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Lent 2022: the Reflections

33 // It is Finished


'The desert and the parched land will be glad;
   the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
   it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.' Isaiah 35.1-2


*     *     *


Good morning.

From his long, lonely 'Lenten' spell in the wilderness, Jesus emerges. Not so much in tact, perhaps, as bursting into bloom like Isaiah's desert crocus; breaking open.

His silence breaking, too - with scripture, once again. Taking the scroll in the temple, he reads from Isaiah (61), words now written on his heart:

“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.”

His mission, clarified. His words, few as ever, but ever life-bringing. His energy, a love that flows like streams in the desert, straight from the Source.


*     *     *


And after three years of selfless outpouring with the poor, the blind and the captive, the One who brings release would be held captive, now, himself; facing his accusers in the early hours of Good Friday with just the silence he befriended in the desert.

How he might have ached, in those moments, to turn a stone or two to bread. Yet how he ached, the more, to do the will of God, and set us free from all our spite.

How tantalising it must have been, with every jarring slap, to answer taunts of "Save yourself!" with terrifying power. Yet he chose to save not himself but precisely those who spat and slapped and mocked instead. Such inexplicably divine intervention.

How tempting in those awful moments, as he was lifted high, to set himself higher, above this bloody, tawdry human mess. Yet here he stayed to show where God is truly waiting to be found.

As Malcolm Guite writes in his poem 'Maundy Thursday':

‘... here He shows the full extent of love
To us whose love is always incomplete,
In vain we search the heavens high above,
The God of love is kneeling at our feet.
Though we betray Him, though it is the night.
He meets us here and loves us into light.’
 

*     *     *


He loves us into light.

The sun will rise beyond Good Friday's blanket darkness, the temple curtain torn in two like curtains flung open by the rising God to let the light in for us all. Like rivers of windfall light piercing, breaking through the trees on the new Creation's first morning.

This God-light, now within us, cannot be contained; it floods out through our cracks of incompleteness, in scattered komorebi rays that shine and bless and warm.

And in the very meeting of darkness and light, sorrow and beauty, God and humanity, we find the joy-ning - as we have found together this Lent, in our perfectly imperfect expression of community.


*     *     *


In Jesus' body and blood, broken as bread and poured out as wine, we enter the story, as it enters us.

And as we welcome that beautiful mystery, wherever we are, and whatever we're facing right now, we remember - perhaps with greatest hope of all - how all that is breaking in the world right now is met in Easter, too. We may not know how, but we know it to be true, with the whole of our broken open hearts. 

In God's grace alone, together, we are made whole.

Together, we are Eastered.


*     *     *


Thank you for sharing the journey.
I can see the sun rising.
May light and life be yours.


Go well!
Brian xxx

...

* You can read the whole of Malcolm Guite's poem here.

* I love listening to this very short song, 'The Sun Will Rise', by the Brilliance at Easter.

* 'Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
   and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
  Then will the lame leap like a deer,
   and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
   and streams in the desert.'

Why not read Isaiah 35 for a few moments, now, and give thanks for the Lent journey we have shared with Jesus.

* If you missed yesterday's final Lent Youtube Live, click here to watch it.

...

* Catch up with all your gorgeous responses on the RSVP page here

* I've compiled the full set of Lent 2022 reflections here.

* And I'll send a general e-mail before long about plans for the rest of the year.

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32 // The Story So Far


‘A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you ...' John 13.34


*     *     *


Good morning!

At the end of a series, I love to re-trace our steps by reading back through each reflection, and drawing out a line or two in turn that helps to trace the path we've walked. I've presented them chronologically, as a 'whole' meditation on where we've been, and the story we've told. I hope you enjoy reading this back through as much as I did - and perhaps you might feel inspired to create your own version, this Easter.


*     *     *

 

The Story So Far


As we face into Lent, we participate in a universal reality: of the often darkening pull of human ego, and of the brightening hope we share, in Jesus, of a very different way to go.


