless churches, serving their communities through wartime, economic depression, social turmoil, political unrest, sticking with the stability of their core Christian commitments even when they couldn’t articulate it all. It’s called being disciples.
Discipleship is more than wistful thinking. In Saint Benedict’s view, it is effort, it is struggle, and it is spiritual warfare. If you choose to make seeking God the foundation of your life, then there will be hard practical choices to be made every day.
This Sunday is the 40th anniversary of St James the less Church in Bishopbriggs . Before then it was in Springburn from 1881, serving many generations of workers and their families in that area. Groups of ordinary people attempting to be disciples of Jesus in their community in their time. Local churches continue to be amongst the longest established communities in their local areas as businesses come and go and institutions change and even housing varies over the years. Such stability is not particularly spectacular or flashy but it stands the test of time and we continue to remain a real asset to our communities. This is not only in the facilities we offer for community groups but also in the services that are offered to young families and older people particularly and of course in the amazing good news of Jesus Christ.
One of the many things I love about this church and community is that there are people who have been in the same houses for over 50 years… There is something about stability and commitment that we can learn from an older generation and that we will need in the uncertain times ahead. It is how we build a community that will last as it focuses on deep principles that hold true whatever the circumstances. This is what we call kingdom principles. Thanks to their vows of stability the medieval monasteries became shelters of security and order and beacons of learning and hope. On our 40th anniversary and in the uncertain autumn ahead these are good examples to have.
Rev Paul Watson
Wednesday 16th September 2020
I hope this finds you all in good spirits.
I got a bit of good news today. Part of Elliott’s routine in the morning is feeding birds. Out he goes usually in his dressing gown – rain, hail or shine. Over the last month we have got to know one of the birds particularly well – he had an injured wing. So when all the other birds have had their feed in the morning they fly off to get on with their lives while our friend stays with us, resting in the bushes and running up and down the garden. We watched him carefully in case he needed specialist care, but we were reassured when occasionally he would try out his ability to fly. We watched his improvement, slow, though it was with much joy. During his recovery he was mostly chirpy, ate well and kept himself fit. Amazingly today his recovery was complete – off he flew high into the sky. We’ll miss him, but obviously we are delighted his freedoms have been restored.
A bit of a long intro, I guess some of it resonates with life, but I’ll leave that to you to take it where you want.
My thoughts today major on 1) the pace of life 2) perspectives in life
Like most people I was moved to tears when watching the video created by the family and friends of Eilidh MacLeod who along with other 21 people died in 2017 while leaving the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester. Eilidh, 14 years old, from Barra, attended the concert with her friend Laura MacIntrye who survived. No doubt Laura and all the other survivors have long term physical and emotional wounds. Eilidh’s Mum described the impact of Eilidh’s death as being her whole world shattered into pieces. There is no imagining her loss. However, it was somewhat reassuring to hear sharing memories for some families was cathartic.
When I worked at Stirling Uni two major world events happened – one all too close to Bridge of Allen. The Dunblane Primary School massacre on 13th March 1996 and the September 11, 2001 attacks on The World Trade Centres and Pentagon. These attacks impacted all our lives.
What strikes me, apart from the profound sadness of those, both knowing their fate in the case of the Twin Towers and those left bereaved is 1) the pace of life and 2) perspectives on life.
The location of the picture, I am sure you will recognise, for me sums up the pace and to a lesser extent (some poetic license required here) perspectives on life.
The intensity of colours in autumn is always a delight, but it also reminds us that the pace of life varies, just like the colour of the leaves. The amazing colours represent the striking, dramatic events that feature in our lives. The situations that for a while, surpass everything – situations/events that overwhelm us. The focus of our lives can be changed in an instant, can be changed by a few words – an accident, hearing a diagnosis, a health incident, a terrorist attack.
