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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!

33 // Jesus, the Christ


"It is finished."  (John 19.30)


*     *     *


Could I invite you, before you read on, to take a deep breath. Relax your body, for a few moments. Place your hands on your heart, feel your heartbeat, give thanks for the gift of life.

And now, on this Good Friday, reach your hands forward in embrace ("Lord Jesus Christ") ... and bring them back to your heart. Reach your hands up in worship, or as a child would to be picked up  ("Son of God") ... and back to your heart. Reach your hands out wide, and hold them there ("Have mercy, upon me").

Bring them slowly back to your heart, and sense God's heart for you. Repeat. And only when you're ready continue on. Thank you.


*     *     *


As I write, the magnolia buds are bursting in our garden. My little plum tree, which I've been watching every day, has today blossomed and is coming into leaf (I'm very excited!). A pair of robins grace the fence, a brimstone has wafted by, the sun's out, and I'm spoiled for choice: signs of life are everywhere. It was worth the wait.

I sketched a few ideas for 'signs' on the back of an envelope before we began the series - thinking we might look at teardrops, feet, bread, wine maybe, and a few other different things beside. But our journey is always shaped as we go, and other signs spoke up: the light at the end of the tunnel; the meadow of hope; the lady with the lamp; the glance that fell like sunshine ... So many surprises, along the way.

I wonder what signs you've seen and treasured yourself, this Lent?


*     *     *


I'm just awed, really, that life is both so fragile, as we've seen vivdly in the pandemic, yet so abundant, when you stop to look for it; even in the wilderness of a lockdown.

I'm taken back in my mind to Jesus (what a painting by Kramskoy) who went to the desert and cultivated such a connection with God that he brought life back from that arid place, overflowing like a well-spring. I like to think we'll bring it back with us, as well, when we return from this place. Like living water, let's overflow with him.


*     *     *


In the end, there are so many signs of life, surely, because Creation bears the DNA of God. 'There is only Christ,' writes Paul to the Colossians (3.11). 'He is everything and he is in everything.' It can be easy to forget, until we start to look. The Earth isthe Lord's! And I love how Richard Rohr reframes our understanding of where Jesus even comes to us from - arriving not from some cosmic outpost, so much as arising from within an already 'Christ-soaked world'. Look around you. It changes so much.
 

Everywhere we turn, then, the sign of life is Jesus, the Christ, isn't it? Even today, Good Friday, nailed to a Cross, bloodied, broken, dying. In that most desolate place, from where 'he loved them to the end', as John tells us, he brings life into death, and thus death back to life. Even, in this second Easter of Covid, as we wait, and watch him, crucified, he bursts like buds in springtime all around.


*     *     *


The challenge, perhaps, is both to see him and see like him. With the ever loving eyes of the Creator. That's why, I'm sure, if he can bring love to bear on a day like Good Friday, we can learn to love the unloved days, as well, and who and what is in them; to make peace with the risk of life, open our hearts and enter in.

Let's go for it, and keep on going, then, shall we?! Loving, like him, 'to the end', which is, of course, just the beginning with God. We've come such a long way already, and I, for one, am so very grateful for your company.

Perhaps a few lines from Malcolm Guite's poem 'Easter Triolet' can send us off with hope, now, into Easter and, through, to that which lies beyond.

'The grave is made the very gate of heaven.
We sowed in tears, but here's the golden grain;
We won't give up on love, it is a given
And Love's the given thing that lives again.'


*     *     *


Thank you, always, for your love.
The sun's rising.
Go well!
Brian

 


If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open. (Or repeat the 'Prayer of the Heart', above.) Set your alarm to do this again, today, and 'keep watch' with him.

* You might like to light a candle in honour of Jesus, and let the flame speak to you of the journey from Advent, through Lent, to here. Give thanks for his life, death and resurrection.

* Why not listen to Kathryn Scott's version of When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

* You can read Malcolm Guite's An Easter Triolet here. (With thanks to Diana S.)

* Here is a poem from John Soos, 'To Be of the Earth', which I read on our YouTube moment. It helps me think of what it means to come from the 'Christ-soaked world' -

To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed,
the darkness of being planted,
the struggle toward the light,
the pain of growth into the light,
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit,
the love of being food for someone,
the scattering of your seeds,
the decay of the seasons,
the mystery of death and
the miracle of birth.

* Richard Rohr's thoughts are drawn from The Universal Christ (SPCK, 2019), p15.

* If you didn't catch yesterday's Lent Moment Live, you can watch again here

* You can catch up with all of your inspiring, moving poignant and creative responses on the RSVP page here. Thank you for every single one of them.
 

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32 // The Path We've Taken


Once again I’ll go over what God has done,
   lay out on the table the ancient wonders;
I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,
   and give a long, loving look at your acts.

(Psalm 77.11-12, Message Version)


*     *     *


Each year, I love to retrace our steps - carefully re-reading each reflection in turn to see where we have been, and then, by selecting a line or so directly from each one in turn, chronologically - tracing a gentle narrative pathway through. (I've popped a few ellipses in, just where it feels there's a natural break to pause and breathe.)

So here's my offering. It's just one way, of course, of pondering 'all that God as accomplished' in our community this Lent. I hope it makes connections for you, provides a powerful reminder, and sows some seeds of hope. Take it slowly.

(NB: I'm doing my Lent Moment Live today at 4.30pm on YouTube, so please join me to gather up not just the week, but the series.)


*     *     *


Signs of Life, 2021

To open your heart is to make peace with the risk of life.

Be still. Be here. Be inspired. Be aware. Be open.

This is the grace available to us now: to find our soul again.

...

Behold! The snowdrops and stars speak up for the often unloved days of our present.

May we grow to love the unloved things; and tend the tender.

 

...


In this time of turbulence, get close to something deeply rooted.

Or, finding yourself at a doorway, step nearer the threshold, thankful that God's door is open, while so many remain shut.

Look up. The full moon we see is witness to his great faithfulness; he kept his course, for us.

Work at the little things - what’s under your hands, what's within your reach - with love.

‘Look at the birds, careless in the care of God …’ Jesus said. And to think: 'You count far more to him than birds.’

We set out from this place with him, where peace is every step.

 

...


Thrift’s grace is to give a glimpse of hope in the tightest of spots, the toughest of places.

Draw a line. Behold 'the kingdom’! Then step right in.

Nature expresses God's promise to make all things new; and we can play our budding part.

We can learn to bring spaciousness with us, as a gift. A hallowed clearing.

And when we're on mute, perhaps we’re better placed to sense the 'motion and stillness and energy' of our soul as it reaches for God.

For hope does not come from external things going our way but ‘from a living connection with God’.

...

The day is yours, and yours also the night.

A 'glance that falls like sunshine' can change the day, for good.

And to think: God bends to delight in us like flowers. Isn't that enough to help us keep it simple?

Arise, then, within the magnificently creative strength of the Trinity!


...


There is light at the end of the tunnel.

Our skies will soon be blessed with swallows.

But anything we receive, we must pass on, when the time is right. Not as a memorial to ego, but as the blessing of one soul to another.

The Blessing! One year on, it all floods back: "He is with you, He is with you … all around you, and beside you."


...


There is one moment in the life of every person  ... when they think about whether to go to the right or to the left.

“Let it be unto me …” Sitting at the Meadow of Hope, I’m reminded … to yield.

I'm sure we each have felt God's presence in ways which meet us where we are, and move us on … As Florence Nightingale said, ‘All truth lies between "Lord, here am I” … and "Lo it is I, do not be afraid.”’

God keeps loving us back to life, over and over. It's not about making you nicer, but making you new. And new has dirt under its nails.

Just like Jesus, who gave it all up, humbling himself, even unto death - because above all, he hungered for us.

And now, the table is set ... at the beating heart of God's welcome home.

Amen.


*     *     *


May you indeed 'go over what God has done', today.
Go well!
Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open. (Today of all days, really do settle in and wait and watch. Try to come back to this, too, today.)

* Go back over each line of our reflection, a little more slowly, and listen to, feel for, think about, sense, wonder at where you've been, personally, and where God has led you. Which words or phrases resonate or stick with you? What will you carry forward with you?

* Here's a poem written by Malcolm Guite last Maundy Thursday, during that first, visceral time of lockdown. Remember how it felt for you. Welcome the presence of Jesus, as you read.

* Why not read some lines from John 13, today, about the Last Supper. You might like to draw sketch or doodle the phrase "Love one another."

* Apologies if I've recommended this a few times over the years, but personally, I always love to turn to this song by Martyn Joseph near the end of a series - On My Way. It just seems to capture the fallible, hopeful nature of our journey. 'Running, loving, stumbling on our way ...'

* And this is always a personal favourite, whenever's there's a global pandemic - It Is Well With My Soul, in this instance sung by Audrey Assad.


Lent Moment Live on YouTube TODAY!

As it's a bank holiday tomorrow and the series ends with tomorrow morning's reflection, I'm going to do my Lent Moment Live today. So please do join me on my YouTube channel at 4.30pm, and we'll hope and pray the Internet holds! (And I'll have something up my sleeve in case it doesn't.)

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31 // The Table


'As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, "Take and eat it; this is My body."' (Matthew 26.26)


*     *     *


Good morning!

The kitchen table. What a site - usually - of friendship, family, strife, joy, nourishment, nurture, homework, housework, birthday toasts, Christmas dinners, Easter roasts … A sign of life at the heart of so much living.

We have my uncle’s old table in the garage. No one could bear to throw it away when he died. It goes back to my grandparents, and is the table under which my dad and he would shelter as boys during air-raids in the war. You can almost feel the fellowship, the meals, the celebrations, the welcome homes, the card games, the conversations. I can see my grandpa eating breakfast at it, doing the crossword; I can see us kids playing table tennis, place mats for our bats once supper's cleared.


*     *     *


There's a poem by Clive Wilmer about his late mum, called ‘Kitchen Table’. He and his sister couldn’t bear to throw her table away, either. His poem ends:

Your homeliness
displaced now, what survives
for me of it

is this: which
now becomes a model
of true art:

bare boards scrubbed clean,
black, white,
good work as grace, such

purity of heart.


Perhaps your own table has felt more like a place of absence, and memories, during the last year; of missing guests who’d otherwise have sat down with you to eat, and drink, and laugh, and cry. I'm sure we’ll view ours more reverentially, when finally we get the chance to set a place for others, once again ...


*     *     *


Jesus, the 'friend of sinners', certainly knew how a table creates sacred space. It’s almost too much, in Holy Week, to think of him reclining with his friends at that last supper together. If there was ever a time for big speeches, explanations, this was it, and yet ... it’s all about the bread, the wine, the body, the blood, the feet, washed. Meantime, the beloved disciple rests back on him so that he can surely hear and feel the Saviour’s heart beat. Soul friends. That's how close he wants us.

In Genesis (18), we read how Abraham and Sarah provided food and drink and shelter for three angelic visitors - the Trinity, it’s fair to say. ‘Here we have humanity feeding God,’ says Richard Rohr. ‘It will take a long time to turn that around in the human imagination, to believe that we, too, could be invited to the divine table.’