We follow one slow, simple step at a time. Learning to walk like him, with him, finding our feet between the "Glory" and the "Amen".


Even as we yearn for brighter days, what joy to think that we might bring a soulful sunburst of Komorebi blessing to someone else's darkness!


Nothing to do but trust in God, and nowhere to be but here.


Hope is a discipline we can practice every day:
in the hell-scape of war; in our local neighbourhood.


This day, a gift from you, marked by ashes. Easter us!


Allow us to be weak for a while when we're finding our feet again, our winter friend.


Bless to me the ground that is beneath me,
Bless to me the love of the Three
Deep within me and encircling me.


It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.
Light in darkness, hope in despair, life in death - our constant theme.


Blessed are the messy. For they are the works of art.
Far from perfect, close to God.


It needn't be miserable to ‘remember that from dust we came’. It can be magical. Think of the beauty rising from the ground all around us at the start of spring!


I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me.


Spring is a season of unfurling; Creation invites us to open to the warmth, the light.


To play like kids again on the sunlit streets of the city of the playful king.


Just 2.5 seconds is enough to shift our focus.


We fly with two wings. One, of life’s beauty. The other, of life’s pain.


Graced and lit, as we go, with the candlelight kindness of the Creator's love.


Imagine looking on each new person we encounter as someone who has been sent to us with a gift!


How humbling, too, to remember that friendship was the crux of Jesus’ sacrifice, and that we are the love of his life.


How can we not yearn for the way things were in Eden, or for the way (we pray) they'll be resolved? It’s the inconsolable longing. And this ache of love compels Jesus to seek and find and make his loving home in us.


How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord! Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself.


'Joy is the moment my alienation goes away. And that’s a joining - a joy-ning.'


We dare to share the cracks, and glimpse in them together the God-light shining from our deepest, brightest point. 


Surely the Lord was in this place of stones, and I was unaware!


An invisible love does not block the view.


‘The glory of God is humanity fully alive.’
There’s good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.


Ego meets soul, and drops its weapons.


‘Again, he wrote in the sand.’
What a story.


A garden.
A gardener.
Breakfast on a beach.
A road.

It’s all so stubbornly real, so powerfully earthed, yet connected with every step to heaven in ways we couldn't dream. Take, eat. Drink. Touch.


The life of faith might be simpler than we dare to make it. It was only ever about the one thing, for Jesus, from his first breath to the very last.

 

"A new commandment I give to you," he says, on Maundy Thursday. "That you love one another: just as I have loved you."


*     *     *


The story continues.
May we be the story, today.


Go well!
Brian

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31 // The One Thing


'One thing I ask from the Lord,
   this only do I seek …  Psalm 27.4


*     *     *


Good morning!

It’s our final Wednesday morning, and so let's pray, along with Walter Brueggemann:

'Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.'

I shall miss these Wednesdays of ours. Let's try to keep them special! 


*     *     *


You may have come across this, but I was helpfully reminded the other day of the five ‘one thing’ passages in the Bible. They provide a really soulful steer as we seek to end Lent well, and to observe Holy Week with singular attention

One Thing I Ask (David)

One thing I ask from the Lord,
   this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
   and to seek him in his temple. (Psalm 27.4)

David's words echo (for me) Psalm 84 and the sparrows and swallows nesting in the temple. My immediate thought was: How good it would be to have leaders with this kind of focus. But of course, we're all able to take the lead with this.

One Thing You Lack (Jesus)

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (John 10.21)

What do you give the man who has it all? Jesus gives ... himself. Come, follow me. And perhaps he's not targeting wealth in his advice to sell up (Joseph of Arimathea was wealthy!) so much as our attachment to it, and the status we derive from it.

It seems a blunt, harsh teaching, at first sight - but read those first words again: 'Jesus looked at him, and loved him.' It’s all about release, isn't it? Try to re-imagine how Jesus spoke to him - and how he speaks to you, within this passage. 