When I watched the video filmed in Barra, it reminded me that Eilidh’s family and friends have been living with this profound sadness since 22nd May 2017 and of course it is the same for those in Dunblane in 1996 and in New York in 2001. Fleetingly the pain penetrates the sensibilities, of those of us on the periphery, but then we like the injured bird get on with our own lives. The pace of life is fast! The intensity of pain remains with those directly affected but mercifully through a higher power the pain retreats in time, hopefully.
Of course as we can all appreciate anniversaries of any death/ major catastrophe in our lives can re- ignite the agonising pain for a short period of time.
Qoheleth reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:4-5 ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven ….a time to be born and a time to die…..a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance.. a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing ‘
All of us lead life at our own pace; sometimes it will be frantic, other times sluggish, mostly somewhere in between. We may share similar experiences, but due to the pace of life we can never replicate someone else’s experience. We are on our own trajectory. While we all miss shaking hands, giving a hug it is well worth remembering Quheleth who was noted for his wisdom. When I think about the discomfort of wearing a mask inside buildings I think of the discomforts felt by so many while they embrace the glorious fresh air on Barra. Perspectives!
Take care and stay safe
Friday 11 September 2020
The Inn of the Prancing Pony
Here in East Dunbartonshire we had the news earlier this week that we could not visit each other’s homes or indeed the home of anyone else in the country. This has been followed today by other precautions for the nation as a whole. Back in April/May many of us hoped that by this time we would have Covid 19 more under control, but it seems not to be.
Some of you may have guessed from the title that I’m referring to Lord of the Rings in which Frodo is given instructions by Gandalf to take the ring and meet him at the Inn of the Prancing Pony. This was a challenge enough in itself and far beyond the comfort zone of even an adventurous young hobbit like Frodo. Yet he summoned his courage and with his friends made it there just escaping the clutches of the Black Riders.
Your heart goes out to him when, thinking he had completed his task, he discovers that Gandalf is not there and weary and afraid, despondent and helpless, he is not sure what to do next. And then as many of you know another chapter in the journey begins, a Ranger joins them and another set of dangers are overcome and he finally makes it to Rivendell where he hopes his task will be completed. And of course it is not and so the story continues. One of Tolkien’s themes is this growing awareness of Frodo of the nature of the task he has undertaken and that the end of it seems to ever recede and even until the last minute we are left unsure whether he will be able to carry it through.
I hope we are far beyond the Prancing Pony stage of our own Covid 19 journey. However, as we go into an uncertain autumn and beyond, Frodo’s story is a salutary lesson that it is best to focus on the task and road immediately before us. We should not make too many assumptions about what lies out of sight, nor to overly worry about things we just cannot know. ‘Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’ is the old King James Bible verse that has become a well-known saying in our English language. This is balanced though by the previous half of the verse (in a more modern translation) where Jesus says ‘Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself’.
Each day remains a gift to us that needs to be treasured and valued as it is, not neglected and taken for granted because we are focusing on what we are not able to do, or what we have lost, or may still lose. Those facing death are our great teachers in this.
Yesterday morning I read two moving and inspiring articles in the Guardian which can be found here:
Elliot Dallen who wrote the articles died of cancer on September 7that age 31. He too had had hopes that were dashed, plans he had to let go of, but he had made peace with this. I want to end with the five points he had learned about living well and focusing on what is immediately in front of us:
- The importance of gratitude
- A life if lived well is long enough
- It’s important to be vulnerable and let yourself connect to others
- Do something for others
- Protect the planet.
Towards the end he writes this: In a situation that is pretty new for most of my loved ones and friends (I am yet to meet anyone I grew up with who has had to deal with cancer or a similar chronic illness at my age), it has been amazing watching them all rise to the challenge. I’m not sure if it’s just that I know a high proportion of amazing people (possible) or if most human beings have this capacity for connecting and recognising what’s truly important (very likely).
May you connect with others, recognise what is truly important and surprise yourself with how far you travel on the road in the months ahead. Remember the African saying I have given before If you want to travel fast travel alone, if you want to travel far, travel together.