And it’s still quite hard to believe, isn’t it? That the guest of humanity turns host, and we are invited to come just as we are. Surely this was never about religious theatre but the smell of fresh baked bread, torn and shared, and the taste of newly opened wine; a gathering, at the very deepest level, in the simplest of ways. Communion.

So we take, break, eat, give thanks ... for him, and for breakfasts with grandpa, too; for absent friends we miss and those we’ve been locked down with, so long; for the promise - one day! - of reunion, the rise of chatter, laughter, eye contact, hands held for grace, maybe. For grace! And for everything we can’t quite comprehend about Easter, but are invited to share in, anyway: the life, death and resurrection of it all.

And for the table, already set for us, at the beating heart of God's welcome home.


*     *     *


May you take your place, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* If you'd like something to listen to, here's a song by Jared Anderson called At Your Table.

* Why not spend a few minutes at your table, giving thanks for those who brought you up, those you miss, those you look forward to welcoming back into your home again ... and anyone who might be feeling especially lonely, who could do with some contact today. (Reach out, however you can.)

* You can read the whole of Clive Wilmer's poem The Kitchen Table here.

* Here's another poem about a table, by Joy Harjo, called Perhaps the World Ends Here. And one more, courtesy of Jonny Baker's blog, called Table, by Edip Cansever.

* Why not write a poem about your table, or even spend some time sketching or drawing it, to reflect on the communion you have shared, and will share, with others.

-------------------------
 

30 // All We Go Without


'He humbled himself.' (Philippians 2.8)


*     *     *


Good morning!

It hasn’t been the year to focus on what to give up for Lent. We’ve all given up a lot, in our different ways. From the warmth of a hug, to a final, face-to-face goodbye with a loved one, so much has been sacrificed for the greater good. We bear witness.

But as we draw to the end of Lent, let’s remember that the practice of abstinence, in its place, remains a good and powerful thing. It certainly did for Jesus, who combined the precision of purposeful action with the rhythm of solitude and - as Lent testifies - prayer and fasting. When he left the desert, we read that ‘he was hungry’.

No kidding.


*     *     *


I was moved this week to hear the testimony of Revd Tim Hewes, a Church of England priest in Oxford who went to prison for seven days after he was found in contempt of court (for glueing himself to court furniture) ‘in protest at the court’s complicity with the government’s lack of action on the climate emergency’.

Upon his release from Wandsworth, he shared how he’d fasted for the week in prison. ‘In the Christian tradition it’s long been the case that prayer and fasting go together,’ he said. ‘And for that reason, I decided … I would fast as my prayer for the planet, for the Earth. And that was the only prayer I had to offer, feeble as it was.’ What mystery, how God's power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor 12.9-11).


*     *     *


However you stand on the politics of the climate, Tim's witness reminds me that prayer and fasting is not about self-flagellation, but love: in this case, love for some of the world's poorest who (as he explained) are experiencing famine because of climate change; as well as love for all God's creatures and Creation.

Covid stripped back our lifestyles, and there’ll be many good things we'll welcome back, in time; but it begs the question, too: What could we continue to go without, to live more simply and sustainably, out of love for others? In that respect, the practice of abstinence is not only a prayer but a practical and prophetic act.

Think of Nadia Bolz Weber’s words from yesterday - of how ‘new is ... letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway.’


*     *     *


Jesus transformed his physical hunger into something more: ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,' he'd teach, in later days, 'for they shall be filled.' Humanity does not live by bread alone, as he told his tempter in the desert.

I wonder, what has fed your soul, during the pandemic? Especially in ways that go beyond the tired old push for More, Bigger, Faster?

Perhaps we can go without a meal, or without meals for a day, during Holy Week, to reflect on, and reconnect with what we really hunger for. Or, why not offer up all that we’ve had to go without, this Lent. Write it down, speak it out - not in complaint, but in our own 'feeble' solidarity with Jesus. Jesus, without whom nothing was made that was made, in the beginning ... the first blossoms of spring, the paschal moon that's been gleaming in the night sky, and every exquisite and endangered species. 

Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but gave it all up, humbling himself, even unto death - because above all, he hungered for us.


*     *     *


The sun's rising.
May God fill you, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* If you'd like something to listen to, try this: 'I Shall Not Want' by Audrey Assad.

* Go without something, today. In its absence, feel the hunger of your soul.

* Spend a little time with Philippians 2. Or 2 Corinthians 12. (Draw or doodle a verse that speaks to you from either of those passages.)

* In quiet reflection, consider:

What have I missed during the pandemic, that I will one day welcome back?
What might I continue to go without, for the sake of a more sustainable life?
What do I hunger for?

* For information on Revd Tim Hewes (and Ben Buse, who was convicted alongside him) visit Christian Climate Action.

 

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29 // The Gardener


'He asked her, "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?" Thinking he was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him."' (John 20.15)


*     *     *


Good morning!

If you were watching my 'Lent Moment Live' on Friday, you’ll know I was reading Sylvia C’s haiku, when the Internet crashed. Apparently, I ‘froze’ on the words ‘love, hope, peace’ - which is a good place to freeze, if you have to! Here’s her haiku:

Why? When? How? Where? If?
The start of lockdown questions.
Now, still - love, hope, peace.

I love it - both for its acknowledgment of the threads of love, hope and peace which weave their way through these days, but also as a reminder of those early, urgent questions, too: Can we stay well? Where do we get food? How will we cope? ...

Many have been answered, in time. But there’ll be one or two weightier questions to carry with us, as we go, which is a good thing. As the poet Rilke wrote: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.”

I wonder if you have one. Here is mine, as we approach Easter: What is resurrection, in the light of Covid?


*     *     *


In her Easter talk last year, Nadia Bolz Webber mentioned how Mary mistook the risen Jesus for a gardener. Which means he probably looked like one; and with no disrespect to gardeners, she says, they’re more likely to have dirt in their finger nails than to look like some kind of wingless angel.

And as for him, so too for us, perhaps, when it comes to the resurrection that’s happening in us, and through us, thanks to him. Even if we don't always see it.

‘God isn’t about making you nicer,' Nadia says. 'God is about making you new. And new doesn’t always look perfect. New can be messy. New has dirt under its nails …

‘New looks like recovering alcoholics,’ she continues. ‘New looks like reconciliation between two family members - neither of which actually deserve it. New looks like every time I manage to admit I was wrong and every time I manage to not mention when I’m right. New looks like every fresh start and every act of forgiveness and every moment of letting go of what we thought we couldn’t live without and then somehow living without it anyway. New is the thing you never saw coming … never even hoped for, but ends up being what you needed all along …

And through it all, she concludes, 'God keeps loving us back to life, over and over.’


*     *     *


Wow. This year has reminded me how a shock can positively unsettle our pre-prepared answers to faith and life. It seems to be part of God's way; things won’t always look the way we think they should. We may have more questions than answers right now, but a good question, lovingly held, can hold us open to the possibility of different answers, new life.

What does resurrection look like from within this pandemic? Perhaps we've already been answering, through new ways to work, or closer connections to Creation, or by re-imagining how we see our neighbours, or unleashing our creativity (when there's nothing left to lose!). Perhaps new life comes as we admit that we are indeed fragile, that we need each other, that letting go is often how we open our hands to receive.

And as we hold the questions open, the one thing I've more faith in than ever is ... that the trajectory is love. In the spirit of Sylvia’s haiku, and in the words of Paul (from the Message version of 1 Corinthians 13), we're given something to work with, aren't we? - threads to weave, to render beautiful our most uncertain days:

'Trust steadily in God.
Hope unswervingly.
Love extravagantly.'

And the greatest of these, of course, is love. Amen. 


*     *     *


May God love you back to life, today, over and over.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* What's your question?

* If you'd like to listen to a song, this is wonderful: an improvised lockdown anthem like no other. I'm grateful to Ian for sharing the magic of the husband and wife duo the Bengsons. Make sure you watch, too: and be inspired to keep going, today, with The Keep Going Song. (You may need a tissue.)

* I read this 'invocation' on my shortened 'Lent Moment Live'. It's from Tess Ward's brilliant book The Celtic Wheel of the Year (O Books). Take it slowly, line by line:

Lure of all our longing
Draw us on our inner pilgrimage.
As the soil on land is ploughed and sowed,
Prepare the ground of my being to do the soul-work.
Prepare my feet to walk the untrodden paths.
Prepare my hands to receive the unexpected.
Prepare my face to withstand whatever the weather.
Prepare my shoulders to offer strength to the fellow traveller.
Prepare my desire to sift my dreams.
Prepare my resolve to shift the shapes that I put in the way.
Prepare my discernment to see what is no longer needed.
Prepare my back to relax as you carry my load.
Walk beside me and draw me deeper into you as I set out from here.

Amen.

*'It's actually pretty easy to mistake Jesus for the gardener.' Read Nadia Bolz Webber's talk (or watch her deliver it) here.

----------------------------------------------------

28 // The Lady With the Lamp


“Here I am. Send me!” (Isaiah 6.8)


*     *     *


Good morning!

I’ve felt stirred by another work of art featuring a natural cross, this week - by Sophie Hacker, in fact, who made a stained-glass window (known as 'the Calling Window') last year to commemorate Florence Nightingale's birth (200 years ago last May).

Who’d have foreseen, at the start of last year, how the Lady with the Lamp would return so prominently to our consciousness - with the Covid hospitals springing up in her name, a reminder of her extraordinary legacy, for which we owe so much. (We even have her to thank for originating that simplest reminder to 'Wash your hands!')

Nightingale was a Christian, who heard a call from God just before her 16th birthday, while sitting under a cedar tree in her garden in Hampshire. Sophie's window depicts the future founder of modern nursing as she turns to face a cross-shaped light through the cedar - evoking the Annunciation, which we celebrated yesterday.
 

*     *     *


God's call on her life began, apparently, in four simple syllables: “Lo, it is I.” And her response flowed, in the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Here I am Lord. Send me.”

The rest, as they say, is history; that simple 'call and response' defining her life’s dedication to the practical service of others, and treating everyone 'as Christ'.

She once wrote: 'It strikes me that all truth lies between these two: man saying to God, as Samuel did, "Lord, here am I", and God saying to man as Christ did, in the storm, "Lo it is I, be not afraid."'


*     *     *


We don't all experience quite such profound moments of epiphany under a cedar tree, of course. We don't all hear God speak literally. Yet I'm sure we each have felt God's presence in ways which meet us where we are, and overflow us into action.

And the action matters, doesn't it? It's a challenge, to think of how we respond to God's “It is I”, with our own, "Here I am..." - and I confess, I'm often scared of adding: "Send me!" But I'm sure we're given the energy and gifts to go where we sense God calls us, whether it's to a war zone halfway round the world, or simply deeper in to where we are right now.


*     *     *


When it was time for Jesus to leave the wilderness, he did so with a clear sense of his calling - announcing his public work by reading from the scroll of Isaiah once he'd headed home to Nazareth:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
   because he has anointed me
   to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
   and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
    to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (Luke 4.18-19)

Carved into the cedar trunks of Sophie's window are two scriptures that helped define Florence Nightingale's life and work: ‘I was sick and ye nursed me’ (adapted from Matthew 25.36) and, from the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the merciful.'