One Thing is Necessary (Jesus)

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10.41-42)

This is the same Mary who will later display her own detachment from wealth by anointing Jesus’ feet with perfume worth a year’s salary, just days before he dies (John 12). From this first, enduring moment of her sitting calmly at her Master's feet - receiving from Jesus, receiving Jesus himself - the 'one thing' will not be taken from her, as Jesus promises.

It means that, come Holy Week, she'll be tuned in to her Lord's impending death while others aren't. I wonder if Jesus can sense the fragrant gesture she'll one day make, as he acknowledges her in this original moment of loving, mutual reception.

One Thing I Know (the man born blind)

He replied, “Whether [Jesus] is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” (John 9.25)

The man born blind is healed by Jesus. When the religious leaders call him in, he tells it as it is. He was blind, but now he sees. Jesus responds by declaring the religious leaders to be without sight, while the blind man sees afresh.

I'm sure we can lose sight of things sometimes through calcified religiosity. (Think of Saul, for whom 'the scales fell off' after meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus.) The life of faith might be simpler than we dare to make it. So why not pause to ask yourself (or God): what's the one thing you know God has done for you?

One Thing I Do (Paul)

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3.13-14)

That's quite some singularity of focus from Paul, and resonant surely with Jesus in the wilderness, resisting the temptation to falter; and with this same Jesus who steps through Holy Week clearing the temple, teaching his friends to the very end, sweating blood in Gethsemane, looking with those same eyes of love upon Judas, Peter, Pilate, Herod ... upon the crowd, and you and me within it. 


*     *     *

 

The leadership expert Tony Schwartz stresses the importance of doing 'one thing' at a time without getting constantly distracted by pings on our phone or by the 'tyranny of the urgent' (which you can better resist by getting to know your goal or calling).

I like that, and if I do one thing this week as I seek to wait and watch with Jesus, I'll try to do one thing at a time. It's a start. This is the week, surely, to be inspired by his wholeness of heart; his detachment from distraction and temptation; his willingness, always to sit at God's feet himself; his clarity of sight; his courage to press on.

It was only ever about the one thing, for Jesus, from his first breath to the very last. For love came down at Christmas, just as, at Easter, it all comes down to Love.


*     *     *


May we have clarity, today.


Go well!
Brian

...

Lent YouTube Live - This THURSDAY!

I'll be leading a final YouTube session tomorrow, Maundy Thursday, at 4.30pm. I hope you can join me! (You can always watch afterwards if you can't be there live.)

...

For now: Take some time to breathe, relax, smile ... Read prayerfully back through the Bible passages, and reflect on 'one thing' in particular. Just see which you're most drawn to, and spend some time with it. 

If you were to do 'one thing' today, what would it be?

For mid-day: Set your alarm to stop, and to sit at his feet, to re-orienttate. 

For sunset: Light a candle, and ...I was so touched by the picture sent by Fi P yesterday, in the RSVPs, of a Ukrainian flag planted in the Malverns with the Lord's Prayer written upon it. Why not pray the Lord's Prayer with Ukraine in mind tonight, using this stirring image as a prompt. 

...

30 // To Enter In


‘“Why do you look for the living among the dead?" Luke 24.5


*     *     *


Good morning!

I said, as Lent began, that this season is more about experience than theory. It’s in the stopping that we find out what it means to be still. It’s in the fasting that we discover what it means to hunger. It’s in stepping into the patches of God-light that we feel the warming touch of the Creator’s love.

But I think metaphor, in particular, helps to facilitate that experience, opening us up to let the light in, so to speak. So I was glad to hear the way Eugene Peterson talks about it, in the interview I flagged at the foot of yesterday’s reflection:

‘A metaphor is a really remarkable formation, because it both means what is says, and what it doesn’t say. And so those two things come together to create an imagination which is active. You’re not trying to figure things out, you’re trying to enter in to what’s there.’


