Tag Archives: wisdom

A Seed That Falls Into The Ground

 

Meditation on A Seed that Falls into the Ground

Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John 12:24

Every seed created must yield,
in order to produce new life.
It breaks itself, releasing embryonic seedlings,
that bare these scars on tender tips.

Indeed the seed that falls on the good soil,
already at an advantage,
 is nurtured
and fed with loving care and attention,
producing glorious blooms to dazzle the eye
and be heavy with fruitfulness.
When God created these conditions
He saw that it was good.

But He also created those seeds
whose produce is not beautiful or wanted.
Maligned in name, the weeds, regardless,
release seeds that are fruitful and multiply.
Who blossom despite the poverty of the soil
bringing colour to a monochrome world;
and God sees that this also is good

For God provides for all,
requiring neither their labour nor toil.
Lilies and thistles alike;
unperturbed, they flourish
over wildernesses, pushing through fissures,
clothing battlefields and demolition sites in
velvet rich purples and glowing golden yellows.
Glorious treasure shining
to announce the presence of their creator

God, watches the downy seeds
carried aloft, drifting on breezes,
to settle in a new place
and proliferate a new harvest,
that declares the signs of the Kingdom,
with open-ended grace.

The secrets of life and death
are known to God,
who provides the refreshing rain
and balmy sunshine;
the winds that scatter
and insects that dance a pollination polka;
and the seed that falls to the ground
knows it must die to live.

The beautiful and the down to earth,
both speak of the wisdom and handiwork of God.

Inspired and adapted from Jan Sutch Pickard’s The Cheerful Unrepentant Weeds, published in Dandelions and Thistles: Biblical Meditations from the Iona Community by Wild Goose Publications

Mother God – Prayers for Mothering Sunday

A posy for Mothering Sunday

A posy for Mothering Sunday

Traditionally, on the fourth Sunday of Lent. particularly during the sixteenth century, people would return to their ‘mother’ church on Laetare Sunday for a special service of rejoicing. It is also known as Rose Sunday or more commonly nowadays as Mothering Sunday. In times past, it was a rare day off for many domestic servants; it enabled them to gather with their whole family and many of these young people would pick wild flowers along the way to either place in the church or to give to their mothers as gifts.

My own church picks up this theme of offering flowers by handing out posies to all those who have ‘mothered us’ either to keep for ourselves or to take to those who have done just that for us. It is also a time to offer our thanks and prayers .

Prayers for Mothering Sunday

We pray for all who have mothered and nurtured us; those who have borne the pain and joys of childbirth. May they be blessed with love.

We pray for all who have become mothers through new relationships and who have welcomed these children into their hearts. May they know patience and understanding.

We pray for all new mothers, who may be struggling to cope, who seek assurance as they gain experience. May they be supported by the wisdom of those around them.

We pray for all who long to be mothers and for whom this is proving difficult or impossible. May they find a peace and resolution to their longing.

We pray for all whose mothers  or children have died and for those who continue to grieve their loss. May they find compassion and mercy in their sadness.

As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.
Isaiah 66:13

We pray for all mothers for whom family life has been shattered through war and conflict. May they continue to receive the strength needed to endure these trials.

We pray for all those who become mothers through acts of rape or violence. May any shame they are made to feel be directed at the perpetrators and not within themselves

We pray for all widows, whose children are no longer close to them. May they find solace in their memories and hope of reconciliation

We pray for all who act as god-mothers; who offer faith and spirituality through their prayers and guidance. May they be encouraged in their duty

We pray for each and every person that has been a ‘mother’ to us regardless of nature, status or gender. May they receive the grace of God our Mother and our Father. Amen

Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms;
but they did not know that I healed them.
I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love.
I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
I bent down to them and fed them.
Hosea 11:3-4

Thank you to our 'mothers'

Thank you to all our ‘mothers’

Righteous Anger – A Necessary Emotion

The righteous anger of Jesus, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC

Mosaic of Christ in Majesty, Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC. Often known as ‘The Angry Jesus’

The third Sunday of Lent sees Jesus clearing the temple in Jerusalem. It is one of the few times that we see him displaying such raw emotion as he angrily removes the ‘thieves‘ from his Father’s ‘house of prayerMatthew 21:13. Often we consider anger as a negative emotion but there are undoubtedly times when it is right to be angry. It is how we use that feeling and who we direct that anger to that can be important.