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 9th September 2020
One of the two St James book-groups has just finished reading Phoebe by Paula Gooder. In the book the author imagines Phoebe and other people featured in the biblical letter to the Romans; their back-stories, their personalities and how they lived their lives. Paula Gooder used her expert knowledge of the Bible and Roman social history to inform the historical imagination that shapes the book. She says, “Reading requires imagination. As we read, we see in our mind’s eye the characters, the setting, the events as they unfold.”
I am a visual person so when someone shares some news or tells me a story I find myself picturing the scene as I listen. It helps me remember what happened and empathise with the people involved. Now you know this you’ll not be surprised at how delighted I was to discover Imaginative Contemplation.
Imaginative Contemplation is a practice of praying using stories told in the Bible, particularly the Gospels in the New Testament. It is an active way of praying that engages the mind and heart and stirs up thoughts and emotions. It comes from the Ignatian tradition and is a practice of prayer that is centuries old. It doesn’t require much knowledge of the Bible or social history, just a heart and mind open to God. David Birchall, director of the Ignatian Spiritual centre in Glasgow, helpfully describes the process of Imaginative contemplation on the website Pathways to God.
“Imaginative contemplation does not attempt to fill out the Gospel stories or try to understand what the people who met Jesus in Galilee or Jerusalem really thought and felt. Rather, I let myself, having taken on a character I feel comfortable with (whether that be disciple, Pharisee, or anonymous bystander), interact with Jesus and the others in the Gospel story. Letting the imagination flow freely, it is good not to worry if the story develops differently from the Gospel passage or if it takes place in modern day and apostles are friends or work colleagues. There is no need to worry if things are said or done that I would be embarrassed to talk about; the spirit is guiding my prayer; trust God!”
If you want to try imaginative contemplation I suggest finding a quiet time and place. Choose a story from one of the Gospels, then read it two or three times imagining the events with yourself taking part and envisaging the sights and sounds of what’s happening. After spending some time contemplating the Gospel passage look back at what you experienced. Notice what came up for you and how you reacted, especially the unusual or unexpected. Consider what it shows you about the way you see Jesus, yourself or others. Talk with God, as you would with a friend, about your time of imaginative contemplation and what it revealed. Pray about what you sensed and felt as well as your hopes and desires.
For those prepared to imaginatively contemplate Bible scenes, the most surprising discoveries are there to be made. You may find you remember the passage in more detail. You may find yourself better understanding the characters featured in the story; what their feelings, perceptions and motives were. You may even find yourself empathising with and better understanding those around you as you pray for them in light of what you’ve experienced.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 4th September 2020
During the lockdown, for many people, life was a lot quieter and less busy. One of the upsides of this was that the Fear Of Missing Out was suddenly over! There was nothing happening to miss out on! FOMO had become quite a thing, particularly among younger people, and at times turned into a genuine fear that missing out on something would be just the worst possible thing. It’s easy to laugh at it now and wonder what all the fuss was about but many teenagers and young adults especially were glued to their phones just in case they missed something that might leave them feeling left out.
As life returns to some sort of a new normal it would seem that FOMO does not quite have the same power it used to as there is so much still not happening. Probably in the small dramas of high school life there is plenty however. I remember one of my daughters reflecting back on high school saying…’Dad, I’m so done with all the drama!’ However, whether it is different areas of the country having different rules, different churches opening up again or not, sports and hobbies opening up in varied ways, it is possible for us to feel as we move at different speeds coming out of lockdown that we may be Missing Out.
Ina’s elderly aunt in German said to her recently that she doesn’t want to miss out on things when she has a relatively short time to live anyway…she wants to make the most of her life while she can. I’d never thought of that before as being an issue for very elderly people, but it makes perfect sense. What then might the bible means when it says ‘Godliness with contentment is great gain’ and later ‘I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances’. Contentment may not be one of the more ‘rock star’ virtues such as faith hope and love but I wonder whether for our time it is the most relevant.
