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16 // The Lighter Way of Love

'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.' Matthew 16.24


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Good morning!

And happy Wednesday! It's a day which signals not just that we're almost ‘over the hump’ - but three weeks in to Lent, it reminds us where we’ve come from - Ash Wednesday - and where we’re heading towards, with Easter.

In series past, I’ve used the words of a poem-prayer by the theologian Walter Brueggeman - 'Marked by Ashes' - to help keep the rhythm of this mid-week, mid-point moment:

‘This day - a gift from you.
This day - like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.
This Wednesday dazzles us with gift and newness and possibility.’

And it does so, in part, because it speaks of the now-but-not-yet nature of our journey of faith. ‘All our Wednesdays are marked by ashes,’ says Brueggeman. ‘Take our Wednesday,’ he prays, ‘and Easter us.’

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Canon Liz, from our cathedral, also mentioned Ash Wednesday in a talk this week. There’s an ancient monastic practice, she said, whereby, each Ash Wednesday, monks would make a fresh inventory of every item in their cell (it seems even monks accumulate ‘stuff’!). Then they would hand the list to their superior, who decided what they could keep, and what they should relinquish.

Liz suggests that we could try doing as the monks did, but just for one room in our house. We don’t have to write an inventory, but if we worked bit by bit through our things - on Wednesdays? - we could clear a room, by Easter, of its excess baggage. (And if that feels too much, just start with a drawer.)

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Even though we’re often reluctant or feel too busy for a clear out, how good does it feel to have one? Simply the practice of releasing or recycling unused or unwanted items can prepare us to let go more readily in life; to travel lighter, and thus more nimbly without so much attachment. Doesn’t it clear our mind and heart, too, of clutter, when we clear a physical space? 

Jesus must have known this profoundly in the desert, where a lighter way of being was beginning to bloom. He clearly appreciated its value; in time to come, he'd send his disciples out saying, "Take nothing with you." That’s a fast track to reliance on God and others, all right. And though I’m not there personally, I’m ever more conscious that we "take nothing with us” in the end - and how it surely helps to start with the end in mind.

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Letting go is bitter-sweet, of course. The clutter in my drawer comes with a happy tangle of memories. And while Jesus promises that his burden is light - which is such sweet relief! - it's also light for a reason. Here between Ash Wednesday and Easter, we're letting go, in a sense, to free up our hands, to pick up our cross and follow him, whatever that means for us. 

It doesn’t mean the kind of bitter end he'd suffer - only he could go there, after all, for us. But it does, somehow, mean dying to self in his Way; the Way that leads, with Truth, to Life. To an 'easter parade of newness', as Brueggemann calls it, and all the rising lightness that this brings. As his prayer concludes: 

'Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom ...
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.'

It's worth clearing space for, isn't it? Even if it's one emptied drawer at a time.

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May you feel the lightness, today.
Go well!



Further Reflection - The Lighter Way of Love

* Why not pray for a few reverent moments of stillness: "Lord, this day dazzles with gift and newness and possibility. Take my Wednesday, and Easter me."

* You can read the full text by Walter Brueggemann here

* Make a start on de-cluttering one room. Even if it's just a drawer. As you choose to throw away, donate, recycle, or sell, practice the art of letting go.

* Here's a nice article from the Minimalists on 'Letting Go of Sentimental Items'.

* Remember to continue with the Lent compass point prayer 2024


15 // Search Me, Know Me

'You are familiar with all my ways.' Psalm 139.3


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Good morning!

Let's sit with the 'little prayer' of St Francis, before we begin.

on the in-breath:   "Who are you, O God?"
on the out-breath: "And God, who am I?"

Keep breathing this prayer, for as long as you would like. There is no rush.

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I heard a fantastic piece of advice recently, which resonated strongly. “Don’t try to be interesting: be interested.”

That’s not to say you’re not interesting, by the way. Quite the opposite, in fact - as a unique, one of a kind, you’re utterly fascinating. God knows!

But the ego can’t quite believe it, so it'll work hard to promote or re-invent us at the micro level (new hair, new you!) or in the bigger ways (car, house, job, all of that). Or as images to be scrolled through and liked on a screen.


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At the turn of the year, the author Elizabeth Gilbert offered a thought I was glad to be reminded of: 

“You are not required to justify your existence on earth through constant improvement,” she said. “You are not a Fortune 500 company. You don’t have to show increasing profits. You don’t have to earn your right to be here by putting yourself to higher and higher standards. You just get to be here.”

And as the poet Rilke might add, 'Being here is so much.'


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So, back to interesting. Or interested. Let’s remember, today, there’s a whole world of people created by God out there, and not just people, but trees, plants, creatures, cloud formations, stars, rivers, weathers … Look, for a moment, and notice something you might have otherwise missed.

Now, I know we can suffer from information overwhelm, so let's narrow things down, as an exercise, today:

First, be interested in one person you have already formed an opinion of - a colleague or neighbour, friend or family member, your spouse! Find something beyond what you already know. Give them the space to be open. 

Second, be curious about something or someone different to your cultural norm. My friend Rachel Gardner (who I've just interviewed for our series) told me that when she moved to a very deprived estate (to help run a church), what helped her most was to be curious about, and truly interested in, the people she wouldn't usually have met. What a gift that is, to all.