The words of Jesus himself were the lamp to her feet and light to her path, even as she carried her famous lamp on her night-time rounds so courageously among the wounded in the Crimea.

How good to think that we may carry such a light as well, especially in this pandemic. It may only take us as far as our neighbour, for now, but no matter: wherever we go, today, the art, I'm sure, is to go like Florence ... as if we're well and truly sent.


*     *     *


May it be so:
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* In a few quiet moments, breathe in God's "It is I", and breathe out your "Here I am." On the next out-breath, whisper "Send me."

* Have a listen to Mike Scott's sublime song 'What do you want me to do?'

* How would you begin to describe your own sense of calling, in a sentence or phrase? Which scriptures might inspire you, or illustrate this?

* A prayer from the Church of England’s coronavirus prayer book:

Lord Jesus Christ, you taught us to love our neighbour, and to care for them as if we were caring for You. In this time of anxiety, give us strength to comfort the fearful, to tend the sick, and to assure the isolated of our love, and Your love. For your name’s sake. Amen.

* When you wash your hands today, remember Florence Nightingale. Recall the words, "Lo, it is I", and whisper back, "Here I am. Send me." Be conscious that wherever you go, from there, you're sent.

* Watch Sophie Hacker's recent YouTube reflection on her 'Calling Window'. It's short and excellent. (And do join her for an on-line discussion on March 30th about her work - she'd love to see you! Look for the note at the end of the video.)

* The 'Calling Window' is in Romsey Abbey (not far from where Nightingale lived). The photograph above is included with Sophie's blessing and love.

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27 // The Meadow of Hope


“Let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1.38)


*     *     *


On Tuesday’s ‘National Day of Reflection’, my wife and I switched the TV on just before noon, to observe the collective minute of silence together.

What surprise and personal joy for us when we found they were transmitting live to the nation from Winchester cathedral - the place I’ve finished so many of my walking retreats, with so many of you! But how good, too, that a national moment like this was ‘held’ (as it was) with such loving care from within a Christian space.

And most powerful, I thought, was the huge turf cross, named ‘the Meadow of Hope’, which had been laid the entire length of the empty nave as a potent, growing symbol. Bursting with primroses and daffodils, it made a stunning artistic work of re-imagination - which is, some might say, what the Cross is all about.

 

*     *     *


In its usual form, of course, a crucifix is appropriately stark; yet the Cross is the very ground from which new life grows ... And I, for one, can’t think of anything lovelier than a meadow in spring-time, to help us picture it anew.

I visited it yesterday (how could I not?). It evokes, so well, the ‘bright sadness’ we touched on at the start of Lent, through its embrace of death and its greenery (‘every blade of grass’, remember!). And I couldn't help feeling that those flowers don’t just 'speak' of resurrection; they are its very textures, colours and fragrances.


*     *     *


Today, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation (when we remember the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary). It falls a few days after the equinox, just as Christmas falls a few days after the winter solstice. As such, it's not just a quarter of the way through the natural cycle of the year, but also an exquisitely placed spring-time threshold for the soul - precisely nine months before we celebrate Jesus' birth, thus marking the conception of Immanuel; now planted, surely, like a seed of hope within us all.

Lest we forget, that seed contains the whole: the life, the death, the resurrection of our Lord. And something we couldn't ask for or imagine is conceived, like a miracle, if we yield. Mary answers Gabriel, "Let it be unto me …”, showing how to respond to a call in which we all can share: to welcome Jesus here, among us and within us.

Sat at the 'Meadow of Hope' for a few simple minutes, I'm reminded how the ground of our being will thaw, and soften ... as we mourn, and bear witness; as we let go of what we anxiously cling to; as we quieten the lies of ego; as we yield to God's will and love; as we lay our burdens at the Cross, to open our hands and hearts afresh. Thank you, thank you, I can hear myself whisper.

Thank you that we don’t have to wait until death, even, for new hope, new gifts to spring, like flowers - for, in a way, we are the flowers, aren't we? Bringing God's colours, textures, fragrances to life within the brightest, loveliest meadow of all.


*     *     *


May we yield, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* I've been listening to Johnny Cash's rendition of 'Just As I Am'. Perhaps you'd like to, this morning, as you envision the meadow of hope.

* Spend some time with Luke's account of the Annunciation.

* For an anthem, why not listen to John Tavener's 'The Annunciation' here (and find the words here).

* We 'beheld" this painting of ‘The Annunciation’ by Henry Ossawa Tanner during our Advent series. Why not revisit it, and let it evoke a sense of Advent within this Lenten/Easter/springtime season.

* You can watch the short service of reflection from Winchester. It starts about six minutes in, although there are some nice meditative shots before that of the cross.

---------------------------------

26 // The Moment of Choice


“I have set before you life and death ... Now choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30.19)


*     *     *


This week, one of our Lent community - John B - steered me toward a painting I’ve not seen before (but should have, I'm sure!): 'Christ in the Wilderness' by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoy (which was completed in 1872).

 

*     *     *


It's an extraordinary work (look at that light!), and really, we need say no more. But I have been struck, personally, by one or two things in particular.

The first is that it’s so easy to glance at a picture, a painting, or even another person without really seeing. Our eyes move so restlessly on. Jesus, of course, wasn't rushing anywhere fast, here.

And I was stopped in my tracks, too, when I read that Kramskoy had taken five years of ‘tears and blood’ to complete this image. Surely, then, I can find a few minutes to honour, and see the work, especially because of its subject.

Behold, Christ in the Wilderness.


*     *     *


There's so much in this painting to savour, but I'm drawn to its symmetry, with the desert filling the lower half, and the dawn sky, the upper. Jesus spans both, here, his bare feet planted in the dust; his hands clasped tight in the centre; his face kissed with the first hints of morning light. His whole 'person' deep within this moment.

We remember how Jesus faced temptation, around what Henri Nouwen calls 'three lies' of human identity: I am what I do ("Turn these stones to bread!"), I am what others say about me ("Throw yourself from the Temple and the angels will catch you!"), and I am what I have ("Worship me, and I will give you all the kingdoms of this world...").

In a letter to the author Vsevolod Garshin, Kramskoy explained about his painting: 'I see clearly that there is one moment in the life of every person created in the image and likeness of God ... when he thinks about whether to go to the right or to the left, whether to sell Lord God for a rouble or not to yield a step to the evil.'


*     *     *


It's almost too much to take in, the magnitude of this moment. I mean, if we're to believe it could have gone either way, then how much more moving does it makes Jesus' unswerving dedication to the choice of life, through love? It marks the path to Calvary; a path that starts right here. He chooses us.

And with its echoes of Gethsemane, too, perhaps a moment for us, ahead of Easter week, to wait, and watch, with him.


*     *     *


I'm so glad Kramskoy painted Jesus with the realism of a Russian peasant rather than the piety of a religious automaton. For while it was one monumentally divine 'Yes' to life which brought him 'down' to Earth, it's the humanity of his daily choices, too, that brings his Way of love within our reach.

We might not have the energy, this Lent, to make the big, emboldening decisions; but we can choose life, even in the way we make a cup of tea, or greet a neighbour, or send an e-mail. For we can choose him in any moment, too. Even if that just means we light a candle, to say I don't know what to do ... but choose to let Your guiding light of love shine on me, and in me, every step, today.

This is the moment.


*     *     *


May you stay with him, and he with you.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Contemplate the painting. When you feel you've spent enough time doing so, spend a little more time doing so.

* I really appreciate this song called 'You Say' by Lauren Daigle (not least because my daughter does, too). It resonates, for me, with this moment in the wilderness.

* You can read a bit more about the artist Kramskoy and 'Christ in the WIlderness' here.

* I read aloud this RSVP poem about a blackbird by Sue H during last week's Lent Moment Live. Several of you have asked to see it again. Here it is:

A blackbird sings

That's most of all he does
And it's enough.
He won't compare his song 
to the call of other birds
Or fear his sound will strike a dissonant note -
His rill a thrill
within the harmonies 
awakening the dawn.

This morning it's as if I heard him sing,
"Beloved
You are enough.
Cease searching for a song
In someone else's sound
For your truth isn't hidden
In their tune.
Awaken the notes that hide inside your own soul
And be the song that you alone can sing."

Sue Hollywell

-------------------------------------


 

25 // The Candle


“How long, Lord?” (Psalm 13)


*     *     *


Today is a ‘day of national reflection’, here in the UK. We started our first national lockdown exactly a year ago. There’ll be a minute’s silence at noon.

I wonder what such an anniversary evokes?

I can’t speak for you, of course … but for me, it’s a bit like when you visit a new and different land and experience visceral disorientation, senses heightened.

It's that out-of-body moment as you hear the words, “You must stay at home”, and your eldest’s exams are cancelled and revision cards lie scattered on the floor like all the best laid plans.

It's finding the supermarket shelves empty and you can’t get flour or eggs or loo roll or paracetamol and it’s a 45-minute queue round the block anyway … and you have to explain (again) to your youngest why we can’t just pop round to her cousin's and "break the rules" … (who made you the teacher, anyway?) ... and someone drops flour and eggs off for you, like they're telepathic (or just really kind) ... and you go to bed one night with a different kind of pain in your chest wondering, Is this it ..?

Into your hands, Lord, we place our sorely sanitised hands.
 

*     *     *


And you tell yourself and whoever wants to listen, ‘Andra Tutto Bene’ (as they sing from the balconies in Rome), all will be well. And the more you say it, the more you want to believe it, and we draw rainbows as if they’re a kind of promise embedded like source-code in the human DNA, and you recall the Bible verses you’d always thought you'd trust in a crisis, and maybe you can, maybe you can.

And you hear birds singing properly for the first time since you were a child (were they here, all along?), and you breathe the fresh air, and cease the rush from A to B and sense you might be getting somewhere, at last - at least, you don’t have to be in three places at once, right now. And you dust off the board games and try to recall what all humans seem to do in the happier pause of a power failure. Remember?
 

*     *     *


And some days are like heaven and others, hell, or they’re both at once, or just nothing, like gone-off vanilla, but your favourite singer's doing a livestream tonight ("And in the midst of these moments / It’s like we never left / But in a lifetime of returning / We’re not home yet, we’re not home yet ..." - thank you Martyn Joseph, thank you) so there’s something to look forward to, and meantime we'll watch Groundhog Day and make an effort and try to do the smallest things with love …

But it’s the smallest things that set you off, too, isn't it? Like hearing ‘the Blessing’ for the first time, out of the blue - He is with you, He is with you … all around you, and beside you - and it is a blessing, and it all floods back now: the having to trust, having to yield, having to wait, having to wonder, having the time, having some faith, and when there's nothing else you can do, having a candle to light in the darkness.

"Just enough light for the next step, Lord."

And the candle bears witness to all you wish you could say, but can’t and perhaps never will find the words for. It says it for you. Thank you. Help. Please. I miss you. I love you. We remember. And behold ... the Lord make his face shine upon you, and give you peace.


*     *     *


May you have enough light.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Have another listen to the UK Blessing, this morning.