With the return of localised restrictions such as in the Glasgow area and people’s circumstances varying it can be easy to be frustrated or even envious of others who seem to have greater freedom or opportunity… FOMO may make a comeback if we are not careful. Contentment however is the great antidote to FOMO. It serves to stabilise and help us value what we do have, to keep our eye on the eternal promises of God which never change, on the deep rhythms of life and the small courtesies which help us live life well whatever our circumstances.
Most importantly contentment acknowledges that everyone is different, that comparing ourselves to others or harking after the greener grass on the other side, or even just wanting Covid to be over and to find ourselves in summer 2021 will only be a recipe for discontent. Whether you compare yourself to another person, another church, another part of the country or to a future point of being free of Covid, it takes you away from being fully present and valuing the here and now. The here and now is the only place where you can meet with God as it is the only place where you actually are!
Don’t succumb to FOMO, by worrying about what you may be missing out you miss what you actually have.
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 2nd September 2020
In my more restless moments I really appreciate the concept of prayer walking. There are various ways of doing this and one that I find particularly helpful is walking a labyrinth and praying as I do so. Labyrinths are ancient winding paths formed into shapes that allow you to unwind as you walk, let go of stress and anxiety, and find rest and peace. Because there is only one path into its centre and one path out, you cannot get lost. This releases you from worrying where you’re going and allows you to slow down and focus on your thoughts and prayers.
Over the years I’ve discovered labyrinths of all shapes and sizes. They can be found in churches, retreat centres, hospitals and public parks. When I was at Edinburgh University I was delighted to find a labyrinth in the square at the centre of the main campus. Many thorny decisions and causes of anxiety were worked through by walking this labyrinth and praying to God as I did so.
“Do not be afraid,” are words said repeatedly in the Bible – 365 times in fact. I guess God knew how much we need to hear those reassuring words. These words are found on a mosaic fish at the entrance to the labyrinth at the Bield at Blackruthven near Perth. Liz Crichton, the Bield’s artist and art facilitator, describes the experience of walking the labyrinth at this retreat centre.
“It invites us to enter this liminal space one step at a time in prayer, following the path to the centre where we might choose to rest a while, before slowly returning and re-entering the world. We are perhaps all a little afraid of stepping out into the unknown, but as I contemplate what might lie ahead, I remind myself that when we step out in faith, we are simply called to take one step at a time and slowly make our way along the path ahead. This is a labyrinth, not a maze; there are no wrong turns or dead ends, just places where the path is not obvious, places where you need to dodge the obstacles, and the occasional hen darting across in front of you.”
When it’s not possible to go to labyrinths such as the ones in Edinburgh’s George Square or at the Bield, it is possible to use Finger Labyrinths like the one the pictures. The same principles apply; pray asking God to show you what he wants you to discover, then slowly trace your finger around the path of the labyrinth until you get to the centre. Pause to silently reflect, talk with God as you would with a friend or by saying a prayer that you find helpful. When you are ready trace the path of the labyrinth from the centre out to the exit. The slow, meditative action can itself help to lower your stress-levels but praying to God as you do so leads to a deeper sense of peace, insight and understanding.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Friday 28th August 2020
Laughter, the best medicine
When I was growing up the Readers Digest was still popular and I used to enjoy reading the humour section
called ‘Laughter, the best medicine’. Ina and I have just watched the 1998 film Patch Adams based on the true story of a doctor in the US who believes that humour and play are essential to physical and emotional health. He is described as a physician, comedian, social activist, clown and author, not words you would always see together. Robin Williams as you can imagine gives the film a lot of life and energy and inspires patients and staff alike.
There comes a point though after a tragic event when he decides to pack it all in, to give up on his vision for a form of holistic medicine that uses humour and play in appropriate ways. His trust in humanity is broken for a while and he loses his way. Thankfully he finds it again and realises that light can never be quenched, even if it feels that the darkness is winning at times. The most powerful line in the film for me is when is before a medical board and he says indifference is one of the most deadly diseases of all.
