Lent 2021: the Reflections

 

This is where I'll collate the daily reflections, so you can graze through the collection at your leisure as it builds, or simply read them here every day, instead of via your e-mail inbox!

8 // The Full Moon


'Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon ...?' Song of Solomon 6.10


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I love how the rhythms of nature bring us back around to the same point, time and again, yet offer us the chance to see our lives afresh, in light of them. It’s a full moon this weekend, and I'm reminded of the words of the Chinese-American author and artist Deng Ming-Dao:

‘The moon does not fight. It attacks no one. It does not worry. It does not try to crush others. It keeps to its course, but by its very nature, it gently influences. What other body could pull an entire ocean from shore to shore? The moon is faithful to its nature and its power is never diminished.’

How gorgeous! This gives me cause for reflection. How can I be more like that?


*     *     *


I find the full moons during Lent, in particular, very touching - firstly because they connect us all. We’re spread from 'shore to shore' in our Lent community, and we each have our joys and sorrows to bear; but we can all look up, and share in the wonder of this heavenly night-light together. How comforting to think of family and friends, as well, who are far away, but able to watch that same, most soulful sight.


*     *     *


The full moon also brings us back, crucially, to Jesus. He’d have looked up at it, of course, from his outpost in the desert, during his 40 days of fasting, as he prepared to start his ministry. The night skies must have been immense without light pollution. Was the Creator awed? Humbled by his own Creation, in the way we might feel so small, yet part of something truly greater?

Toward the end of his life, he’d have known that this particular full moon in the year's cycle would be his next-to-last. For the feast of Passover was coming - which is always held on the first full moon after the spring equinox (it's known as the Paschal moon). The moon we’ll see this weekend, then, is the one before Good Friday's. Which, for Jesus, meant the countdown was beginning. Just one more moon to go.

We all know what it’s like when we’re counting off the days, whether it’s until lockdown is lifted, or Lent finishes .... But I imagine that every time Jesus looked up, from this point on, as that full moon first began to wane, and then to wax … that he felt the end was closing in, painfully, powerfully. This moon we see is witness, then, to his great faithfulness; he kept his course, for us.


*     *     *


I was listening to Dvořák’s ‘Song to the Moon’ (from the opera Rusalka) this week. I'm no opera buff, but it touched me. The heroine Rusalka sings a ‘song to the moon’, asking it to shine upon her distant beloved, and to reveal her love for him, from afar. "Shine on him … Tell him of the one who waits for him here." The opera's a fairy tale, but there were hints in the song, for me, of the Song of Songs.

It has a plaintive, gentle beauty. I can't help thinking of Jesus, waiting, watching. Praying, perhaps, that his love would reach, like moonlight, to all of God's beloved. As we look back up to the sky, this weekend, we bear witness - together in our distance - that here, even in 2021, it does indeed reach fully; and all the way to us.
 

*     *     *


May you be bathed in the light of God's love, today.
Go well!

Brian

NB: I'll be back at 4.30pm (GMT) with my YouTube livestream, and then on Mondayfor the next reflection.

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If you have a little time, now (or later):

* The moon sets at 7am in the UK this morning - and I can see it there on the horizon, magnificently, at the moment! So you might just catch it if you step outside to breathe the air and hear the birdosng and welcome the day.

* Have a listen to Dvorak’s ‘Song to the Moon’. Don't worry about following the words (they are in Czech, though subtitled) ... Press play, close your eyes or look out of the window, and let the music touch you.

* Don't forget: Be still. Be here. Be inspired. Be aware. Be open.

* Step outside to see the moon over the next three nights. It rises here in the UK in late afternoon. Imagine what it might have felt for Jesus ... in the desert during his fast, looking up. Or at the time of 'this' moon, which signalled that the countdown to the Passion had begun. (Why not play 'Song to the Moon' again as you look at it? Pop it on your headphones and take a little moonlit stroll ...)

* Pray for someone who you're separated from, by distance. Let them know you're thinking of them in this way. Feel the connection, through God's soft and tender love.

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7 // The Open Door


"For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened..." Matthew 7.8


*     *     *


The simplest of signs can speak of life, can’t they?