Third, be interested in God. I wonder what you’d ask God as a way of finding out more (and in a way that's unrelated to your own agenda)? It's not always easy to 'hear' a response, of course - so why not focus on the question, and let the answer come in ways that God might like to share, when God is ready.


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Just one open question could help deepen our understanding, or release some grace, or make a better connection, or help someone's soul to be seen or heard. Even before a question is asked, we might pause ... to honour the presence of another by not assuming or presuming anything about them.

God searches us, and seeks to know us, as David reflects in Psalm 139. If we're as interested as God is, today, then those we meet might even meet themselves afresh, in Him. Surely that's one way grace flows between us.

Imagine, then, how divinely fascinating this one short day on planet Earth could be - you and me, included. And just how very good it is to be here.

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May we know, and be known, today.
Go well!




Further Reflection - Search Me, Know Me

* Repeat the prayer: "Who are you, O God? And God, who am I?"

* Sit for a little while with Psalm 139, and try to see it as if for the first time. Doodle, draw or journal a word or phrase that resonates. 


14 // All the Steps of My Life

''My grace is sufficient for you.' 2 Corinthians 12.9


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Good morning!

Why not take a few moments to pray the loving-kindness prayer, becoming aware of God's grace and love flowing first to you, then through you, to others.

Pray this yourself, first (three times over):

May I be well, may I be peaceful, may I be joyful, may I be loved.

Now pray this for someone close to you / then someone you know who's struggling / then someone you're struggling with:

May you be well ... peaceful ... joyful ... loved.

Take as long you need, before continuing. 

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I don’t believe in fate, nor that ‘all things happen for a reason’, but I do believe in God’s grace, which weaves through all things, including when we don't get 'all things' perfectly right!

Here's a curious story. In 1918, a decade or so before he co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson visited the cathedral here in Winchester as a young American soldier en route to the war. 

He had a profound experience of God in there. 'Much moved', he then stepped outside, where he noticed an old gravestone - and was so impacted by its inscription that he quoted it years later in the opening pages of AA’s 'Big Book':

‘Here lies a Hampshire Grenadier
Who caught his death
Drinking cold small beer …’

It seems Wilson mistakenly thought the soldier had died from excessive drinking (in fact, it was most likely a contamination in the drink which led to a fever). Yet still, his memory of this soldier's grave served him such a warning that it helped his own recovery from alcohol years later - thus aiding so many other countless millions in their recovery, too, through the work of AA.


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It’s great what God can do with us, whether we understand things 'right', or indeed get things right, or not. And that's worth remembering, this Lent - after all, I wonder how often, through a fear of not getting it right, do we stifle our creativity, or avoid making decisions positively?

I wonder, too, how often we look back in fear that we’ve got it wrong through a mis-step en route, or that we missed God’s calling at a fork in the road - when all along, God was, and still is, calling from deep within this place we find our self: "My grace is sufficient ..."

Wouldn't it be wonderful to look back, and forward, with a freedom from fear, and a fluidity of movement, because of the flow of God's grace, in the present?


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As an antidote to my own sometimes paralysing "What ifs?", I often remind myself of Ruth Bidgood's burden-lifting poem ‘Roads’. Though her own life didn't turn out as she may have expected, she was able to gift us with this:

No need to wonder what heron-haunted lake
lay in the other valley,
or regret the songs in the forest
I chose not to traverse.
No need to ask where other roads might have led,
since they led elsewhere;
for nowhere but this here and now
is my true destination.
The river is gentle in the soft evening,
and all the steps of my life have brought me home.

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I expect it takes a life-time to learn that it’s less about getting life right - or life turning out 'right' - as receiving the kind of grace which flows like a well-spring from within it. It will flow to us, then through us, if we're willing to receive it. 

I'm sure that doesn't mean passively accepting our lot, either - but engaging dynamically, openly, graciously with 'all the steps' of our life. In her inspiring poem 'The Illustration', Denise Levertov writes of 'Wrong turns that lead over the border into wonder':

'Mistaken directions, forgotten signs
All bringing the soul’s travels to a place of origin,
A well.’

We find our way in God, by finding God’s way in us, I'm sure. God, in what we get right, and what we get wrong. Within what goes right, and whatever goes wrong. It’s a different way to go, this upstream way of grace. I might step out to that Winchester grave myself, today, and give thanks for the gracious Source.

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May all your steps be touched by grace, today.
Go well!




Further Reflection - All the Steps of My Life

* I've often appreciated this worship song 'I am no longer a slave to fear'. I like the video, too. You might find it comforting or inspiring to listen for a few moments now.

* It was SO good to be together for Friday's 'Live at Five'! Thank you for joining me! If you missed it, catch up here on my YouTube channel

* 'Blessed are we, 
loving beyond our limits, 
loving when it doesn’t make sense, 
loving without any lifetime guarantees, 
loving when it might break our hearts ...'

If you felt moved, like I did on Friday, by Kate Bowler's amazing poem-prayer, you can read it here: 'A Blessing for your Great Big Dumb Heart'.

* Remember to continue with the Lent compass point prayer 2024

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