These last few months have been strange and we still live in tense times, not only with covid and an uncertain economic future, but also with increased polarisations in certain parts of the world. It is easy for us to become indifferent to others when there seem a never ending number of problems facing our world. The temptation is to retrench, keep our heads down and weather out the storm.
Lightness and humour still remain important parts of our lives however. They speak to the hope within us, the goodness in others, and stop us from being too serious in the wrong way. Being able to laugh and joke and play are not frivolous, but life giving and energising especially in such times as these. We should never be too old or grown up or respectable to celebrate the absurdity and quirkiness of human behaviour, especially our own. Being able to laugh at ourselves is a wonderful thing and makes us great company to be with. Humour, self-deprecating or otherwise, gives us permission to be ourselves, secure in who we are with all our foibles. The last thing we need are too many stuffed shirts!
The picture shared with this is called the Laughing Christ. You can really feel the belly laugh, the real joy erupting in a spontaneous guffaw. It’s magnetic. Jesus was known to enjoy a good party and less than respectable company. The humour and irony of some his parables and interchanges are lost in translation and cultural distance, but his original hearers would have picked it up. He was popular with ordinary people not because he was pious but with his compassion and desire to heal there came a lightness and a joy which were infectious.
When did you last have a good laugh? Did you hear the one about the….
Rev. Paul Watson
Wednesday 26th August 2020
God’s Everyday Grace
I wonder if you, like me, are missing the quietness of being in lock-down just a little. As we return to those aspects of life that take us out of our homes; school, work, and church, for some of us at least, it seems like there is less time for reflection. It seems that just as we most need God’s grace – God’s intervention and support in everyday moments of life – it seems harder to tune into it.
Thankfully, whether we’re aware of it or not, God sees us and knows what we need. Whenever I’ve prayed for grace, as I’ve rushed from one activity to the next, I’ve experienced being filled with renewed strength and ability for each task. My gratitude is often expressed in a hurried “thank you,” but there are also ways of praying that I’ve found helpful to deepen my appreciation of God’s grace at work in my everyday life.
One way of praying is called the Examen. The Examen can take five minutes or longer if you have the time. There are four steps to praying the Examen which are explained really well by the people who wrote The Prayer Course:
1. Replay – think over your day like a movie replaying in your head. Notice what you are noticing. What made you happy? What made you anxious? What made you angry?
2. Rejoice – thank God for those things which are obvious. But also thank Him for non-obvious things which we sometimes forget – random acts of kindness, being healthy, a positive song or meal. Relish and savour these moments in gratitude to God.
3. Repent – say sorry to God for moments that come to into your mind as you review the day e.g., getting involved in gossip, reacting with a tone that was aggressive, lacking compassion in a situation, ignoring a need, not responding to a nudge. Receive His forgiveness afresh.
4. Reboot – make a decision in your heart to live for Jesus tomorrow and ask for grace to see His presence more clearly.
If you pray this way occasionally it can be really useful. If you do it every day, it can be transformational as you see and understand yourself better and recognise more of what God is doing in your life. Pádraig Ó Tuama expresses his experience of this daily rhythm of prayer in his poem De Noche:
By nighttime and streetlights,
I examine the light of the day
joined by the city’s traffic sounds
coming through the window.
Asking where the heart
was buffeted and bolstered;
what little moment
held the unexpected moment;
the kindnesses received and the
the injustices perceived
and the focus on the self;
what small surprise
showed arrogance or assumption;
naming desolation and consolation
and all the little junctions of the day.
And then, at night, I make a promise
by the traffic and the streetlights,
that tomorrow, at the same time,
I’ll meet the night again.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Wednesday 5th August
Almost a year ago Paul and Ina gave me a beautiful orchid as a house-warming present. I was delighted at such a beautiful gift but at the same time I was a bit scared of it. If I’m honest my success with house-plants is so patchy I thought caring for an orchid was beyond me. However, thanks to some tips from Ina, my orchid is not merely still alive – it is thriving. I am amazed at its growth and the extraordinary number of blooms it has produced.