You know that feeling - when you’ve seen the same old thing a thousand times before, but suddenly you’re aware there’s something more to it; there’s more going on? It's like a moment of clarity, when we experience what the psychologist and former monk James Finley calls ‘a subtle quickening in your heart'.

Your senses are heightened, and suddenly, he says, ‘your awareness of thisawakens you to that which transcends it.’

Whether it’s snowdrops and stars, or the smell of freshly cut grass, or the sound a child giggling … in that moment, we can encounter something beyond what’s merely ‘there’. But in going beyond the ordinary, we don’t escape it; instead, we’re invited to enter the fullness of it, which happens to contain the fullness of everything, of God.


*     *     *


It’s a bit like finding yourself at a doorway, and you’re aware of an invitation to step through.

In fact, the doorway itself is a 'sign of life', isn’t it?

I always loved my grandma’s front door, as it signalled the warmest welcome, and usually the mouth-watering smell of a roast lunch wafting into the porch, as well.

Perhaps there are doors we usually take for granted, which we've missed during Coronavirus. The door of the local pub, maybe, inviting you in to a crackling fire and the warmth of company … Or your favourite café. Or gallery space. Or church.

I expect people have missed your door, too. This entrance through which, for the time being, your friends and family can still not pass. We’ll take this threshold place far less for granted, I'm sure, in brighter days to come.


*     *     *


Before you continue, why not walk slowly to your front door, to spend a few quiet moments there. Think of the people you miss. Hold them in your loving attention. Give thanks for those who've entered this doorway, and those who will do so again.


*     *     *


The doorway also speaks, of course, of the fullness of God’s welcome, and of the welcome we extend to God. James Finley helpfully expands this analogy, to describe three parts of an on-going process (as he sees it) of our 'entering into' life with God.

‘There is in me,’ he writes, ‘that which has long since passed through the open door into God. There is that in me which … at this moment … is passing through the open door into God. And there is that in me which loiters just outside the door, reluctant, confused, and afraid to enter.’


*     *     *


In the simple door-frame of Lent, perhaps we can help the loiterer in us to step a little nearer the threshold, thankful that God's door is open, while so many remain shut.

It might help, too, to see it from the perspective of the Host.

Imagine, first, how you might greet a loved one, when finally you’re allowed to let them in after lockdown. Then, multiply that by the infinite magnitude of God’s most gracious embrace ... and we might be edging closer to what awaits us behind the open door of life and love. The welcome home.
 

*     *     *


May we step through, today.
Go well!

Brian


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If you have a little time, now (or later):

* If you'd like to listen to something to welcome the day, here's a lovely live offering from Jónsi & Alex Somers. It's three separate (gorgeous) pieces, 23 minutes in total. You could listen to the third piece now, which begins at 18 minutes 21 seconds (it's marked). The track is called Boy. You could listen to the first two later.

* As you listen: Be still. Be here. Be inspired. Be aware. Be open.

* Choose a door you're likely to use a few times today, and each time you step through it, pause. Allow the door to help you reflect on God's invitation to step further in - to Lent, to Life. Even to the unloved days of lockdown.

* Or have a look for some lovely examples of doorways, today. Take a photo or two; sketch one. Contemplate all the welcomes you have received, through all the doors you've walked through. Give thanks for those who particularly come to mind.


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* Thank you so much for all your wonderful RSVP responses during this first window. Please do have a look at everything on the RSVP page here. Keep creating ... and I'll invite the next response next week!
 

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* James Finley's Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God is published by HarperCollins.

 

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6 // Deeply Rooted Trees


'I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power ... to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ ...' (Ephesians 3).


*     *     *


It was quite a big moment here in England on Monday, when the Prime Minister announced a ‘road map’ for the very gradual easing of restrictions, starting with the re-opening of schools in March.

But while it’s positive news, it’s yet another re-adjustment, a whirlpool of feelings stirred. Here, one daughter jumped for joy, the other collapsed in a heap. Our son produced a shrug of his teenage shoulders. My wife and I don't know if we can face the world again. And wherever we are in that world, we share, of course, the profound, underlying emotional turmoil of it all.

So I was especially struck by the words of a friend yesterday, the poet-bishop Andrew Rumsey, in a short video he recorded in some woods near Salisbury, where he was enjoying the presence of some grand old trees.

