Monthly Archives: June 2014

V Is For Vulnerable

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

For someone who keeps a lot of their deepest emotions well hidden, I hesitate to write this. Yet, whilst I don’t believe it is my nature to be completely self-indulgent, I have a feeling that my experiences are not in any way unique, but that they may resonate with others and therefore be of some help.

It’s really hard when you’ve done your very best and it turns out that it’s not actually good enough. Some of which is down to your level of understanding and some of which is not having been given the proper blueprint and tools to complete the task in the first place.

When we set out to do something new we will have many things at our disposal. We will have some previous generic knowledge as to how we might approach the task; to which we will add new learning, from books or instructions and if possible from other people. We will take all of this and try to form it into a cohesive understanding of what we need to do and then attempt the task. Add into this a willingness and desire to do our very best and we open ourselves up to the vulnerability of being tested and tried and sometimes found wanting.

This is the most painful part of the whole process. It’s the tears at a drop of a hat time; when you feel vulnerable to any sense of judgement or act of kindness; when you want to withdraw even deeper into your shell….

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

… and it’s easy to stay there, and bemoan the situation, scrutinising your discomfort internally or if you’re lucky sharing it with your closest confidantes; and if this stage is the most painful, then the next stage is often the hardest.

It will come inevitably to a point though when you can no longer disguise what you’re feeling on the inside and then the dam will burst and you will find that all of your anxieties and fears are laid bare. In some ways your worst nightmare and in others a blessed relief.

For this is where the healing process can begin. Not some overnight miracle, but a gradual reflection on why what has happened has happened and how you can move forward from it. You will need to be honest with yourself and recognise what part your own desires and expectations have played in the situation; where things might have been done differently, both on yours and others parts.

You also have to be prepared to accept that the advice and encouragement you are being offered is genuine and that you are worthy to receive it; because we don’t always recognise ourselves when seen through the eyes of others, but they are so often the mirrors to our souls.

We can then be ready to move on. A little stronger, a little wiser

The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18)

Life itself is never easy, and our trials may be incomparable, even trivial, to those faced by others on a daily basis. Our greatest comfort though is knowing that if we can hold on to our faith then the bigger picture for us is already known by God, and that he will be beside us as we travel over the rough and the smooth paths to get there

So I would encourage you to be prepared to allow yourself to be vulnerable from time to time, to open yourself up emotionally and honestly; because in that way you may just find out where your strengths lay.

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

Detail from Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904)

The pictures that accompany this blog are details from the painting Gentle Spring by Frederick Sandys (1829-1904), a Victorian Pre-Raphaelite painter; which hangs in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford. It’s relevance is simply no more than that it is such a beautiful painting that draws my attention on each visit, and each time makes my heart soar.

Consolation and Desolation

Light and Shadow together

Light and Shadow together

Consolation and Desolation… two words that I came across during a Spirituality Day recently held in college. In relation to Ignatian Spirituality they are used to help us discern which direction our life is taking us – is it toward God (consolation) or away from him (desolation).

Consolation also brings us closer to people, so that we are aware of their joys and sorrows and shows us where God is active, both in our life and theirs. It charges us with energy, so that we become more creative and our focus is away from ourselves. Whereas desolation, cuts us off from people, so that we turn in on ourselves. We are bombarded by negative feelings and become withdrawn, totally drained of energy and unable to sustain an interest in those things that previously had meaning for us.

It’s deeper than just being aware of the things that make us happy and trying to do more of them and avoiding the things that make us sad.  It’s more about having an understanding that there will be both moments of consolation and desolation in our lives; but that in wishing to draw closer to God, even if negative doubts seem overwhelming, God’s will for us ensures that our hearts, both God’s and our own, continue to beat in harmony.

It is also possible that these moments will occur simultaneously. This fact was brought home to me as we listened to a piece of music. The choir were singing a psalm and the different voices oscillated between the clear high notes of the trebles and resonant, low tones of the baritones and basses as they exchanged verses. Yet even as the one range sang, the other did not remain silent, but was still audible if muted

As this thought occurred my eye was also caught by one of the trees outside, its leaves filling the frame of the window, as the wind shook them and light and shadow danced together. On a sunlit day this produced a feeling of warmth and happiness as the large leaves absorbed and reflected the light, but I could also imagine on a wet, winter day, the dark bare branches would be oppressive and shadowy. Yet in both scenarios neither light nor dark was completely absent

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it
John 1:5

My mind then raced to think of other examples where the presence of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ might not only be present, but might be necessary for us to appreciate the need for both to exist concurrently. Things such as batteries, where positive and negative terminals have to be present in order for power to flow through it. Or when racing a car on a track, where the exhilaration of driving at high speeds needs to be tempered by a fear of the consequences of crashing and so teaches us to develop braking and manoeuvring skills. Of maybe even a margarita cocktail where the combination of saltiness and sourness adds to the whole experience!