According to guides on plant care there are a number of factors for success, namely the correct amount of watering, humidity, sunlight, fertiliser and pruning. Given the right conditions growth occurs. At first growth happens in secret, deep inside the roots and shoots of the plant. Eventually buds appear on the stems which gradually open up to reveal the beautiful petals and inner structure of the flowers. Even though I see my orchid every day there have been times when I’ve suddenly become aware of how much it has grown as new buds come forth and blossoms emerge.
Psalm 139 speaks of the hidden nature of growth:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
Although the early stages of growth are hidden from view, God our creator sees them. He knows who we are and what we are made of. He saw our potential before anyone knew we existed. Year on year we grew in stature until we reached adulthood. We also grew mentally, emotionally and spiritually and we continue to do so throughout our lives.
On Tuesdays St James Church offers a creative prayer service via Zoom. Over the past couple of months we have been focusing on the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Each week we took an individual fruit, reflected on it and turned to God in prayer. Just like my orchid, we found ourselves in an environment that allowed growth to happen even though it was largely hidden.
Growth is imperceptible in the moment, but we can recognise it with the benefit of hindsight. Sometimes the context for growth has been painful but we were given the grace to get through. Sometimes growth happened in the routine of everyday life as we faithfully kept putting one step in front of the other. Sometimes we’ve gained a fresh insight that enabled a growth spurt that was joyous.
I believe God is doing a secret work in each of us, enabling us to become more hopeful, confident, resilient and whole. One day God’s work in us will be revealed for us all to see. Whatever way our growth is happening, we will be encouraged as we look back and see how we have coped, changed and flourished.
Rev Harriet Johnston
Wednesday 29th July 2020
Recently one of my guilty pleasures has been watching Scotland’s Home Of The Year. If you haven’t seen this TV programme let me briefly fill you in. Three expert judges visit three homes in a different region of Scotland each week. We viewers are treated to a tour of each house during which the trio comment on various features and remark on what they think works particularly well. It is positive, inspirational and a generally feel-good experience.
I have moved house more times than I can count but I love making each place I live in a cosy and comfortable home. However, when I watch programmes like Scotland’s Home Of The Year I’m aware that I don’t invest in them to the extent that the people who own these homes do. Given that my choice of vocation will mean living in tied housing for the foreseeable future, I doubt that will change. But I will still enjoy getting ideas and inspiration from TV programmes like Scotland’s Home Of The Year as I make each house a home.
For some people home is a dangerous place for them to be and I am thankful for charities such as Women’s Aid who support families who need to leave their homes, providing them with places of safety. We all need homes where we are able to rest, flourish and be ourselves. Homes should be places of blessing to those who live in them as well as those who are invited in and given hospitality.
Throughout the Bible there are many references to home. Home is the place where people find sanctuary, where they belong, are welcomed and entertained. For those who were held captive and sent into exile, it was their homes that they longed for because these were the places where they had flourished among their own people.
Jesus was welcomed and given hospitality in many homes. It was in these homes that he healed people who lived there. His ministry meant that Jesus travelled extensively and spent much time away from home. This was the same for Jesus’ disciples to whom he gave this promise; ‘no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.’ (Luke 18:29-30).
The Bible speaks of the kingdom of God as an eternal home where we experience love, peace, confidence and security which come from God. The earliest churches met in people’s homes where they learned about God’s kingdom and broke bread together. For those who joined those Christian assemblies such gatherings in homes were a foretaste of heaven.
As I reflect on all that’s happened over the past few months I am grateful for the warm, cosy home I live in. In it I have been safe and well, able to work, rest and play. During lock-down I invited people in via Zoom but as we gradually emerge I am beginning to welcome family and friends in person. It is good to spend time with them, sharing stories and enjoying one another’s company. I hope our homes will once again be places of hospitality, where we can break bread together and receive a renewed taste of God’s kingdom.
Rev Harriet Johnston