* Have a listen to Martyn Joseph's gorgeous 'Let Yourself' here.

* Write your own 'one year on' reflection.

* Why don't we set our alarms for 8pm tonight and light a candle as a community. To give thanks. To remember. Let's share the moment, across our distance.

* If you didn't catch Friday's 'Lent Moment Live', you can watch it here.

--------------------------------

24 // The Keepsake


“The One I’ve trusted in can take care of what he’s trusted me to do right to the end … So keep at your work, this faith and love rooted in Christ, exactly as I set it out for you... Guard this precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit who works in us...” (1Timothy1.14-16 MSG)


*     *     *


Taylor Swift's song 'Epiphany' prompted my wife and I to think of our grandparents' generation; the tumult of the world they were part of during the war, and what they passed down. Her maternal grandfather survived the sinking of his warship (and three days clinging to a raft) in Arctic waters. I never met him, but I love to think I meet him, and his resilience, in Katharine, and her mum.

When I was about ten, my dad's dad gave me something I’ve treasured ever since, a copper Spitfire which was given to him by a German prisoner of war. The PoW had whittled it from an old penny piece while doing manual labour on a farm close by.

Things get handed down, don't they, and sometimes very movingly. A family Bible with underlinings. A locket. A lock of hair, even.
 

*     *     *


My own keepsake makes me think of all sorts, from the careful craft of the hands who made it, to the microcosm of one friendship within a war that speaks of the possibility of reconciliation between peoples, countries...

It makes me think of how we value what we own (what would you save, if your house was on fire?). It’s so often the simple things we treasure, the less that speaks of more; the 'stuff' that money can't buy.

But for me, the greatest gift was to be entrusted with a treasure in the first place. And it makes me think of how, and what, I've been entrusted with, by God. The 'precious thing placed in your custody by the Holy Spirit', as Paul tells Timothy.


*     *     *


Because anything we receive, we must also pass on, when the time is right. Not as a memorial to ego, but as the blessing of one soul to another.

It's timely as we pause, tomorrow, to mark the one-year anniversary of our first lockdown in the UK. We've learned a lot since then, haven't we, about what we value. We've had to let so much go, but there'll be things to treasure, that each of us, uniquely, can pass on, because of our experience.

It might even be a lovingly tended object. I think of my daughter one day handing on her pandemic Bible journal. What story will it tell of who she was becoming, and what she learned through these times of testing?

And what about you, and me? What speaks of how we keep these unloved days, in 'faith and love', for the sake of Jesus? And how good to think that others may yet meet 'the One', in us, who trusts us with his treasure.


*     *     *


May you be 'rooted in Christ', today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Here's a musical rendition of St Patrick's Prayer by the Brilliance. It's called Christ Be With Me. Several of you have said how good it was to connect with this ancient prayer again last week. This is a helpful musical way to reconnect, as well.

* Here's a short film my hugely talented brother-in-law Jon Richards made me with about the soul, a few years ago. It's called Soul Runner, and I think it stands the test of time. Why not use it as a meditation, today ...

* Write a haiku as a creative response to where you find yourself, on the eve of the first anniversary of our lockdowns (see RSVPs, below).

* If you didn't catch Friday's 'Lent Moment Live', you can watch it here.

* Don't forget to watch the leaves unfurl on one particular tree, and to meditate upon the waxing moon, which is now over half full ...


*     *     *


RSVP! Haiku time!

OK, the next window's open! And I'd love to invite you to write a haiku. It's a three-line poem (doesn't have to rhyme!), using 5 syllables for the first line, 7 syllables for the second line, and 5 for the third line.

It's a discipline which really helps us to distill what we're trying to say into something very focused. Have a go! Send one to me by replying to this e-mail, and I will pop your responses up bit by bit, on the RSVP page here. Thank you!

--------------------------------

23 // The Swallow


“In Him all things hold together …” (Colossians 1.17)


*     *     *


I’ve felt so connected to our community through your RSVPs, and one recently seemed to exemplify, for me, the bonds we share, as God's children, across continents, cultures and seasons. It came from Kay, in South Africa:

‘Last week, someone [in the UK] mentioned looking forward to seeing their first swallow,' she wrote. 'I'm aware, from a recurring date in my diary, that on March 10th every year, our spacious blue southern skies will become vacant - and they do. Somewhere between midnight and dawn the wheeling swallows departed for northern climes - so they are on their way!

‘These “returning” signs give us hope for the future, and we marvel at God's intricate handiwork that keeps tides, and orbits and migrations all working perfectly.’

So wonderfully put!
 

*     *     *


How fluid and mesmersing, the nature of this life on Earth we share, as tomorrow's equinox reminds us, too. Light and dark, forever in their dance within the rhythms of Creation, pause in perfect balance across the world for just one day.

Some rhythms we all experience in their completeness every day, such as the inhale, exhale of breathing, which we've 'practised' together this Lent. They bring us close, across the miles, as we share in them together; as we fall into soulful step.

(Take a breath, now. Restore your God-given rhythm, even in this moment.)

But we can also be at different points of life's ebb and flow, too. My skies might soon be blessed with swallows; yours, empty. I might be planting, you, reaping. You could be in darkness, while I'm in light. But crucially, in God's kingdom, your gain is never my loss, and vice versa. As Paul tells us, we are held together in Christ.


*     *     *


It's perhaps when we're most out of synch with Creation that it can feel like we are stuck. When we're present to the seasons and cycles of God's kingdom - what Eugene Peterson calls 'the unforced rhythms of grace' - we find a flow. We can welcome the swallow, but bid goodbye with grace, as Kay shows us, when it's time.

Tomorrow is the first true day of spring here, so long awaited! Yet the South does not lose out: 'Thou hast thy music too,' as John Keats wrote so helpfully of autumn.
 

*     *     *


It will require great tenacity, and an unfathomable sense of direction, for the swallows to make it here. They'll be flying for six weeks, across thousands of miles, and even crossing the Sahara desert. What miracles of navigation and endurance they are!

When they do finally arrive, Lent will be over, and our community dispersed, for a season. But when I see my first swallow - an electrifying moment, I admit - I'll think of Kay, and friends in different places, and say thank you for lending us this sign of life.

And I'll rejoice, too, in the epic journey we all continue to share in Christ, as - within those unforced rhythms - a miraculous, migratory instinct of the soul draws us ever closer home.
 

*     *     *


May you feel the flow, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* 'There's a bud there's a bulb / It will be blooming / To greet every new day that may come / Like the first of spring.' I love Tracy Chapman's song 'Spring', which acknowledges there will be cold, and rain, and tears, and yet we can greet 'every new day that may come, like the first of Spring'. You can listen here, and you read the lyrics here.

* Here's a blessing from the Northumbria community, which comes from a traditional Gaelic prayer learned by Alexander MacNeil, a fishsalter in Barra:

As it was, as it is,
and as it shall be evermore,
God of grace,
 God in Trinity!

With the ebb, with the flow,
ever it is so,

God of grace, O Trinity,

with the ebb and flow.

* Spend a little time with the Message version of Matthew 11 and 'the unforced rhythms of grace', today.

* Why not reach out to someone in a different season today, literal or metaphorical, and cheer them on.

* Don't forget to watch the leaves unfurl on one particular tree, and to meditate upon the waxing crescent moon, which speaks of the countdown to the Passion of Christ.

----------------------------

22 // The Sunrise of Wonder


“The sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings …” (Malachi 4.2)


*     *     *


I recently learned that the great Victorian engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel built (what was, in 1841) the world’s longest railway tunnel, near Box, Wiltshire, in such a way that the sun rises through it on his birthday, April 9th. What design!

We’ve spent time with the moon, in Lent. (And the crescent 'Paschal' moon has looked amazing, here!) Jesus will have contemplated the sunrise too, in the desert, and felt its kiss upon his face after cold, starry nights. How good it must have felt.

Surely it spoke to him, too, of the ‘sun of righteousness’ who'd rise with ‘healing in its wings’ as foretold by Malachi; and 'the rising sun [that] will come to us from heaven', of which Zechariah sang just before Jesus was born (Luke 1.78).

How he must have been warmed by the very hopefulness of the calling set out by Isaiah (60.1): 'Arise, shine...' Did his identity fully and finally dawn on him in these wilderness moments of illumination? Enough to say, "I am the light of the world."


*     *     *


As we edge toward the spring equinox on Saturday, we'll feel rightly joyful that the days are getting lighter. So much has happened since we faced into the shortest day. It's always a significant journey towards the light, but how much more so, this year.

It's happy that light itself is good for us: from its mental health benefits (sunshine is as effective as Prozac, one study has found), to vitamin D, and the sense of well-being we get from being out. (The intensity of light - 'lux' - is far greater outside than through a window. So it pays to start the day with a few minutes outside if you can.)

But as the best metaphors attest, you can’t see the join between the physical and emotional, mental and spiritual. God makes us whole. And at sun rise in spring we surely sense a particular wonder at the great promised rebirth, too - of each new day, and of this season, and of Creation as a whole.
 

*     *     *


And we share with Jesus not just the joy of feeling the sun on our face - one of life's loveliest gifts - but deep within the soul, as well; that place from which we rise again, with him, and shine God's light from inside out. Though perhaps the calling dawns on us a little slower: "You are the light of the world," says Jesus, now (Matt 5.14).

GK Chesterton once wrote of 'a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence,' somewhere within us. 'The object of the artistic and spiritual life,' he said, is 'to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder.'

Brunel dug, quite literally, for his. But what brilliance from the Designer of Creation, that there is Light at the end of the tunnel for us all. Today, this year, and always.
 

*     *     *


A bit of cloud cover here, this morning, but the sun's there rising, behind it!
And the birds are singing.
And may you shine bright.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Have a listen to this lovely hope-filled (and short) song by the Brilliance, called The Sun Will Rise, which they re-recorded at the start of the pandemic last year.

* Then step outside. If you're early enough, behold the sun rise (whether you can see the sun or not!). Otherwise, just pause, for a few moments or minutes, and receive the light of day upon your face, and imagine it shining within you at the same time. Welcome the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual light of God's love.

* Why not use these words of Mechthild of Magdeburg for inspiration: 'As you well know, all the flame and glowing in heaven and on earth whichever burns and shines flows from God alone.'

* Contemplate this photo of the sun rising through Brunel's Box Tunnel here. (It's at the top of an article in the Guardian.) Although the tunnel was dug in 1841, the birthday sunrise remained a legend until it was finally verified in 2017!

* What could 'light at the end of the tunnel' look like for you, in terms of the pandemic, but also in terms of the spiritual arc of your life?

* Here's a nice short time-lapse video of a sunrise.

--------------------------

21 // The Soundtrack


‘Oh sing to the Lord a new song.' (Psalm 96.1)


*     *     *


Good morning ... and happy St Patrick's Day!

My family gave a cheer this week when the musician Taylor Swift won ‘album of the year’ at the Grammys (and became the first woman, in the process, to win the prestigious award three times).

It was quite an achievement, especially as she wrote the album Folklore in isolation, and worked with a small team remotely to record it under strict lockdown conditions. When so much was stopping, she was just getting started.