The sermon I delivered this morning reflect some of the nuances that I had heard in an Oxcept Lecture by Diocesan Canon Angela Tilby entitled ‘Fragile Selves: Shame and Healing in an Age of Envy‘ and an informal talk given by Reverend Joseph John from St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan

May I speak and may you hear through the grace of our Lord; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Let’s imagine I am driving down one of the side streets in Hedge End. There is a long row of parked cars on my side of the road, so glancing ahead, as it’s all clear, I pull over onto the other side of the road and start to overtake them. About fifty yards down the road another driver suddenly decides to pull out of their driveway and turn towards me. I can see they are determined to have their right of way. They gesticulate repeatedly that I should reverse back down the road, the whole fifty yards. I in turn glare and gesticulate that it would be easier for them to simply reverse back up their drive, but they are having none of it and start to shout something, which luckily is unheard through the windscreen; and which is also lucky because they can’t hear the words coming from my car either! Eventually, after what seems like several minutes of stalemate, I decide it is easier to simply reverse, and do so rather slowly and erratically as I can feel my heart beating rapidly and tears pricking at the corner of my eyes. The final hand gesture as the other car whooshes past, its driver’s eyes fixed straight ahead, was I feel unnecessary and I have to sit there for a few minutes to regain my composure and let the angry feelings subside.

I knew I’d ‘lost it’, rather like a toddler, kicking and screaming on a supermarket floor, and the whole incident served no real purpose other than to raise my blood pressure and make me feel slightly ashamed. The trouble is that when we ‘lose it’ then our anger, as an emotion, is selfish, destructive, and amoral… However, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Ephesians ‘Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger’, which tells us that anger in itself is not an emotion we should avoid altogether

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
Ephesians 4:26

This morning we heard of Jesus’ very vivid and public display of anger and it comes as something of a shock… although not as much of a shock as it must have been for the animal traders and money changers. We much prefer to think of Jesus as meek and mild, gentle and loving, but as with all of his actions, his anger had a purpose.

And it wasn’t the first time he had displayed this emotion. In Capernaum, with the Pharisees waiting to accuse him of breaking the Sabbath by healing the man with a withered hand, ‘He looked around at them with anger; deeply grieved at their hardness of hearts’. Even his own disciples came in for a tongue-lashing occasionally. When Peter rebukes him for foretelling his death and resurrection, Jesus then rebukes Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’; hardly said with a mild sigh of, ‘Oh Peter, Peter, Peter. Let me explain it one more time’

Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things
Matthew 16:23

When Jesus gets angry he is angry for the right reasons. It is not a selfish anger but focussed on the behaviour and injustice involved. He is not angry about the ‘weaknesses’ of others, but arises out of his concern for their spiritual well-being; they are defiling God’s holiness and in the case of the temple, God’s worship. It does not involve hatred or ill will. He is also fully in control and knew that when he had achieved the desired result of accomplishing God’s will that there was no need to become bitter or to hold grudges

Sometimes we need to become angry about things that are happening around us and in the wider world, at the injustices we see being inflicted on innocent victims, the abuse of children and violence against those who are defenceless, but we need to do so for the same reasons and in the same manner that Jesus has demonstrated. We need to make our voices heard in certain situations where no other voices are speaking up, in other words we need to raise awareness of situations. People are very quick to complain about the church and Christians in general when they ‘poke their noses’ into social situations, but at least it shows we care enough to state an opinion that might upset someone! And we shouldn’t underestimate the effect that holding regular prayer vigils, such the monthly ecumenical world-wide prayers for the Middle East or the annual Women’s World of Prayer can have on bringing issues to a wider audience.

However, should we not be in a position to interact with the public sphere then taking our concerns to God in private can create a safe space in which to express our anger about a situation. As the psalmist points out, ‘With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord. I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’. So there are occasions when we are justified in being angry and there are some things we are justified in being angry about. But what about when we are angry with God? What should we do then?

With my voice I cry to the Lord; with my voice I make supplication to the Lord.
I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him
Psalm 142:1-2

Maybe we have to ask ourselves why we are angry with God. We often live our lives believing that life is supposed to be easy and that God should prevent tragedies from happening. When he doesn’t, we get angry with him. Sometimes we forget human involvement, with all its flaws and weaknesses and instead think that God has lost control of his creation and consequently our lives, so we blame God. It’s then that we realise our inability or unwillingness to acknowledge that in fact we are not always in control and that when things happen, it is then we have to trust that God understands the reason and that he will give us his peace and strength to get through any difficult situation. Trusting him in this way is an incredibly hard thing to do… but God is a God of compassion and hope, as well as being full of grace and love.

And God does understand when we get angry through frustration and disappointment. He knows our hearts and he knows how difficult and painful life can be in this world. Perhaps instead of being angry with God, we should pour out our hearts in prayer, and trust that he really is in control and that he already knows how these things fit into his ultimate plan for the world

Recently it was brought home to me how this trusting was more powerful than any acts of anger or retaliation could ever be. The Reverend Joseph John is currently on sabbatical at Cuddesdon College. He is a cathedral vicar at St John’s Cathedral in Peshawar, Pakistan. When Pakistan achieved independence in 1947 a lot of its schools and hospitals were Christian institutions and even after 1956 when it was declared an Islamic Republic, the Christian communities, which now make up only 3% of the population, were successfully integrated as freedom of religion and equal citizenship was guaranteed to all citizens.