*     *     *


We’ve covered a lot of ground, this Lent, but aside from the connection we've shared together (most significantly) at this troubling and turbulent time, for me it’s the metaphors that will perhaps linger longest ...

My feet proclaim 'Glory' and 'Amen'.
Prayer is a circle.
Faith is a bird with one wing of sorrow, and one of joy.
Hope is a candle.
I am dust.
My ache is the bittersweet call of a song-thrush.
Lent is a clearing in the woods.
This community is a carpet of wild woodland flowers.
The God-light pours through; komorebi.

There were others, too. Perhaps there’s one in particular you’ve begun to enter more fully, which has given you renewed experience of what it means to walk the path of life and faith.


*     *     *


Holy Week contains so many moving metaphors, of course. Read these slowly:

Perfume, lavished.
Feet, washed.
Bread - taken, blessed, broken, shared.
Wine, outpoured.
Gethsemane, that crushing place of the olive press.
The cup, not taken away.
The tree of life; of Calvary.
Thirst.
Dark and light.
A curtain, torn.

A tomb. I like to think that Joseph of Arimathea is every one of us, in a sense. The crucified Lord is laid within each of our burial plots and will rise to leave it empty, save for an angel or two asking why we enquire of the living among the dead ...

And even that's not the end of the story, of course, as the metaphors roll on.

A garden.
A gardener.
Scars.
A net-full of fish.
Breakfast on a beach.
A road to Emmaus, and beyond.

It’s all so stubbornly real, so powerfully earthed, yet connected with every step to heaven in ways we couldn't dream. For within the story, always, now and forever, the relationship. God enters in to life, and bids us follow. Take, eat. Drink. Look. Feel. Taste. Touch. Breathe. Love.

Open up, and let the light in.


*     *     *

 

May we enter, with God, today.


Go well!
Brian

...

For now: Breathe in for four, and out for six, through your nose. Repeat. Relax. Smile. Enter in to the space. Welcome God's presence.

Listen to this meditative song called 'Open Up, Let the Light In' by Steffany Grezinger. Open up, as you do. (If you can listen on headphones, outside, as you point towards the rising sun, then so much the better!) Breathe through it.

Read through the metaphors I've mentioned. Consider any I've missed. Settle on one to 'enter' today. Let it touch your day ...

For mid-day: Set your alarm and do nothing, beautifully, for a couple of minutes. 

For sunset: Try and see the moon again, and remember this very real countdown for Jesus which was taking him towards the full moon of Passover and everything that entailed. Please do keep praying for Ukraine, as we seek to hold up its people to the very end of this series, and beyond. 
 

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29 // The Power of Just Six Words


‘He turned his face toward Jerusalem.’ Luke 9.51


*     *     *


Good morning!

It’s a Lent tradition, towards the end of our series together, to try to distill something of the essence of our journey into just six words.

Why six? Inspiration comes from the US magazine SMITH, which began a soulful and very popular popular feature inviting its readers to write six-word 'memoirs'. Here are some recent examples:

“Going out. First time since 2019.”“Spring and winter are still negotiating.”
“My favourite chapel, underneath the redwoods.”
“Everything can change in six months.”
“Only fourteen, but passionate to persevere.”
“Where hope leads, I will follow.”

Aren't they good? It's beautiful how just a few words can convey so much.


*     *     *


We’ll come back to them. But it struck me, too, how much might be contained in a ‘six-word scripture’. I've spent time this weekend going through each Bible verse we’ve used at the top of our reflections, drawing six words from each of them in turn. (And yes, on one or two I used a little licence.) But each tells such a powerful story, in six words, and helps to shape our own.

So before I invite you to write your own creative memoir (and send it in), please take a slow walk through our six-word scriptures, which I’ve presented in chronological order, and let them speak in their own way to you; reminding you of where we've been, but also of where the story might lead you, from here.