In this time of turbulence, he said: “Get close to something deeply rooted.”


*     *     *


Such wise words! I remember spending time in a grove of ancient yews once, near Chichester. It's impossible to describe how restorative, how soul-expanding it was, to be prayerfully stilled in the company of such ancient, living things.

There’s a poignant hint in the Bible that Jesus loved the company of deeply rooted trees, as well. After the Last Supper, Luke tells us that 'he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him’ (Luke 22:39). It’s likely he retreated often, to pray, at the olive grove of Gethsemane. Judas knew just where to find him.

Some of the oldest olive trees in the world still grow in that ‘garden’. Their trunks are dated to the 12th century, but there’s a chance - because they can grow back from their roots, up - that below ground those trees reach back to Jesus. Whether they do or not, I find it so moving to think of him finding rest and inspiration in their silent, sheltering presence, as he grew his own roots deep into the soil of his Father’s love.


*     *     *


On that most deeply turbulent night of his arrest among those peaceful trees, he'd draw from the ultimate depths, as he sweated blood, and resisted any temptation, Lent-like, to cut and run; staying, planted there, to drink the bitter cup for us.

Which is certainly not to belittle our own present tumult; quite the opposite, perhaps: for his Passion holds every human struggle in his outstretched arms. This matters, because it matters to him. He stood, for you and me, so that we could enter life, whatever darkness might befall us. These are the roots from which we grow.

You might not have an olive grove to visit, but perhaps there's a tree to stand with, today. Or a friend or family member, rooted well, for you to gently lean upon. Or a life-bringing author, or artist, or poet-bishop to draw a little strength from. Or simply your practice of planted stillness and prayer, which brings us all the way back to him; "Your kingdom come, Your will be done."

I like to think, in turn, of this community as a grove, providing shade between us, and soulful space for those who come our way. The kind of place where Jesus might feel welcome, too; rooted and grounded, we pray, in the highest, farthest, widest and deepest reaching love of all.
 

*     *     *


May you draw close, today.
Go well!

Brian


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If you have a little time, now (or later):

* Welcome the day with this piece of music from Olafur Arnalds. I find I often lean upon it! Let it slow you into the present moment. Take a few deep breaths. Be still, like a tree. Whisper your 'Here I am', to the day, to God, and to anyone who may need to find strength in you today.

* I love to get close to this deeply rooted passage from Ephesians 3.17-19. Why not read it slowly through:

'I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power ... to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.'

* Find a favourite tree, today. Bring your turbulence. Sit with it. Let it settle.

* You can watch Andrew Rumsey's short and soulful video here. He is the bishop of Ramsbury.

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5 // The Unloved Things


'Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me ... for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."' Matthew 19.14


*     *     *


'May we raise children
who love the unloved
things – the dandelion, the
worms and spiderlings.'

I love these lines from Nicolette Sowder’s poem ‘Wilder Bond’, which also remind me how children instinctively seem to gravitate toward the unloved things; how they ‘run into rainswept days/ the same way they/ turn towards the sun …’, as her poem says.


My 10-year-old, Betsy-Joy, still loves to play with cardboard boxes, which can mean a messy house, but an often absorbed child … I wonder what we’ve forgotten about the things we used to value very differently?


*     *     *


Lemn Sissay is another poet who prompts us to remember the unloved, in his poem ‘Some Things I Like’. His long list includes ‘flat beer’, ‘curtains that don’t quite shut’ and ‘breadknives that don’t quite cut’. You may (quite reasonably!) feel these are just frustrating, useless things - but growing up in the British care system, Sissay learned to side with the forgotten and discarded.

We make so many judgement calls in life, usually from the ego. We deem so much to be of little worth, including so much we don’t value about ourselves. He ends his poem of appreciative attention with a single word: ‘See.’

It’s not a question, but a command.
 

*     *     *


Mercifully, God sees. God sees us, even if we’re the last to be picked for the sports team, or we're spoken over in meetings, or we feel left alone in lockdown.

This God, who was discarded, sees, and loves, even when we feel most useless.