It became the soundtrack to our family’s Covid year - and not only makes me glad for the tenacity of artists such as her, but reminds me that we can each engage our creativity, whatever the conditions - to explore and express the times, and our place within them.


*     *     *


I wonder what song, book, film or other work of art has especially helped you to keep going, or to find connection, succour, meaning, or voice within the pandemic?


*     *     *

 

There’s one song, for me, on Folklore, called ‘Epiphany’. It starts by depicting her wounded grandfather, in World War Two, 'crawling up the beaches now', and the shock of that time. Then it fast-forwards to a nurse on today’s front line of Covid, adapting to what they didn’t teach in med-school: ‘Someone’s daughter, someone’s mother / Holds your hands through plastic now…'


For that nurse, exhausted physially and emotionally, there’s:

‘Only 20 minutes to sleep,
but you dream of some epiphany.
Just one single glimpse of relief
To make sense of what you’ve seen.’

Although it doesn't mention God, the song bears witness, like an unresolved psalm; and for me it evokes the year we've, in a sense, all had, so poignantly ... this struggle to breathe, to sleep; this standing alongside, at distance; this, hoping, praying.

I just listened to it again now, and it brought it all back, as well as a tear.


*     *     *


Thank God for such psalmists in all their different guises; the artists who behold these very moments we're part of, and help us to explore and express our world.

But there’s a bass note of wisdom, too, that sounds from deeper down, or farther back in time, from those whose words were once new, too. Perhaps a band or a novel or some such, which helped to form you, from way back when.

For me, it was U2, a band who blessed me with a soundtrack to grow up to, and an artistry to challenge and strengthen my faith. A sacred gift indeed from the Irish!

And on this St Patrick’s Day, I think, too, of the artistry of saints way past, whose very lives lend wisdom to ours, and whose shoulders we stand upon. I give thanks for Patrick, and the beauty of his prayer, which is just as fresh today, as ever:

I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock ...

Christ shield me!

I arise today
Through the mighty strength
Of the Lord of creation.

And as his prayer arises, today, in the hearts of so many -  a shield indeed for troubled times - so we arise, within that magnificently creative strength of the Trinity. To make sense, as best we can, of what we see. To dream of some epiphany.
 

*     *     *


The sun's rising out there.
May the strength of heaven be yours, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Take some time to read St Patrick's famous prayer, and take it line by line, and speak it out loud, or quietly within, and perhaps copy a few lines out today, and carry the prayer with you, close to your heart.

* Listen to 'Epiphany'. This official video helpfully puts up the words, and could be a powerful way to reflect for yourself on the strange days we've lived through.

* Ask yourself what song, or book, or film, or painting, etc … has helped you to find connection, meaning, voice within the pandemic. Revisit it. Let it speak of what has happened in your soul, your life, your experience.

* Make a small creative response for yourself, today, to help you 'make sense of what you've seen' through this last year.

* Here's an offering from U2 - One, featuring Mary J Blige. It reminds me of our Lent community: 'We're one, but we're not the same. We get to carry each other.'

* 'Why do we need art? Art becomes essential, not decorative.' Why not watch this touching and inspiring short film of Bono (of U2) chatting with the theologian (and author of the Message) Eugene Peterson about their shared passion for the artistry and honesty of the psalms.

--------------------------------

20 // Every Blade of Grass


‘'He brought me into a spacious place. He ... delighted in me.’”’ (Psalm 18.19).


*     *     *


Another person I mentioned on Friday’s ‘Lent Moment' was Thérèse of Lisieux, the French Carmelite nun who lived at the end of the 19th-century, and died at 24. She became known for her ‘little way’ of simplicity.

‘All the flowers God has created are beautiful,’ she writes, in her journal (published after her death). ‘The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away from the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy … If all the flowers want to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty ...

'And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden,’ she says. ‘Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.’

Beautiful! And how good to be released from any restless urge to impress the world by being someone else. We can be God's, wherever we find our self planted.


*     *     *


And being like the little flower reminds me of something the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt said, when it comes to the way he composes. In fact, he takes it further.

In a documentary film, he holds an informal master-class about his evocatively spacious piece of music Für Alina, explaining how much each note truly matters to him, and has been so carefully, lovingly placed within the space:

‘I had a need,’ he says hesitantly, ‘to concentrate on each sound, so that every blade of grass would be as important as a flower.’

Such creative love! I can't help thinking: if a human being can bring that kind of care to every single note, imagine what your Creator has invested in composing you, and those around you, and placing you here. (Behold!)
 

*     *     *


All of which might help us to 'be', a little more assuredly, today. Not that ‘being’ is passive, of course. In the Talmud (the compilation of Jewish moral and ethical debate) there’s a saying: ‘Every blade of grass has its angel that bends over it, and whispers, “Grow. Grow.”’ And I'm sure we grow best in God's love.

In the Bible, one of the root Hebrew words for 'bending over' is chaphets, which also means 'delights'. As the psalmist writes: 'He brought me into a spacious place. He ... delighted in me.’

So much of our 'doing' has been stripped away by the pandemic, and I'm sure it's been a challenge, at times, to meet the same small stuff of our routine, each day, with love. Yet we've surely grown, along the way. And to think: God tends us, as little things; and bends to delight in us like flowers, or the notes of a loving composer. Isn't that enough to help us keep it simple, today? To be who God wills us. To be!
 

*     *     *


May you sense God's delight, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Settle in, pop your headphones on, and listen to Fur Alina here. Breathe nice and slowly and calmly through it. Sense the space between the notes, and the clarity and beauty of each note in relation to the other. Try to listen with the kind of loving care the composer has given to it. As the music continues, let the notes remind you of the care the Creator takes in placing you within 'this' space. Whisper the words of the psalm: 'He brought me into a spacious place. He delights in me.'

* Spend some time with little flowers. Draw, sketch, photograph them. As you bend to delight in them, remember the Creator bending to delight in you. (What do you think God loves about your own fragrance, colour, shape ..?)

* Walk barefoot across grass, and let your feet kiss the earth. God's earth.

* How have you grown, during the pandemic? Prayerfully reflect on the year.

* And if you missed it, you can still listen to Friday's 'Lent Moment Live' on my YouTube channel.

---------------------------------

19 // The Glance That Falls Like Sunshine


‘Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”’ (John 4.7).


*     *     *


Good morning! A quick note about today's reflection. I touch in passing on the outpouring here in the UK about the kind of 'everyday harrassment' so many women face. I felt it was right to, as sensitively as I can, in a sense just to bear witness.

But you may prefer not to go there, and if that's the case, please don't. I'm conscious, too, that I write as a man, and that no short reflection is ever complete. But I hope I write, as always, with love.


*     *     *


On Friday’s ‘Lent Moment Live’ I read a verse from a poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox called ‘At Set of Sun’. I love it! And it should be deeply encouraging to those of us (probably most of us!) who feel that what we do doesn’t always count for very much:

If we sit down at set of sun,
And count the things that we have done,
  And counting, find
One self-denying act, one word
That eased the heart of him who heard,
  One glance, most kind,
That fell like sunshine where it went -
Then we may count that day well spent.


*     *     *


Such sustaining words; I hope they inspire you, today.

And I don't want to detract from their loveliness. But the poem doesn’t quite end on this ‘high’; instead it concludes with a caveat, that if we don’t tend the small things, then the day can be lost.

I’m grateful for the challenge, because her inspiring phrase, the ‘glance, most kind’ feels all too poignant beside a jarring counterpoint, the stolen glance, which has featured prominently in the news this week. The murder of Sarah Everard has released an outpouring of lament and righteous anger on social media, and at protests and vigils, from so many women sharing stories of 'everyday' harrasssment.

It's painfully evident that the (predominantly male) glance that 'steals' on pavements and buses, in offices, even churches, is only the tip of a cultural iceberg - from unwanted comments to far, far worse. Jesus tackled it: ‘If you even look at a woman with lust ...’ (Matthew 5.27). It must have taken courage to call this out in public.


*     *     *


But mercifully, he showed, too, what difference it makes to look upon anyone with God's love. I think of the woman at the well (John 4), who I’m guessing was wearily used to receiving unwanted comments, glances and the rest.

Imagine looking into Jesus' eyes.

It’s worth trying, because we might see better how to look upon each other, too. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters. Jesus invites us to change our way of seeing. And shows it can be done.


*     *     *


In a fascinating article on racial prejudice, the philosopher James Smith challenges us to ask "Who is my neighbour?" and to re-imagine the answer through our firstglance. If we see the person before us as an object, or an enemy, it's a failure of our imagination, he says. To see them as a neighbour is a feat of the imagination. It's a choice in the moment. An act of resistance. A sign of life.

When we diminish the humanity of those we look upon, we diminish our own. When we honour it, we honour our own. Smith writes, 'I dream of a sanctification of sight … such that even our first glance is holy.'

Imagine that! That's what I aspire to, today. Whomever, and whatever, I encounter.

Because the little things really do matter, as Ella Wheeler Wilcox said. Ask anyone who feels threatened, judged, powerless, ignored. Ask anyone who receives a small and tender act of kindness. The 'glance that falls like sunshine' can, in God's mercy, change the day for good. I pray we spend this day well, and together make it count.

 

*     *     *


May God's glance fall like sunshine upon you, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Take some time in stillness and silence, this morning.

* Have a look in the mirror. Look at yourself as you imagine Jesus would look at you.

* Spend some time with Jesus and the woman at the well in John 4. Try to imagine the way Jesus looks upon her, and what it's like for her to meet him.

* You can read 'At Set of Sun' here.

* You can read James Smith's long-ish but powerful leading article 'Healing the Imagination' here. It's published in the arts and spirituality journal Image.

* Marina Hyde is a brilliant writer for the Guardian, and she wrote on Friday of the harrassment she experienced last week on the school run. It's quite harrowing, and contains explicit language, but it was helpful for me to read (as a man), and high-lights the issue powerfully. You can read it here.

* If you haven't yet watched it, you can still listen to Friday's 'Lent Moment Live' on my YouTube channel.

* Don't forget to take a photo of a tree that's coming into leaf - and do it daily, so you can behold the slow but steady onset of spring. And step out, if you can do so safely, after dark to behold the darkness, and to watch the new moon start to wax.

---------------------------

18 // The Darker Sky


‘The day is yours, and yours also the night.’ (Psalm 74.16).


*     *     *


Good morning!

Did you see the huge waning crescent moon in the early morning skies this week? It was amazing to see it hanging close to the horizon, just before sunrise.

It's a 'new' moon this weekend - which means there’s no moon in the night sky for about three days, rendering the darkness darker. And in Lent, that new moon, just like the full moon, really draws me back again to Jesus.

I think of him sitting there in the wilderness, on his own; shimmering stars above, no doubt, yet so dark below on earth without moonlight. A baptism of total immersion, there within Creation's glittering darkness. In our light polluted world, we’ve probably no idea. Perhaps he whispered the words of the psalmist, when it all felt too much:

‘The day is yours, and yours also the night.’


*     *     *


It's tempting to think automatically that 'dark equals bad', in spiritual terms, and without doubt it’s the cover, so tragically, for humanity to do its worst.