 

‘All this I will give you.’ Mt 4.8
'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD.’ Is 6.3
'The light shines in the darkness.’ Jn 1.5
'Jesus was led ... into the wilderness.’ Mt 4.1
‘I was hungry; you fed me.’ Mt 25.35
‘Do not live by bread alone.’ Mt 4.4
‘One of them, healed, came back.’ Lk 17.15
‘Where can I flee from you?’ Ps 139.7-10
'Blessed are the poor in spirit.’ Mt 5.3
‘He remembers that we are dust.' Ps 103.13-14
’Nothing can separate us from God.’ Ro 8.37-39
’The moon to mark the seasons.’ Ps 104.19 
’Children will play on the streets.’ Zech 8.5
‘Choose life, that you may live.’ Dt 30.19
‘I’ll ponder all you have accomplished.’ Ps 77.12 MSG
‘Birds … do not sow or reap.’ Mt 6.26
’The Earth is (still!) the Lord’s.’ Ps 24.1
‘Judge not, lest you be judged.' Mt 7.1
'Instead, I have called you friends.’ Jn 15.15
'He will wipe away every tear.’ Rev 21.4
‘Even the sparrow has a home.’ Ps 84 
‘I delight greatly in the LORD.’ Is 61.10 
‘My grace is sufficient for you.’ 2 Cor 12.8 
‘He was tested, as we are.’ Heb 4.15-16
‘Jesus answered him, “It is written …”' Mt 4.5
'Worship the Lord; serve him only.' Mt 4.10
‘Again, he wrote on the ground.’ Jn 8.6
‘Jesus turned his face toward Jerusalem.’ Lk 9.51


Today's, of course, contains so much about the week ahead, as the story of Lent now pivots into the story of Easter, and we remember the courage and love which helped Jesus stay the course.


*     *     *


So, perhaps I can leave this with you? Reflect on the story you can tell from our Lent journey, and when you’re ready, craft six words of your own. (And if you can, try to make it a story, not just a list!) Here are a few more 'memoirs' from SMITH's readers, to inspire you:

“Wrote, shredded, composted. Planted. Healing.”
“He saw the good in me.”
“Feeling the love of so many.”


*     *     *

 

May the story flow through you.


Go well!
Brian

...

For now: Read slowly, prayerfully back through the 'six-word scriptures'. Hand-write one or two that evoke memories or connect with you today. Let them speak of the bigger story, of which you are part. Them, hand-write your own 'six word memoir'.

(To help you, why not prayerfully ask what story God might tell of you in six words, this Lent, and imagine the reply.)

For mid-day: Set your alarm and pause to breathe, and why not give thanks for five small gifts you've received today. Just look around you for inspiration! 

"All the prophets were poets ..." If you've a little more time today, and would like to explore more about the power of language and scripture, have a listen to this engaging interview with Eugene Peterson (author of the Message paraphrase of the Bible), conducted by Krista Tippett (of On Being). 

For sunset: Step outside, if you can, or look out of your window, and see if you can see the moon. It's setting around the same time as the sun. Remember Jesus setting his face to Jerusalem; and pray for those who need courage today in Ukraine.

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28 // The Quiet Glory (Of Merely Making Things)


'Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.' John 8.6


*     *     *


Good morning!

'Where do I go from here?' The question must have occupied Jesus, as he got ready to leave the desert, emptied by hunger, filled by God.

Not that he was planning to live up to any usual expectations of what, or who, a Messiah should be. He’d blow them away, in fact, with three years of unprecedented creativity - through the stories he'd tell and the way that he'd tell them, the people he'd touch, the places he'd go, the presence he'd bring and the purpose he'd carry with love all the way to the Cross.
 

Just that moment with the woman caught in adultery is enough to turn things upside down, isn't it? I wonder how often Jesus wrote in the sand in the wilderness, and how much of the desert space he would bring to moments like that. The creative pause, to let ego meet soul, and drop its weapons.