However, on the 22nd September 2013 two Taliban suicide bombers killed over 147 of the congregation at All Saints Church, Peshawar; among several of Joseph John’s close relatives. There was a lot to be angry about

Nearly two years later, whilst still seeking justice from the government, the Christians there have a wish is to be recognised and supported as the church that God called them to be. They know that they cannot simply expect God to produce peace, but must pray and work for it. This means listening deeply and trying to understand people who are different and also seeking to resolve differences without conflict and violence. The work that the church undertakes is not exclusively with Christians, in fact 95 percent of those benefitting from their education, development work and health care are Muslims.

They know that it requires courage and humility, and that it often requires sacrifice; but they continue to serve their neighbours, as Joseph John puts it, ‘by washing their wounds’. Their anger has been channelled into seeking justice and continuing to act faithfully because they trust that God is with them in this work and has a plan for all the people of Pakistan, even if they don’t know exactly what it is at this moment in time.

When Jesus speaks of the temple being destroyed and rebuilt in 3 days, those with him are also unable to see the connections to the bigger picture until it is revealed through Christ’s resurrection; then the pieces fell into place. Their knowledge and wisdom is limited to what the human mind tells them is logical. So are we foolish to proclaim Christ crucified, in order to save all who would believe its message? Human wisdom appears weak because it requires proof and concrete knowledge, but God’s wisdom and power dwarfs our understanding and therefore we just have to hand over ourselves to him and trust that eventually that wider vision will be revealed in all its glory. Amen

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Concrete things as against those only glimpsed dimly

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Proverbs 3:5

Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Wisdom

Pearls of Wisdom

During my recent course on Leading God’s People Today (LGPT) we had the opportunity to create an Open Space in which a question of our choice could be asked by two or three of us, who then proceeded to set up ‘market-stalls’ in different venues, where the only thing on offer was the question and a request for thoughts or answers. The other participants could then choose to come and browse your ‘stall’ for a long or as short a time as they wished, drift off to another stall and return again if they wanted

I felt this was too good an opportunity to miss! Here were about a dozen ‘leaders’ of various types. Some with vast knowledge in their particular field, some who were still learning as they went along and others with lots of concrete life experiences. The majority of them were clergy with a sprinkling of lay people thrown into the mix.

My question?…… What advice would you give to a new Ordinand? Subtext – Spill the beans on all of those things that your training establishment might neglect to tell you

Their answers turned out to be not unsurprisingly good and honest. In fact they were not only valid points for a clergy person but could also be useful to anyone whose life involves meeting, caring for and engaging with other people. I share them with you here:

On finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it’ Matthew 13:46

Value Friendships – Remember friendship like any other relationships needs time and effort on both sides. Hold on to those who have travelled longest with you, don’t leave them out of your lives even though your job may mean that you are having to meet lots of new people. There will probably be many who will want to know you simply because of your position; some of them will turn out to be true friends others pastoral  acquaintances.

Take care of yourself – You’re of no use to anyone else if you end up being the one who needs looking after. Give yourself time off and don’t feel guilty. If you’re feeling stressed recognise that it’s time you found a safety valve in order to let off steam. Find a hobby that’s completely away from your line of work – collect orchids, take up tap dancing, play online computer games with the pseudonym Daft Vacar

You’re in it for the long haul – Things may be new and exciting at first and you might be buzzing with ideas, but you have to pace yourself. You are not going to change the world overnight or the choir’s penchant for repeatedly singing the Wesley brothers 18th century top twenty hits. These things take time… make the most of making memories for the future.

However – Be aware that change is inevitable – You may think after a few years that you’ve got it just right and it will be all plain sailing from now on; but there’s no time for complacency. You only have to look back over the last ten years and realise how much things have already changed, not only in your life but in the world around you. So be flexible and accepting of change – it might not be as bad as you or those around you think

You won’t get it right all the time – so be prepared to admit it was all your fault and ask for forgiveness. Sometimes it may be easier to take the blame anyway as this will allow things to move forward. Moreover, on those occasions where you so very clearly were right, suppress the urge to do a victory dance up and down the aisle shouting ‘Go me, go me!’* and instead be gracious and forgiving yourself. After all we all make mistakes!

Don’t forget to laugh a lot – We know that Jesus wept, and no doubt there will be plenty to be sorrowful about over the years. There are also bound to be days when you want to scream at the world to sort itself out. However, maintaining a sense of humour should be a priority. Laugh at the absurdity of life, laugh with your friends, laugh out loud – it really is still the best medicine. Be mindful though that not everyone is going to be appreciative of your sense of comedy – they may not laugh at your jokes…. or if they do it might be out of pity!

Remember to laugh a lot

Remember to laugh a lot

Some really valuable advice then to hold on to – genuine pearls of wisdom

*This apparently is particularly unhelpful during the Sunday morning Eucharist service