But let's remember, God’s kingdom differs from our ego’s way of simplistically making opposites of everything - of 'light vs dark’, ‘us vs them’. Instead, Creation speaks more fluently and soulfully of the rhythms God created, lovingly expressed through day and night, dark and light, winter and spring-time, heaven and earth ...

Just by breathing, we find Creation's rhythm, too. (Take a few breaths, now.)

I love to think Jesus brings God’s presence to bear where human fear has reigned so long; I like to think he takes back the darkness, in a way, for God, and us.


*     *     *


En route to Jerusalem at the end of his short life, he’ll experience the new moon that corresponds with this weekend of ours, knowing he's now just half a lunar cycle from Passover, and with it, his Passion.

I wonder, did those three moonless nights take him back to the pitch black of the wilderness, where he'd learned to sit with love, within it? They surely took him forward, to the three days, coming soon, when he’d be plunged into the deepest human darkness known.

‘The day is yours, and yours also the night.’


*     *     *


We can’t always understand why things go wrong in life: why we're not healed, or bad things happen to good people, or pandemics hit. It’s fair enough to presume that God should make everything OK. In a sense, Jesus is not the Messiah most of us expect or hope for - if what we want, in the end, is a religion of the best bits.

But mercifully, this story’s deeper; faith in Jesus embraces every part of life. God’s presence goes before us, to the darkness we so often fear, and promises not to magic us away, so much as meet us there within it. Isn't that a greater miracle? It's certainly a mystery our ego-mind will always struggle to resolve.

 

Some days, all we'll be able to do is stand, in the pitch black, and try to breathe. But Lent gives us the opportunity to draw the imaginary line within that darkness, too; to behold the mystery of not knowing, the sacredness of what we can't work out or see.


And if we can't always see what's there in front of our eyes, for lack of light, at least the stars shine brighter without moonlight, and gleam like treasures in the darkness. 'The day is yours,' they surely sing, along with all Creation. 'And yours also the night.'
 

*     *     *


May we honour the mystery, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* I asked my daughter Mercy if she'd suggest a song, to mix it up a bit. She hadn't read my reflection, but she offered this - 'Praise You In This Storm', by Melody Joy Cloud. I'd not heard it before, but I hope it touches you, as much as it did me. (You can read the words, which are so apt, if you click 'Show More' below the screen.)

* Spend some time with that verse from the psalms: ‘The day is yours, and yours also the night’ (Psalm 74.16). Sketch it, paint it, doodle it, write in a different language, stick it on a post-it, let it speak to you in ways you don't expect.

* If you can step safely outside, tonight, into your garden perhaps, behold the darkness. And if not, turn your lights off inside, and watch out of the window. You might like to make a rhythm out of this for the rest of Lent. Along with something during the day, to offer balance and rhythm ...

* So for the day, I'm going to take a photo each day of my plum tree, whose buds began to burst fractionally into leaf yesterday! It will help me to watch for, and welcome, spring as it draws closer. Why don't you select a tree and do the same?

------------------------------

17 // The Date in the Diary


'I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you ...' (Matthew 26.29).


*     *     *


Good morning.

There’s a date in the diary, in England, that we’re working towards: June 21. It’s when, if all goes to plan, most things open up again: theatres, cinemas, music venues, gyms, churches... Not forgetting 'hospitality', which offers the mouth-watering prospect of raising a glass together with no-longer-absent friends.

Whether your country has a similar plan in place yet or not, we will all have that day, at some point, to look forward to. And that has to be a good thing. We talk a lot, in spiritual terms, about being 'present'. But our mental, emotional and spiritual health surely requires that we have something to look forward to, as well.
 

*     *     *


Our 'can’t wait' moments have, of course, been reduced in size, somewhat, in lockdown. I laughed with a friend, recently, who’d been feeling low; there was a wildlife programme on that night, which I thought she could look forward to, to help her through the day. Not the most radically exciting prospect, we realised - but the best on offer - and at least it shows we’re learning to appreciate the humbler things.

The daily walk. A phone call with a friend. On-line Zumba … I wonder what you're looking forward to, today, which in some small way gives you energy to get there?

Why not pause, to give thanks for what's to come.


*     *     *


I wonder, too, what you're looking forward to within the bigger picture: that date in the diary which evokes a shiver of hope? The one that says, we'll get through this!


*     *     *


It makes me think about the nature of hope itself; and how - without just living for the future - we can call upon the future's promise, to live well within today.

On a practical level, I’m hoping to keep my schedule clearer, so that a date in the diary is a sign of life, not stress! I'm trying to see each day now as a foretaste of that future; to leave space, and to treasure what goes into it.


*     *     *


But deeper in ... I heard the (Christian) artist Sophie Hacker talk about her gorgeous abstract painting ‘Hope’ in a short film yesterday. Just as suffering is not something that happens to us, but in us, she said - so, too, hope does not come from external things going our way but ‘from a living connection with God’.

Such a helpful reminder, which shifts us out of wishful thinking; instead, we can cultivate such hope today - which we're doing during Lent! - and bring it with us, to shape and bless the future as we go.

We don't have to go back to how things were, either, when we can go forward with some faith that things can change, as we can change, for good.


*     *     *


I'm minded, too, within it all, of Jesus - who, at the Last Supper, told his disciples: “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now ... until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom.”

There’s a valley to walk through, first. And it's his living connection with God that will bring him through, with greatest hope, into the life beyond.

Yet hope is never abstract. And touchingly, he seems to have a day in mind to look forward to, as well. A date in the diary: a drink of finest wine, with restored and re-united friends, at the gracious hospitality of his Father. The prospect of which, surely, is what makes every step, for him - as well as this long wait, for us - so hopefully worthwhile. The day will come, when we break bread, and together raise the glass.
 

*     *     *


May you live in hope, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* In a few quiet moments, anticipate the day. Give thanks for what's to come, and imagine bringing yourself to each 'event' with gratitude and presence.

* Have a listen to this song of hope by the wonderful Martyn Joseph, 'When We Get Through This'. Ask yourself what hope you'll carry with you, from these pandemic days, to touch and bless the future.

* Have a look at your diary. Is there something you can put in, for next week, that you can look forward to? Perhaps it can bring some hope to someone else as well.

* Make a list of humbler 'events' you've learned to look forward to, and appreciate, in lockdown, which you might otherwise have taken for granted.

* Watch Sophie Hacker's short video reflection for Lent on her painting 'Hope'.

* You may like to reacquaint yourself with Emily Dickinson's poem '"Hope" is the thing with feathers', which we shared together during Advent.

-------------------------------

16 // The Mute Button


'But Jesus said nothing...' (Matthew 26.63-65).


*     *     *


Good morning.

“You’re on mute!”  How many times have you heard that said, since we learned how to Zoom almost a year ago?! I bet you have some stories... My daughter Mercy was on a group call recently, and we couldn’t unmute her at all. And so she needed either to use actions (which she did beautifully), or … to listen.

How freeing, once in a while, when you know you don't have to speak.


*     *     *


I received an e-mail this week which struck a deep chord with me, from a Lent participant who has felt unable to pray with words, in recent days. She told me that the ‘body prayer’ we practised at the start of Lent - to help us pray the ‘Prayer of the Heart’ - has released her, for now, to pray without words. Or let's say, beyond words.

Why don’t you try the movements, now, without the words? Place both hands on your heart to start with (and return them to your heart, slowly, after each line):

(“Lord Jesus Christ.”) Reach forward.
(“Son of God.”) Reach upward.
("Have mercy.”) Reach outward, like the shape of the cross.
(“Upon me.”) Hands back, one last time, to your heart.

Feel the prayer embodied, located, within you; as if you are the prayer.


*     *     *


David H has reminded us, too, in the RSVPs, about the way the Hebrew consonants which comprise the word for God - ‘YHWH’ - are the only ones which don’t require your lips to close. The name of God is the sound of breath! And of course, the Hebrew word for breath is Spirit, so it's not a 'concept' ... It 'is'. We breathe the name of God, as we breathe Spirit, and there is surely no greater prayer than that. But to think: it’s only when we're on mute that we can hear ourselves praying it.


*     *     *


Just keep breathing ‘normally’, and hear the name of God - “YH” … “WH” ...  - and sense the Spirit filling you now with breath, with life.


*     *     *


I'm sure we know in theory that prayer is more than just words, but it helps to notice how, from time to time. So I'm grateful for this thought, from the writer Anne Lamott:

‘Prayer can be motion and stillness and energy - all at the same time,' she says. What a combination. 'It begins, she continues, 'with stopping in our tracks, or with our backs against the wall, or when we are going under the waves, or when we are just so sick and tired of being sick and tired that we surrender, or when we finally stop running away and at long last walk or lurch or crawl toward something ...'

When we're on mute, perhaps we’re better placed to sense the 'motion and stillness and energy' of our soul as it reaches for God; to connect with the God who, himself, kept his counsel at his trial, but walked and lurched and crawled toward Calvary - grace embodied, bleeding love, his life the prayer that meets us on the Way.
 

*     *     *


May the Spirit fill your lungs with life, and your heart with love, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Listen to your breathing; be the prayer.

* If you'd like some atmospherics, try this track by Brian Eno: 'An Ending (Ascent)'(after you've spent some time in silence).

* Return to the 'Prayer of the Heart' and continue to pray it, today, without words. (This is the little clip I recorded of the Prayer of the Heart with movements, if you didn't see it on Ash Wednesday.)

* Spend some time deliberately 'on mute', today; listen carefully to others, and listen to yourself as your words are few but your soul has the chance to reach for God.

---------------------------------------


 

15 // The Hallowed Clearing


'Search me, O God ...' (Psalm 139).


*     *     *


Good morning!

The ‘imaginary line’ - which we thought about on Friday - creates space for us to stand back, and to behold what’s before us. It’s the pause to see what’s really there, before we can step over that line, and into the fullness which lies beyond.

So it was good to read an interview this week with the American poet Naomi Shihab Nye (on Krista Tippett’s On Being website) in which, as a poet, she mentions another simple practice to help us stand back: just writing a few words down.

‘Even if you’re writing something sad or hard - usually, you feel better after you do it,’ she says. ‘It’s got a shape on the page now. I can stand back; I can look at it.’ It helps you to see, she says, ‘what you are living’. And I think, in terms of our own beholding, it helps us to see, across the line, the inner life; the space within.


*     *     *


If you have a pen and paper to hand, why not write a few thoughts now, before you continue. Two or three sentences, perhaps, about what you're thinking or how you're feeling. Take time to breathe, and pause, and smile, as you do. See 'what you are living', and invite God to see it, too. Bring honour to the space within.


*     *     *


In the interview, Naomi Shihab Nye goes on to share a Japanese concept, yutori, which means spaciousness - ‘a kind of living with spaciousness’, she says. It’s (for example) setting off early, in order to arrive somewhere in good enough time to look around first. Imagine the difference it would make, once we all start meeting up again - perhaps we can learn to bring spaciousness with us, as a gift, upon arrival.

Yutori can also be practiced, she says, in the moments after reading a poem, when you can just sit openly with it, within its space. Which makes me think of calmly abiding in the present moment, in openness to God; holding a space open, and being held within it, wherever we might be.