*     *     *


We might also ask, as Lent begins to draw gently to a close, ‘Where do we go from here?’ Of course, we’re not Jesus, but we still have the chance to leave this space of ours with a creativity that flows from the same Source. Imagine!

And if you don't know quite where to start creatively, start with curiosity, advises the writer Liz Gilbert. It's ‘mild, quiet and welcoming’ (and doesn't have to be spectacular or world-changing!). So begin with this simple question, she says: ‘Is there anything I'm interested in?’


*     *     *


I did, and I combined it with a helpful mind-map exercise, designed to spark our creativity, from Laura Brand’s new book The Joy-Journal for Grown-Ups -

Write a theme or a question in the centre of a blank page, then draw 10 lines radiating out from it. At the end of each line, write a one-word idea in response.

Then add three smaller lines to each of the 10, and write an associated word or phrase for each of those, so you now have 40 words. Finally, identify three of the words that most captivate you, and follow that lead!

(For the record, mine were 'audio', 'minimal' and 'taste' ... Watch this space!)


*     *     *


Creativity needn’t be a scary word. Just think of it as a way to help you step, like Jesus, beyond the stereotypical response that maintains business as usual.

It also helps us discover more about who and how God created us to be. If you have some paper to hand, take a moment to write your signature  …

‘Handwriting is an art form,’ says the artist Betty Edwards. Your signature is a line you’ve drawn that's so unique it has legal bearing. And not just that - it speaks of you, artistically. I wonder what it says? Write it again, this time with real care. And imagine God delighting in the singularity of this, your given name.


*     *     *


Non-verbal creativity, meanwhile, can help us process the world differently - through what Liz Gilbert calls 'the quiet glory of merely making things'. What a phrase! 

It’s near impossible to put into prose, to work out, how we feel about Ukraine, say, or the way faith permeates darker places, or our response to climate emergency; but draw or craft or make or grow or dance or sculpt or play something and you may find fresh expression, a different angle, or at least some calm or courage or catharsis.


*     *     *


'The eye has many qualities which belong to God more than Man,' wrote Henry Thoreau, the 19th-century naturalist famed for looking so closely and poetically at trees. He would examine them singularly - their shape, colour, texture and ‘stance’ - on his daily walks, and sketch them, very simply.

A practice like drawing can train us to see what’s there, instead of just presuming we already know - but it also enables us to respond uniquely, too. And whether we've a pencil or not, you and I will draw out subtly different things from the same tree. Just as we will, as we gaze upon the tree of Calvary, this Easter. It matters that we do.


*     *     *


So maybe there's no right or wrong way to go from here, except to look with love at where we are, and to respond uniquely: in the stories we tell, the action we take, the people we touch, the places we go, the presence we bear, the purpose we carry …

We’re not called to be good at it, so much as to let the goodness of our God-given creativity flow, as inspiration and blessing; to express our own response to the Creator's work in us, this Lent, and to see what it looks like, when we do.

To make things with quiet glory, let's say; just as we have been made, by the Maker.


*     *     *

 

May you be curious and creative, this weekend.


Go well!
Brian

PS: This afternoon it's Lent YouTube Live at 4.30pm! All you need to do is click this link here, just before 4.30pm, to watch and participate! (And remember, you can always catch up with it later if you can't join me live.)

...

For Now: Before you do anything, do nothing, beautifully. Be still. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, and then out through your nose for six. Keep that rhythm going for as long as you like, in stillness, as you create the kind of space in which to let the Source flow from your hidden depths.

'Of all the ways we express ourselves non-verbally, none is quite so personal as our handwriting,' says the art trainer Betty Edwards. 'Handwriting can function as a means of artistic self-expression.' So why not write out a line or two or scripture, such as these from Psalm 139, and let your creativity flow through the way you write:

For you created my inmost being;
   you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
   I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
   your works are wonderful,
   I know that full well.

Otherwise, handwrite your own poem or psalm of thanks and praise, today!