And it’s perhaps when we can see that - that we are of intrinsic and everlasting worth, because of God’s love - that we can start to see the world, again, as God might see it. With the inquisitiveness, perhaps, of a child who loves the kingdom for all its worth, when it's hidden in plain sight to the rest of us; of a child who has not yet learned to discriminate or to see with the ego whether you're of any use or not.


*     *     *


Movingly, Nicolette Sowder’s wish, for the children who love unloved things, is that they will grow up continuing to do just that, as adults.

‘And when …
someone has to speak for those
who have no voice

may they draw upon that
wilder bond, those days of
tending tender things

and be the ones.’


*     *     *


In the meantime, all those little, unloved signs can help to bring us back to life. I bought some fresh bread this week. It was crusty, and as my blunt old breadknife slipped and struggled across its surface, I got frustrated, the useless thing ... and then recalled Lemn Sissay, and breathed, and smiled. I'm not especially sharp myself at times, but was struck, in a moment of happy clarity, that God loves me, just as God loves you today - as if we're the best thing since badly sliced bread.

 

*     *     *


May we tend the tender, today;
may we love the unloved.
Go well!

Brian


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If you have a little time, now (or later):

* You might like to listen to Max Richter's 'On the Nature of Daylight' as day breaks, today (it's a stunning sunsrise in Winchester!) ... and whisper 'Here I am' as you bring yourself to the day, to God, and to those who might otherwise be overlooked.

* Look out for the overlooked, the discarded, today. In your contacts list. In your own backyard. 'See.'

* You can read 'Wilder Bond' here.

* You can read 'Some Things I Like' here, along with a really helpful commentary by the Irish poet Pádraig Ó Tuama here.

* Pádraig Ó Tuama asks a great question in response to 'Some Things I Like'. It's this: What is something you like, that others may not value in the same way?

* Nicolette Sowder's lovely work on rewilding childhood and 'nature based parenting' is worth exploring, here.


 


RSVP!

What can I say?! Thanks for your gorgeous, inspiring, down-to-earth and creative repsonses so far! Wow. If you haven't yet responded (and would like to), send me your short RSVP by replying to this e-mail, and I will post it for you. You have until close of play today to contribute to this 'window'.

I may well edit lightly for length or clarity. But please help me by writing with loving care and keeping it gently succinct. Thank you!

And in the meantime, click here to visit the RSVP page!
 

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* If you didn't catch the first 'Twilight moment' of this Lent series, you can still do so on my YouTube channel.

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4 // Snowdrops and Stars


'Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.' Psalm 23


*     *     *


It's not always easy to like the days we're living in - whether it's lockdown, or simply the frugality of a late-winter Lent. But that needn't stop us seeking to love them, all the same; to bring our loving attention to them. And perhaps to glimpse goodness and mercy piercing the surfaces of darkness.

In her wonderful poem 'Lent', Jean Watt alludes to this.

‘Lent is a tree without blossom, without leaf,

Barer than blackthorn in its winter sleep,
All unadorned.’

It's a paring back of the superfluous; there's nowhere to hide. It's an emptier place. And yet, as a consequence, it is …

‘a most precious space
Before the leaf, before the time of flowers;
Lest we should see only the leaf, the flower,
Lest we should miss the stars.'


*     *     *

 

Inspired by Jean, I love to go outside after dark, and watch the stars shine through the bare branches in Lent. It's like praying a prayer beyond words that opens me back up to a beauty hidden in plainsight.

We might wish we were somewhere else instead right now (such as a warm, already leafy springtime with no Covid restrictions - anyone?!); but this, here, is the ground from which we grow.
 

*     *     *


I think the snowdrop is a lovely sign in this regard, too. While it tells us that spring can't be too far off, it stands here within winter - 'feisty, pure and natural with [its] white singular unbroken focus' as Tess Ward puts it in one of her Celtic prayers.

And in order for the snowdrop to bloom, its bulb (just like many other plants) needs both the dark and a time of cold. It grows from this place, even as it transcends it to break, like love, an often still hard surface.


*     *     *


I'm not sure Jesus would have liked his lonely days of fasting in the desert. But he loved them; and gave himself the time, and space, within them ... to give himself tothem. And I love to think the stars gave themselves back to him, when night fell.