*     *     *


There are plenty of simple practices to help us live with spaciousness. One I’ve found helpful is to pause for three seconds when a text or alert sounds on your phone, before looking or responding. Or you could take three deep breaths, whatever you're about to do next ...

 

James Finley (who I've mentioned before) writes of ‘a hallowed clearing in which we learn to quietly rest’, which is a lovely, poetic way to put it. I'm sure Jesus’ time in the wilderness was a hallowed clearing which would stay cleared; a place in which he learned to lived with spaciousness, and live within the spaciousness of God.

For ultimately it's not a self-help 'happy place' to keep us from life's pressures, so much as one in which we yield, and yield again, to Something, Someone greater; in which we fall fearlessly into Love itself. And as we yield, the space within us opens, too; hallowed and beautiful, for God is here. A clearing to behold with the poise of yutori, in the presence of the Creator. Wow. I'll meet you there, beyond the line.

 

*     *     *


May you find the space, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Find some musical space with another piece by Max Richter, 'Dream 3'.

* Write some things down. See what you are living.

* Read Krista Tippett's interview with Naomi Shihab Nye here.

* Spend a few moments reading, then 'holding' Naomi Shihab Nye's poem 'Isle of Mull' here. And be held.

* Clear a physical space, today, where you can also cultivate the space within.

* If you missed Friday's 'Lent Moment Live' on YouTube, you can watch it again here.

-------------------------------------

14 // In Pursuit of Spring


'Behold, I am making all things new.' (Revelation 21.5)


*     *     *


Good morning!

On Good Friday, March 1913, the poet Edward Thomas set out, from Clapham, London, on his bicycle, ‘in pursuit of spring’. He’d been commissioned to write a (prose) book of that name, and would head west as far as the Quantock hills in Somerset to look for signs of the coming season, to meet it along the way.

It's a lovely premise, and evokes for me that sense of eager anticipation we share about winter’s stop-start thaw. ‘I should have liked to set forth immediately,' he writes, 'until I reached the nightingale’s song, the apple blossom, the perfume of sunny earth. But … the next day was sleet.' Ah!

But it's touching too, because - though he didn’t yet realise it - things were being 'made new' for him; and it makes me think of how they yet might be, for us.


*     *     *


At the time, Thomas was not a poet. He felt woefully unfulfilled in his role as a literary critic and 'hack', but he’d recently befriended Robert Frost, and was the first to herald Frost as a poetic genius. Beautifully, in turn, when Frost read the now-finished In Pursuit of Spring, he discovered threads of great poetry woven into the lines of prose - and urged Thomas to start to write in verse.

In a sense, he heard the nightingale's song. The sun came out, the ground of his being thawed, and in the next four years, before he was killed in the First World War, Thomas found his calling. He wrote over 140 critically acclaimed poems, mostly about our human place in the natural world.


*     *     *


It's such a touching story, and I'm sure we can draw heart from it. I love that sense of getting 'on your bike' purposefully to meet the season. We can prepare to welcome what's new, even if we don't know quite what it holds; and beyond that, to offer our self afresh to its unfolding, as an expression of love, emerging from within it.

And to think that the prose of In Pursuit of Spring heralded the spring of Thomas's new life as a poet! As we stand here at the meeting place of two seasons, there may be clues, hidden in the process of our own persisting, adapting and creating, that a new season has been quietly forming in us all this time. Few of us are poets, but there is a 'poetry' in each of us, that God delights to see, and call to, and draw out.

As schools go back (here) today, and slowly the frozen ground of lockdown thaws, perhaps it is now time to dream of spring. We can’t force it to arrive any sooner than it will, of course - there may yet be sleet! - but we can behold, again, how nature expresses God's promise to make all things new; and as part of that Creation, we can prepare, with great anticipation - juices flowing! - to play our budding part.


*     *     *


There's a beautiful sunrise out there.
May you hear the song, today.
Go well!

Brian



If you have a little time, now or later:


* Be still, be here, be inspired, be aware, be open.

* Have a listen to this - Max Richter's touching piece 'Mercy'.

* Read Edward Thomas's short poem 'Thaw' here.

* Take some time to look for signs of life, today. Stand with something that tells you of God's promise to make all things new, and let it speak beyond words of what's indeed becoming new in you. Let it call, as deep calls to deep.

* Why not write a few lines of poetry in response? Or respond creatively, in the way you feel is  'you'.

* The National Trust has created a helpful guide to 'Seven signs of spring that everyone should know about'.

* If you’re in the UK, you can listen to Matthew Hollis’ lovely short programme about In Pursuit of Spring for Radio 4, in which he takes the journey Thomas took.

* Here's a nice article in the Guardian about the book and the photos of the places Thomas visited.

* If you missed Friday's 'Lent Moment Live' on YouTube, you can watch it again here.

---------------------------
 

13 // The Imaginary Line


'And God saw everything He had made, and behold, it was very good.' (Gen 1.31)


*     *     *


Good morning!

Richard Rohr’s little book Just This is full of helpful spiritual wisdom, and one thing I’ve been revisiting through his contemplative eyes is the practice of ‘beholding’.

I think beholding - such a biblical word - is the perfect antidote to the way we often 'see' the world, skimming the surface as if we're looking through a camera-phone, or feeling jaded with the same old view each day, or just being so pre-occupied we hardly stop to notice who or what is really there.

(Why not pause for breath, for a few moments; smile, and notice something (or someone!) afresh, before you read on.)


*     *     *


When Richard Rohr sends people into the woods on his retreats, he asks them to draw an imaginary line in their field of vision (or use a physical line such as the edge of a log or pathway) - beyond which, as they pause, wait and watch, they're to ‘expect things to be special, invitational, or even a kind of manifestation’.

‘It always works,’ he says. ‘They start beholding.’

And yes: I find it prepares me for a different kind of encounter; it sets a different tone of expectation. It helps me to honour the space between us, and to look to see ‘the inherent dignity’ (as he calls it) of what is there.

And slowly, as you pause, and breathe, and let your mind quieten into stillness … you give voice to ‘the other’, which so rarely has the chance to speak.


*     *     *


In this moment, something can shift. Our field of perception widens, deepens. We can stop consuming, and start communing. As we behold a bird, a tree, a river, a person, a work of art, whatever's there - deep has permission to call to deep; and soul has just the space it needs to meet with soul, in a place mercifully beyond first impressions or snap judgements or the labels we're usually so quick to affix.

And in God’s grace, I've noticed that my own fullness can pour back in like a rising tide, as I behold the full extent of what is here, before me, which is (as Richard Rohr puts it) 'one instance of the eternal self-emptying of God into Creation’.


*     *     *


In beholding, we are gently held together in the space.

And personally, I think that’s when the imaginary line we've drawn can start to fade, and the invitation comes to cross right through it; to become part, again, of this most enchanting of places called 'the kingdom', where life is not to be consumed, but shared in love. And behold - as your Creator saw, and sees - it was, and is, and shall be, very good.


*     *     *


The sun's about to rise out there. Mercies new!
May you cross the line, today.
Go well!

Brian

 

NB: I'll be back at 4.30pm today on my YouTube channel with 'Lent Moments Live', and the next e-mail comes on Monday.


If you have a little time, now or later:


* First, take a short while practising your 'Be's:

Be still (sit with a posture of relaxed alertness).
Be here (whisper 'Here I am', to God, to this moment).
Be inspired (breathe deep, slowly, and give thanks for life).
Be aware (relax your grip on any distracting thoughts).
Be open (to God, without trying to get anything from God).

* Then, have a look out of the window (or step outside), and draw an imaginary line, and behold. And then cross the line.

* Have a listen to this lovely song by Jessamyn Rains, called Holy. "Holy, holy, holy Lord. God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest." (Thanks so much to Debbie G!)

* See the day itself 'before' you, in your mind's eye. Draw a line between you and it, and behold it, before you cross through the line, and into the goodness of what it holds. (It holds you.)

* This weekend, try drawing a map (in whatever visual form) to describe the journey so far ... through snowdrops and stars, and deeply rooted trees, and open doors, and ... Notice what you have already forgotten, and what has stayed with you, and what you sense God might have been whispering deep within your (open) heart about thisseason, these often unloved days of lockdown and Lent.

------------------------
 

12 // 'Thrift'


'When I consider your heavens,
   the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
   which you have set in place,
  what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
   human beings that you care for them?' (Psalm 8)


*     *     *


Good morning!

Wasn't it amazing to see Perseverance, the Mars 'rover', land on the red planet last week? What a feat of engineering; and to think how much perseverance must have gone into the design, the failures, the creativity, the dreaming … to get it there!

How good to be reminded too, from time to time, just how creative and ingenious we humans can be, collectively. It’s part of our shared DNA, as children of the Creator.


*     *     *


And whether there are any signs of life on Mars or not, the accidental discovery of marine organisms living on a boulder on the sea bed beneath 900 metres of ice shelf in the Antarctic has made scientists think again about the limits of life here on Earth.

Life itself is so adaptable, tenacious, isn’t it?

“It’s slightly bonkers,” one of the scientists (Huw Griffith) told the Guardian. “Never in a million years would we have thought about looking for this kind of life, because we didn’t think it would be there.”


*     *     *


I’m sure most of us have found ourselves in various inhospitable conditions this last year - emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically. Places we wouldn’t have thought to look for life. Yet we’ve adapted, persisted, even just held on, a day at a time.

I'm reminded of the wild flower 'Thrift', which grows on Britain's rocky coastal clifftops and craggy islands. The nature writer Robert Macfarlane shared an evocative poetic reflection recently on social media about its ability to thrive in harsher places:

‘High on mountain ridges, sea-cliff ledges, island edges, Thrift resists, survives - flower of brinks and rifts, veteran of sheer drops and near-misses …

‘Thrift blooms on spoil-heap and tailing, for Thrift knows hardship is a limit not a failing, Thrift persists despite all odds, and Thrift’s gift is - Thrift’s grace is - to give a glimpse of hope in the tightest of spots, the toughest of places.’


*     *     *


Thank you for being here, in this tightest of spots, for you bring hope. And we'll need that hope, in days to come, just as we'll need the kind of perseverance, creativity and goodness that doesn't just reach for the stars, but organises shopping rotas for local shielders, or finds new ways to help kids learn, or creates and distributes vaccines...

And as we hold fast, so we are held. I think of Jesus, cultivating presence with God even in the lifeless wilderness, another place we might, at first, not have thought to look for life ourselves. As the psalmist writes, ‘Where can I flee from Your Spirit?’

If I go up to Mars, you will be there. If I go down beneath the Antarctic ice shelf, you will be there. If I enter the Covid ward; if I peer through the window of the care home; behind the unvisited door, or deep within the tired heart of every un-hugged soul …

‘Even there, your hand will guide me; your right hand will hold me fast.’

May it be so.


*     *     *


And may you thrive, like Thrift, today.
Go well!

Brian

 

Robert Macfarlane poem's 'Thrift' also features in his beautiful new book The Lost Spells, created with the artist Jackie Morris (and published by Hamish Hamilton).