At mid-day:  If you can head outside, take a note book and a pencil and find a tree to look at, closely, and then to draw. It doesn't have to be an exact representation - just draw your response to the tree.

You might also like to try the mind-map exercise, using the question, 'Is there anything I'm interested in?' ... or the phrase, 'Life Beyond Lent'.

For sunset: I really love the creativity of Tess Ward, whose many lovingly crafted blessings and reflections help to guide me through the year! Here's a blessing as we near the end of Lent, and begin to face into Easter:

May the shiny light of God's own face,
and the gazy love and the Daystar grace
rise over the hill in the morning,
keep us from the endless night,
and shed in us a hope that will never go down
til heaven's peace on earth has come.

Do pray for Ukraine, perhaps as you light a candle in the evening over the weekend.

27 // To Bow the Knee


'Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.” Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.' (Matthew 4.8-11)


*     *     *


Good morning!

We began this journey, on day one, feeling the gut-wrenching after-shock of the Russian invasion, which echoes in this third temptation and within the human condition as a whole: “All of this could be yours …”

During Lent, I’ve been watching the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings films with my kids to help us process, and it all feels so painfully resonant: the seduction of treasure and the sickness it brings; the terrifying violence of Orcs; the all-consuming aerial firestorm of the awakened dragon Smaug; the courage it takes for those who have never sought a war to nevertheless join the fight, for peace.


*     *     *


It reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal, too. “All of this could be mine,” thought the errant son, also seduced by the prospect of what he could gain for himself. “All of this was yours already,” said the Father to the other lad who stayed behind, aghast that his brother was welcomed home with the fattened calf and open arms.

Evil would have us bow to it and stay down there, bent in thrall to fear and greed like Gollum, or feeding from the pigswill like the prodigal. Yet as we bow the knee to our true Master, the Father runs to lift us up, to dry our tears; to give us back the inheritance we didn’t even have to ask for in the first place.

And what an inheritance! The difference to the tempter's empty appeal to ego is we get to share in God's: we give, we receive, we grow, we create, we love. It's breaking bread, it's creating together, it's walking through the valley with those who suffer, it's knowing God's delight, and all the while delighting in every single little blessing as if - once upon a time - we'd lost it all, and are now receiving it back.

And this, I'm sure, is our worship: to live each moment to the glory of God. For as St Irenaeus once said, 'The glory of God is [humanity] fully alive.'


*     *     *


I saw my first swallow yesterday, which brought its own delight! One swallow doesn’t make a summer, I know, but it hints to my soul of homecoming, of warmth and light and the great renewal that will come one day, because of Easter; because of Jesus, who set his course in the desert, and fought so hard with love for what was lost.

Yesterday, Sue R sent, as her RSVP, some famous lines from the Lord of the Rings film The Two Towers, when Frodo and Sam, hobbits from the Shire and such a long way from home - wearied and battle-scarred - resolve bravely to press on with the adventure into which they've been called.

I think of all this present darkness, and the ultimate victory of Jesus over it; a story we're all part of, in our different ways. I think of all those thrust into action in Ukraine, without a choice. I think of us here, humbly trying to work through Lent and to work life out, in love ...

Frodo: "I can’t do this, Sam."

Sam:  "I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened?

"But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.

"Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."

Frodo: "What are we holding on to, Sam?"

Sam: "That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for."
 

Amen. The journey continues.


*     *     *

 

May we share in it, today.


Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: In a few quiet moments, simply bow the knee to God, in worship and service and love.

You might enjoy this song from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack by Enya called 'May it Be'. It's an evocative piece of music.

At mid-day:  Set your alarm and pause. Give thanks for all the goodness you've been able to share in, so far today. Notice any times when you've felt tempted toward selfishness, envy, avarice ... And pray the 'Prayer of the Heart': "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me."

For sunset: Keep Ukraine in your thoughts and your heart as you watch darkness begin to fall. Listen to this Ukrainian folk song in which the arrival of a swallow is a sign of hope.