And what of us? He doesn't seem to pluck us out of the tougher times, so much as promise to walk us through them (Psalm 23.4). And we are slowly moving through this one. It's not always easy to see where we're going, but it can help to pause to notice just where we've been already, with him.

I shall take it on faith that goodness and mercy don't just follow me some of the days of my life, even though I'm often more focused on the leafless branch than what shines through it. And in the meantime, behold! The snowdrops and stars speak up for the often unloved days of our present. Reaching up from below earth, and down from light years above, gifts of purest white from the Maker, and sent here with love.
 

*     *     *


May you grow from this place, today.
Go well!

Brian


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If you have a little time, now (or later):

* Why not read Psalm 23. You could always pop this live version of Stuart Townend's Psalm 23 to accompany it.

* Contemplate a snowdrop, today ... whether in your garden, on a walk, or online. You might like to sketch or draw some, as an act of singular unbroken focus.

* Or use these words from Tess Ward as a prayer:

'Praise to you, Oh Caring one,
nurturing, generous and milky kind,
yet defiant as the snowdrop in a cold climate,
feisty, pure and natural
with your white singular unbroken focus ...' 

* Keep practicing your scales. Remember:


... be still ...
... be here ...
... be inspired ...
... be aware ...
... be open ...


* Why not go for a twilight walk, to watch the first stars appearing, if conditions allow.


*     *     *


RSVP!

Here we are, then - the first opportunity to share your creative responses! Please either send me a short paragraph, poem or photo to show where the journey has taken you so far. Send it to me by replying to this e-mail, and I will post them bit by bit over the next couple of days. You have today and tomorrow to reply.

I may well edit lightly for length or clarity. But please help me by writing with loving care and keeping it gently succinct. Thank you!

Click here to visit the RSVP page. It's worth checking back every now and again, to see what else has been added.

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3 // The Sign of Peace


“See the bird with the leaf in her mouth.
After the flood all the colours came out.”
 (Beautiful Day, U2)


*     *     *


When Jesus is baptised - and just before God declares "This is my Son, whom I love" - the Bible says ‘heaven was opened, and [Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him’ (Matt 3.16). What a scene to behold!

And as he blinked his eyes, rising up through the river's sun-drenched sparkling surface, surely his heart was flooded with distant recollection - of a time, ‘in the beginning’, when the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep; and later, when the dove returned to Noah's ark with an olive branch, the sign of peace.

Creation, and re-creation, meeting in this most pivotal moment at the Jordan, as the waters break and the dove settles, in a sense, on the olive branch of God’s son.


*     *     *


As consumers, we tend to see any ‘sign from above’ as being for our gratification. But the dove and the olive branch remind me that restoration flows two ways. For peace is a call, as much as a comfort - to which we're invited to respond, with the same kind of grace by which it's offered. What an honour.

In his recent book Let Us Dream - about the spiritual path out of the pandemic - Pope Francis writes that the story of Noah is not just about God's offer of a path out of destruction, but of all that followed: the regeneration of human society, which meant 'a return to respecting limits, curbing the reckless pursuit of wealth and power, looking out for the poor and those living on the edges'. Peace is made. Created.

In particular, he says, ‘the introduction of the Sabbath and Jubilee - moments of recovery and reparation, forgiving debts and restoring relationships - were key to that regeneration, giving time for the earth to bounce back, for the poor to find fresh hope, for people to find their souls again. That is the grace available to us now.'


*     *     *


So, as we look for signs of the waters subsiding in 2021, perhaps the dove with the leaf in its mouth is not about our racing back to busyness as usual, but the offer to restore something greater, together, that we lost. And that’s what Lent can help us into, I'm sure - 'to find our soul again', even as we seek the pathway out.

We may not see many doves flying about with olive leaves. But with dark clouds glowering here outside my study, and the rain falling biblically, the sun has just broken out, too ... And yes! A rainbow arches high above the lime trees. A heart floods with ancient grace. A soul stirs. And I think it's time to make some peace.
 

*     *     *


May you have a beautiful day.
Go well!

Brian

nb: I'll be with you at 4.30pm on YouTube, and then back on Monday with the next reflection.