The thrills of racing

The thrills of racing tempered by the need for safety

We only need to think of the disciples at Easter. Theirs was utter desolation as they abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and had to deal with their fear and response to what they had done; yet just like Peter, they kept their focus on God,  so that their and our consolation came through the cross.

Yet even as we acknowledge that there will be consolation and desolation in our own lives, if we continue to maintain our focus on looking toward God then our consolation should never remain self-centred – there are many other directions in which God is trying to catch our eye!

Oh Master, grant that I may never seek,
So much to be consoled as to console,
To be understood, as to understand,
To be loved, as to love with all my soul

Make Me A Channel of Your Peace – Temple
© Copyright 1967 OCP Publications

One Race

I have a dream - Martin Luther King

I have a dream – Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous ‘I have dream speech’ was delivered on the 28th August 1963 in Washington, D.C. at the height of tensions surrounding racial discrimination and the freedom movement in America. His vision was that one day all people would be united regardless of the colour of their skin or their religion – that there would be one race.

How often do we regard ‘race’ as the basis for discrimination, as we try to define it through skin colour, stature, physical attributes…”You don’t look the same as me therefore you cannot be the same as me!”… Things get even worse when we make comparisons based on wealth, education and perceived intelligence. We end up with a system of categorising people into ever smaller sub-groups, concentrating on the minute differences rather than the broader similarities, and using these as an excuse for our behaviour.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend
Martin Luther King Jr.

The trouble is that we all do it to some degree or other, however non-judgemental we consider ourselves to be. Which is why it was refreshing to hear Bev Thomas talk about Race Relations this week. Bev was born in the Black Country, an area in the West Midlands of England and has Jamaican ancestry. She belongs to a Black-Majority church in London (a description she wishes was less proscriptive) and loves doing family research.

Now, I also like doing family research and have managed to trace over 18,382 ‘relatives’ on my tree. Bev has also done lots of research, some of it including DNA testing. This has thrown up some interesting connections from all around the world and involving people of every hue and colour imaginable – none of which should really be all that surprising. After all our genetic make-up is dependent on an almost infinite number of historical relationships

How many ‘races’ are included in these ancestors? Actually only one……

For those who cite biblical creation texts, then we are all descended from one man and one woman, Adam and Eve via their descendent Noah. For evolutionists, the genetic proof is linked to one common DNA ancestor, Mitochondrial Eve and her counterpart Y-chromosome Adam*. Whichever way you look at it, human beings are part of creation.

Of course I’m not so naive not to notice that there are very clearly differences between people, and that some people’s attitudes and characters are not always in tune with our own; but it helps us understand that racial discrimination shouldn’t exist simply because we continue to highlight those differences through fear and hatred but that we should seek instead to recognise the common inner spirit at the core of humanity.

By doing this we are able to be reconciled to each other and as Christians to be reconciled to God; but more importantly if we don’t do this then how, as Bev reminded us, are we ever going to bring about what we pray for each time we say the Lord’s Prayer – that is for God’s Kingdom to come? That is, a kingdom not of different peoples, different nations or different races but one kingdom of one people, one nation, one race.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb.
Revelations 7:9

We pray for it, but I wonder, do we have the will-power, the vision, the capacity to dare to believe that this might be possible on a global scale?  Surely it’s too big an ask to consider such an incredible occurrence? But why not believe it can be so. It just needs to start by what you ‘see’ when you walk down the street, browse the shops, go to work, meet someone new. Is this a total stranger or is this a not so distant relative? Do I discriminate against them because they ‘seem’ different to me or do I rejoice in our diversity.

After all, It’s a fact that it would be impossible for racism to exist if we were simply to acknowledge that we really do all belong to the same, one unique race…… that is the human race

*Scientific discoveries are an ongoing fact of life. Mitochondrial Eve and Y-Chromosome Adam are the scientifically-proven theories that every man alive today is descended from a single man and every man and woman alive today is descended from a single woman.

A Chinese Legend

 

The Noble Bamboo

The Noble Bamboo

In the church, we have just celebrated Ascension, when the risen Christ traditionally ascends to heaven, having been crucified on the Easter cross. Ahead, we look forward to Pentecost; when the promised Advocate or Holy Spirit will be given to his followers. Without these things happening we would have nothing distinctive about our faith. 