If you have a little time, now:

* You can read the full version of 'Thrift' and see a lovely picture of the pink flower on Robert Macfarlane's Instagram page.

* '... And I know that
I Am honored to be
Witness
Of so much majesty.'

Thanks to Karen L (via the RSVPs), who recommends this choral piece called 'Stars' by Ēriks Ešenvalds - a gorgeous meditation on the stars above. Listen now, but why not pop it on your headphones tonight, as well, and step out to behold the stars through bare branches.

* Remember your 'Be's:

Be still (sit with a posture of relaxed alertness).
Be here (whisper 'Here I am', to God, to this moment).
Be inspired (breathe deep, slowly, and give thanks for life).
Be aware (relax your grip on any distracting thoughts).
Be open (to God, without trying to get anything from God).

* Spend some time with Psalm 139 today. Or Psalm 8.

* Watch Nasa's official video showing Rover's landing on Mars.
 

----------------------------------------

11 // Peace is Every Step


''Jesus stood still.' (Mark 10.49)


*     *     *


When I'm coaching or offering spiritual direction, it's usually outside, in the form of a reflective walk. And if I’m meeting someone at the station here in Winchester, I’ve noticed that once we’ve said hello, they’re often quite likely to set off a bit faster than me, even if they don’t know where we’re going!

It's perfectly understandable, if you've arrived feeling caught in the momentum of a busy day. I find myself doing it, if I’m walking on my own. Lost in thought, or (heaven forbid!) on my phone, I can end up marching along as if I have somewhere to get to, fast, even though I don’t.

And isn't this the way we can walk through life, if we're not careful? Pre-occupied, and the rest... So I'm really grateful for how the mindfulness expert Thich Nhat Hanh puts it, encouraging us to walk, instead, in such a way that 'Peace is every step.'


*     *     *


And by learning to embody this physically, it can help us mentally, emotionally and spiritually to be a little more present and at peace here, with this part of the journey, this time of the year, this stage of the lockdown, as much as any other.

He advises that we practise by ‘walking not to arrive’; and in particular, he says, be aware of the contact between your feet and the ground, and 'Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet. Walk in that spirit.’ Gorgeous!


*     *     *


For me, as a Christian, how good it is to be mindful, too, that we never have to walk alone. I try to imagine how Jesus walked, and walks beside me still. Surely, his feet 'kissed the Earth', as every step he took along his 'Way' was made in love.

In Mark’s gospel, as Jesus leaves Jericho amid a jostling crowd, Blind Bartimaeus calls out to him. Though people tell the man to hush, we read that 'Jesus stood still’.

It’s just before his triumphal entry into Jerusalem; so you'd forgive him if his mind had already gone ahead, to work on bigger things. But he's lovingly present. And when he says, “Go, your faith has healed you,” Bartimaeus doesn't go at all, but comes with him; 'he followed Jesus along the road', Mark says, as the journey continues.

It follows, too, that we can fall in step with Jesus, as he stands, with love, before us now, and opens our eyes to what is here. Released from rushing ever on as if we’ve somewhere else to get to first, we set out from this place of love, with him, today. This place where peace is every step, and we can bring it with us, as we go.


*     *     *


May your feet kiss the Earth, today.
Go well!

Brian

 


If you have a little time, now:

* Close your eyes, and imagine Jesus standing before you. When you're ready, open your eyes, and see what's around you, afresh. Listen, too, to the stillness.

* From this place, take a little walk, around the block, or in your garden, around your room, even - 'not to arrive', but to walk with peace. Combine your breathing with your steps (three steps for the in-breath, three steps for the out-breath, and adjust if necessary). Pay attention to the contact between your feet and the ground. You might even like to take off your shoes ... Notice what you notice.

* Why not read the passage from Mark's gospel (10.46-52), and try to imagine being there.

* Practise your 'Be's, today, but see if you can cultivate a sense of stillness in motion, as you walk through your day.


*     *     *


* Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace is Every Step is published by Rider.

-------------------------------

10 // Four Birds On a Fence


'Look at the birds of the air ... ' Matthew 6.26


*     *     *


My 10-year-old was downcast the other day. She’s been getting some peer pressure to grow up and be a bit more street-wise. A voice in her head, spoken first by a friend (not as cruelly as it sounds, I’m sure), was stuck on a loop: “You’re so innocent ...”

I wonder what kind of loop gets played in your head, perhaps even going all the way back to when you were ten?


*     *     *


It was good, therefore, for us to watch the moon together - gorgeously 'innocent', in its own assured way - and to remember that ‘the moon is faithful to its nature … it keeps its course’. It is what it is, and it does what it does.

But I happened on an unusual sight in our garden, which helped me personally, too. Perched upon our fence, four different birds were, for a few mesmerising moments, all sitting in a row: a thrush, a robin, a dunnock and a wren!

The robin can be bossy, I know; but there they all were, a picture of being. And it was a glimpse of collective beauty, thanks to their individual colours, shapes and sizes. I recalled a line from Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem ‘As Kingfishers Catch Fire’:

‘What I do is me: for that I came.’


*     *     *


I’m comforted to think there could have been a loop in Jesus’ head, too, out there in the desert, before he started public life.

"If you are the Son of God …"
"If you are the Son of God …"
"If you are the Son of God …"

Who do you think you are, Jesus? Prove it! Do something! Show the world!


*     *     *

 

When Jesus came, later, to teach about 'the birds of the air', he pointed out that (1) they don’t strive in the same way that we do, and (2) that God loves them. This is how Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus' words (from Matthew 6) in the Message:


‘Look at the birds, free and unfettered, not tied down to a job description, careless in the care of God …'

I'm sure our human striving gets tangled up with the insecure chatter of the ego, which seldom lets us rest assured. Meanwhile, the wren is the wren. The thrush is the thrush ... And to think: 'You count far more to him than birds.’


*     *     *


It doesn't all come down, however, to the ubiquitous mantra ‘Be yourself!’. Because there is more to you than meets the ego's eye, and so often we miss it, as we try, anxiously, to compete, compare and control. 'There is far more to you,' as Eugene Peterson writes (in a different book). 'There is God.'

‘Most, if not all, of what and who we are has to do with God,' he continues. 'If we try to understand and form ourselves by ourselves we leave out most of ourselves.’

The birds haven't really had to think about it. They just are God's, in their resplendent difference. But Jesus could see clearly (innocently?!) enough to overcome human temptation, and to cut the endlessly playing loop in our heads, if we let him. To open us whole-heartedly to the Spirit; to remind us we are fearfully and wonderfully God's.

'For that', you could say, 'he came.'


*     *     *


May you be careless in God's care, today.
Go well!

Brian

 


If you have a little time now:

* If you'd like something to listen to, here's Eric Whitacre's Lux Aurumque, performed by his famous virtual choir. (The Latin words translate: 'Light, warm and heavy as pure gold, and the angels sing softly to the new born babe'.)

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

* Spend a little time with 'the birds' passage from the Message (Matthew 6).

* Watch the birds.


If you have a little time later:

* Look at this montage of various buds coming out at the moment (click on the picture for a closer view). Contemplate your own place within the beauty of Creation!

* Take a few moments to savour GM Hopkins poem 'When Kingfishers Catch Fire'.

* Reflect on this: What is is that you do, when you’re not even trying too hard? When you’re acting from the starting place of God's assured love, instead of ego? When you can’t help being the person God has created you to be?

* This is a lovely article from the Guardian this weekend on different bird songs.

* Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places (from which my quote came) is published by Eerdmans, 2008.

--------------------------

9 // The Little Things


'... whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.' (1 Corinthians 10.31)


*     *     *


Good morning! It’s March 1st today: so happy St David’s Day, especially if you’re Welsh. Dydd Gŵyl Dewi Hapus!

Let's start this week by giving thanks for something small, shall we?

I, for one, am truly glad I saw a brimstone butterfly on Friday (and again at the weekend). As the nature writer Michael McCarthy says, ‘the brimstone is the sign of the turning year, not just of the warm times coming but of the great rebirth of everything, the great unstoppable renewal.’ Oh yes!

You might not have seen a butterfly (yet), but why not pause, for a few moments, to relax, breathe and give thanks for something small which has spoken, to you, of life.


*     *     *


It’s fitting on St David’s Day to think small, because the Welsh saint is reputed to have spoken, in his final sermon, of "doing the little things in God's presence with conscientiousness and devotion" - and to have told the monks of his monastery, from his death-bed: “Be joyful, and  … do the little things that you have seen me do.”

Death focuses us, and what final wisdom to leave. Go and do likewise. Keep it small!And it makes me wonder if I’d be able to urge the same. What ‘little things’ would my family or friends be able to say I practiced? How did I lead by example?

So his words are both challenge and invitation. It’s easy to neglect the little things if our eyes are only set on 'bigger' stuff, whether in the course of a day, or a life. (And this day is a microcosm of a life: for the little choices, the smallest actions, add up.)

Yet how releasing, to remember that our life is, on the whole, comprised of simple practices and humble interactions, all of which have the potential to change the world around us - to bring glory to God, in fact - when we attend to them with love.
 

*     *     *


Rowan Williams, himself an inspiring Welsh exemplar, says that St David’s final words remind us 'to work at what's under our hands, what's within our reach ...' and to do so 'with focus and concentration in the presence of God.’

I'm reminded of Jesus' own words and deeds in the face of death. He washed feet. He broke bread. He asked his friends to love each other. "Do this in remembrance."

We don't need to be super-spiritual to focus on what's ‘under our hands’ and ‘within reach’, either. Savour breakfast. Listen well to someone. Pause for breath. Write an e-mail with care. Count your blessings, as you stack the dishwasher. Taste your coffee. Help someone in a small way. Welcome the little signs of life around you.

It's not about transforming the humble moments into something greater, so much as letting them, in God's grace, transform us. Then we, too, can be like brimstones, and bring a little hope to life, this fine St David's Day.
 

*     *     *


May you 'be joyful, and do the little things', today.
Go well!

Brian

------------

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

* If you'd like something to listen to, try this: I Giorni, by Ludovico Einaudi.

* As you listen, welcome the little things you sometimes take for granted. And give thanks for God's attention to the small things in your life, too - for your 'small' life matters, to God. 'Even the hairs on your head are numbered.'

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

* Each time you wash your hands, today, do it slowly, with care - and let this ritual remind you of what's 'within reach'.

* Think of one adverb to describe the way you'd like to do the little things today. Such as: Gently. Lovingly. Carefully. Enthusiastically. Creatively. Slowly. Joyfully. And try to stay 'present' to that way of doing things, all day. Write your word on a post-it. Journal it. But illustrate it with your actions.

--------------------------------

8 // The Full Moon


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


*     *     *


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.

------------

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.

---------------

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


------------

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.


*     *     *


* 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!
 

*     *     *


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

 

----------------------------------

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


------------

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.

------------------------

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


------------

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!
 

*     *     *


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

--------------------------------

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


------------

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.

--------------------------

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.

------------

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!


*     *     *


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

----------------------

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

------------

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!

----------------------

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)
 

*     *     *


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 ...

 

*     *     *


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.

 

*     *     *


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.

 

*     *     *


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

------------

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!)