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If you have a little time, now:

* 'I trace the rainbow through the rain ...' If you'd like a meditative musical moment, have a listen to this exquisite version of 'O Love That Will Not Let Me Go' performed by the brilliant Martyn Joseph. It's part of an Easter audio-visual resource I made with Christian Aid a few years ago, so there are a few reflective lines from me as well, and it starts with some silence.

(I'd love to dedicate this, today, to Dr Bex Lewis, a deeply loved pioneer and champion of digital and online Christian resourcing, who died of cancer yesterday.)

* Keep practicing your scales. Remember:


... be still ...
... be here ...
... be inspired ...
... be aware ...
... be open ...


* Ask yourself, how can I make peace, today? With whom? With what? What small steps can you take to establish recovery, restoration and soul within your day?

* "The goal is soul!" You can watch U2 playing Beautiful Day live here.


* Pope Francis's Let Us Dream: The Path to a Better Future is published by Simon & Schuster (2020)


Twilight Moment on YouTube today!

* Hurray! I'll be livestreaming on my YouTube channel today at 4.30pm for a 'twilight moment', where we'll gather up the reflections of the week, and pause for a little guided reflection. See you then - and if you can't join me live, you can always catch up at your own convenience. See you later!


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* I'll also invite the first round of RSVP responses at the start of next week, so watch this space.

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2 // You and Me (and God)


'I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full ...' John 10.10
 

*     *     *


Good morning!

I'm not sure how much Jesus would have relished the prospect of 40 days in the desert. Nevertheless, his life's work flowed directly from those wilderness days in which he overcame temptation and drew deep from the Source. Within a seemingly lifeless landscape, he began to cultivate a life, with God, 'to the full'.

It takes dedication, of course. As the psychologist and former Trappist monk James Finley points out, a jazz musician practises their scales over and over in order to improvise sublimely when the time comes. Jesus embraced spiritual practice in the desert, releasing an overflow of Spirit-filled freedom in the days that were to follow. And all, of course, in the name of Love.
 

*     *     *


Lent challenges us to practise, lovingly, too, which I find liberating during a lockdown in which it's still very much about the waiting. I try to see it, in a way, as a time of continued training in the art of love and life...

So I’ve chosen five simple steps - or notes of a scale! - to form the basis of my own daily Lent practice, and I hope these might help you, too. Try them now, even as you read through them. (Allow four or five slow breaths per 'note', before flowing into the next. You can extend this, of course, depending on how much time you have.)


1. Be still.

Sit or stand straight, and embody a posture of relaxed alertness.

...

2. Be here.

Say “Here I am”: to God; to this day; to the place you’re in. Bring yourself, humbly, lovingly.

...

3. Be inspired.

‘Spirit’ is the same word as ‘breath’ in the Bible. Breathe deep, be filled, give thanks.

...

4. Be aware

- of your body ... as well as any restless thoughts, without following their train. When you notice your fidgety mind distracting you, speak a word or phrase (choose one to use consistently, such as ‘peace’ or ‘be still’) - and let this take you (time and again!) back into stillness.

...

5. Be open

- to God, without trying to get something from God, or from your practice.


*     *     *


In a sense, the more we practice, the better placed we are to flow from the Source when we're back in the thick of it, improvising life. What if it were second nature to bring a stillness, when we're on the go; to be 'here', wherever we are; to breathe God's wisdom and love, when it's all getting breathless; to be lovingly aware, and awake to God's presence, within the midst? Imagine Jesus putting life into practice.

And what a gift, to others! For it's surely not just we who long to find some signs of life, this Lent. What about our neighbour, our postie, our Zoom buddy, our delivery drivers, our kid's teachers, our vaccinator ... surely we all crave some inspiration, a promise of hope, an encounter with love.

Imagine if you and I, today, were the sign of life, in this still barren landscape. For even in our slow and gentle opening to God, we open slowly, gently to each other.
 

*     *     *


May you be the sign of life, today.
Go well!

Brian

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If you have a little time, now:

* Find a place where you can practice your scales. I've written those five phrases on a post-it to help me learn and flow through them. Perhaps you'd find that helpful, too:


... be still ...
... be here ...
... be inspired ...
... be aware ...
... be open ...