If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised;
and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain
and your faith has been in vain.
1 Corinthians 15:13-14

So for his death not to have been in vain there had to have been a purpose. The son of God, who came to earth, and set aside his divinity to take on earthly flesh had to die in order that he and us might live and there is no doubt that giving your life for the greater good is the ultimate sacrifice anyone can make. Throughout history men and woman have made this sacrifice, as martyrs, as servicemen and women and civilians serving their country, as ordinary everyday people; in the hope that it helps others to live.

At Morning Prayer in college recently a fellow student read a beautiful story which illustrated this selflessness perfectly. However, it also made me think that God does not contain himself to our slightly arrogant assumption of exclusivity. For example, I have always been amazed at the fact that creation stories from around the world contain so many similar attributes. For those who believe in a creator God, this is not so strange, as we cannot be so precious that we think God only revealed the story of creation,  based on a Mesopotamic myth and passed down in verbal form, before being adapted to Israel’s belief in one God, by a group of Yahwehist writers in the late 7th or 6th century BC

God indeed reveals himself time and again in all of his creation, both physically and linguistically and so I hope you enjoy reading this legend from China and draw your own conclusions about where God could be working his purpose out in the world right now

A Chinese Legend

Once upon a time, in the heart of the Western Kingdom, lay a beautiful garden. And there in the cool of the day was the Master of the Garden wont to walk. Of all the denizens of the garden, the most beautiful and most beloved was a gracious and noble bamboo. Year after year, Bamboo grew yet more noble and gracious, conscious of his Master’s love and watchful delight, but modest, and gentle withal. And often, when Wind came to revel in the garden, Bamboo would cast aside his grave stateliness, to dance and play right merrily, tossing and swaying and leaping and bowing in joyous abandon, leading the Great Dance of the Garden which most delighted the Master’s heart.

Now upon a day, the Master himself drew near to contemplate his Bamboo with eyes of curious expectancy. And Bamboo, in a passion of adoration, bowed his great head to the ground in loving greeting. The Master spoke:

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would use thee.”

Bamboo flung his head to the sky in utter delight. The day of days had come, the day for which he had been made, the day to which he had been growing hour by hour, the day in which he would find his completion and his destiny. His voice came low:

“Master, I am ready. Use me as thou wilt.”

“Bamboo ” — the Master ‘s voice was grave — “l would fain take thee and — cut thee down.”

A trembling of a great horror shook Bamboo. “Cut. . . me.. . down! Me… whom thou, Master, hast made the most beautiful in all thy garden. . . to cut me down! Ah, not that, not that. Use me for thy joy, 0 Master, but cut me not down. “

“Beloved Bamboo” — the Master’s voice grew graver still — “if I cut thee not down, I cannot use thee.”

The garden grew still. Wind held his breath. Bamboo slowly bent his proud and glorious head. There came a whisper:

“Master, if thou canst not use me but thou cut me down.. then… do thy will and cut.”

“Bamboo, beloved Bamboo, I would . . . cut thy leaves and branches from thee also.”

“Master, Master, spare me. Cut me down and lay my beauty in the dust; but wouldst thou take from me my leaves and branches also?”

“Bamboo, alas, if I cut them not away, I cannot use thee.” The sun hid his face. A listening butterfly glided fearfully away.

And Bamboo shivered in terrible expectancy, whispering low.

“Master, cut away.”

“Bamboo, Bamboo, I would yet… cleave thee in twain and cut out thine heart, for if I cut not so, I cannot use thee.”

Then was Bamboo bowed to the ground.

“Master, Master. . . then cut and cleave.”

So did the Master of the Garden take Bamboo and cut him down and hack off his branches and strip off his leaves and cleave him in twin and cut out his heart. And lifting him gently, carried him to where was a spring of fresh, sparkling water in the midst of his dry fields. Then pulling one end of broken Bamboo in the spring and the other end into the water channel in his field, the Master laid down gently his beloved Bamboo. And the spring sang welcome and the clear sparkling waters raced joyously down the channel of Bamboo’s torn body into the wailing fields. Then the rice was planted, and the days went by, and the shoots grew and the harvest came.

In that day was Bamboo, once so glorious in his stately beauty, yet more glorious in his brokenness and humility. For in his beauty he was life abundant, but in his brokenness he became a channel of abundant life to his Master’s world.

Living Water

Living Water