And if you're not so used to silence (or even if you are!), you might find this live version of Arvo Part's Spiegel im Spiegel helpful, as an aid to entering stillness. It's 10 minutes long. It always helps me in to a richer space. And it's lovely to imagine how the individual 'notes' of our 'practice' might create something as lovely as this!


If you have a little time, later:

* Pop your post-it somewhere to remind you to 'be still ... (etc)' during the day when it might help others for you to bring some presence! Perhaps on your computer, or by the front door. Become a 'sign of life' yourself today - in whatever form that takes.

* Don't forget, you can still watch my short Winter Wander video if you haven't already (or if you'd enjoy a refresher). A few minutes of stillness and engagement with this season.

* I'll be setting myself a reminder each day for 4.30pm to step outside for a few moments to 'practise my scales', and to notice the days lengthening (here in the northern hemisphere!). It may not quite be twilight any more, but I'm still calling it my twilight moment. You could set your alarm for a similar time, and do likewise, whichever hemisphere you are in - it can be helpful to establish a regular rhythm!

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1 // The Heart


'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.' (Ezekiel 36.26)
 

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Good morning!

Here we are, back at the start of Lent again! And what a place to be: the beginning. While our Coronavirus slog may not yet be over, this short season ahead offers us another start, of sorts, within it - and the chance to start well.

Just before Jesus began his 40 days of prayer and fasting in the desert (which, in turn, precipitated his public ministry), he was baptised by John in the Jordan. When he rose from the water, a voice came from heaven, saying: "This is my son, whom I love ..." A sign to all, both then and now, that love is the place from which to set off.

Mercifully, God's loving heart extends to us, here, within this invitation to start anew, to reconnect, to seek perspective in Lent. It's worth remembering that we're not 'doing Lent' to earn love. Love is not the object of our quest, but instead its life-giving energy, its propulsion, its imperative! I wonder where it will take us ...

 

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Meanwhile, your own heart may well be aching, or weary, or slowly mending. It could be rejoicing. It's probably a mix of all sorts (and how appropriate that the Orthodox Christians describe Lent as a time of 'bright sadness'). God knows. And God knows your heart for the people you love, and the places you miss; for what you have lost, and what you hope will come next.

Why not take a breath;
and be still;
and place your hands on your heart.

Take as long as you need, to give thanks for this heartbeat, this sign of life - and not just any life, but this life which God lovingly invites you to explore and express, uniquely as you.

 

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And while it's not always easy to feel whole-hearted about our 'lot', about where we find ourself, especially in lockdown, we can resolve - I'm sure - to meet this Lenten point of departure with at least an open heart.


Rob Bell says that to open your heart is to "make peace with the risk of life". I wantthat! It's such a great challenge; and it reminds me that God makes the first move here, and takes the risk of life with us, declaring: "This is my child, whom I love."

After our strange year, it may take a whole season for the ground of our being to thaw and for new shoots, buds and blooms to break the soil. But today, within the invitation of this gentle opening, perhaps we can start with the risk - that God's open heart for us can open ours to the adventure of a new beginning.

 

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May your heart be open, today.
Go well!
Brian

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If you have time, now:

* I've recommended this before, but Mike Scott's gorgeous song 'Open' provides a beautiful meditation on being open. Have a listen here. What would you most like to be open to, this Lent?

* One of the oldest continually used prayers in Christianity is known as the 'Prayer of the Heart' ... and it helps us to offer and open our heart afresh to God: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me ..." I find it helpful to use movement with this prayer, as this short clip I've recorded demonstrates. Why not watch it, and say the prayer along with me.


If you have time, later:

* Each day we'll consider a different 'sign of life'. You might like to begin a journal or notebook in which you make a creative response as you go, starting with the sign of the heart, today.

* You can listen to Rob Bell's podcast 'How to Open Your Heart' here. (If you want to skip the pre-amble, scroll forward to 4 mins 50 sec.)

* We can't get out to services here in the UK, but many are being live-streamed. I'll be watching the Ash Wednesday evensong from Winchester Cathedral at 17.30 GMT via this link here. Why not join me?! (In fact, having just checked their website, they have an entire day of reflections you can tune into on ... the heart!)