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

26 // Invisible Love


Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
   and they will lift you up in their hands,
   so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
  Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” (Matthew 4.5-7)


*     *     *


Good morning!

It’s Wednesday, a gift from God, as Walter Brueggemann reminds us. A day ‘like none other ... we have received’. So please do pause, for a few moments, to relax, and to breathe this day deep into your soul. And to meet it with the gift of yourself.
 

*     *     *


How grateful I am that the temptations of Jesus are not like a stick with which to beat ourselves (or him), but - as I prefer to believe - a release, an unburdening. Imagine setting down a heavy rucksack after climbing up a hill! Jesus said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.”

I'm sure we often find ourselves in places of temptation, some vertiginous, but we can find freedom, there, from the egocentric desire to prove our worth with a grand or foolish flourish … because Jesus already laid the burden down himself.


*     *     *


And by the way, if someone quotes scripture at you to qualify their own desire for you to “Jump!”, it doesn’t mean you have to ask, “How high?” Jesus responds with assurance, "It is also written, 'Do not put God to the test.'" He knows it's not God’s place to prove anything here, even to him.

Come to think of it, we too can be released from the temptation to shout "Jump!" at God when we crave some reassurance. God will meet us, deeper in, but surely not as a genie to satisfy every whim and wish of the insecure ego.
 

Neither is God, mercifully, some kind of snake-handling religious show-man who needs the spotlight. So Jesus was never likely to be, either, despite the constant questioning of his identity, starting here - “If you are the Son of God …” - and continuing to the Cross: “If you are the Son of God, come down …”


He lays down any burden we might place on him to be spectacular, to prove himself, to turn stones to bread like a party trick; and so, in turn, he unburdens us of needing him to turn our stones to bread as well. It's freedom all round.


*     *     *


And it makes me so grateful for how God is. I just love this poetic antidote to the religious ego writ large, from the Polish poet (and Franciscan) Jan Twardowski:

‘God went into hiding so that the world could be seen
if he were to reveal himself he would be alone
who would dare to notice an ant
a beautiful wicked wasp bustling around
a green drake with yellow legs
a lapwing which lays only four eggs …

an invisible love
does not block the view.’


*     *     *


Within every temptation, then, there also lies the opportunity to recognise and lay down the burden to be anyone other than who God created us to be - like the ant, the wasp, the drake, the lapwing ...

God spoke over Jesus just before he went into the desert, "This is my Son whom I love." And God speaks love over us, too, from the very start, before we get the chance to do something bad or good or impressive.

So there is nothing to prove, this Wednesday. Just the chance, on this day like no other, to behold the view afforded by the heights and depths of invisible love.


*     *     *

 

May you start and end with love, today.


Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: Perhaps you'd like to reflect on the whole of JanTwardowski's poem 'The World'. He was a Polish Franciscan, and this translation of his poem, published by Dedalus Press in Serious Angel (2003), is reprinted with kind permission:

God went into hiding so that the world could be seen
if he were to reveal himself he would be alone
who would dare to notice an ant
a beautiful wicked wasp bustling around
a green drake with yellow legs
a lapwing which lays only four eggs
a dragonfly's rounded eyes and beans in pods
our mother at the table who so recently
lifted a cup by its long funny handle
a fir which does not cast cones but husks
suffering and delight both sources of knowledge
secrets not smaller but always different
rocks that show travellers the way

an invisible love
does not block the view.

At mid-day:  Set your alarm and pause and breathe. Remember, it's when the sun is at its highest. Reflect on any moments so far, today, when you have been tempted to prove your worth, or to be someone you're not. 'Dare to notice an ant' or anything that's held in the invisible love of God. Be held, yourself, within it.

For sunset: Step out at sunset or after dark and watch for the waxing moon. Sense how Jesus must have felt to be facing his final days. And remember the words of Brueggemann: 'Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us, with mercy and justice and peace and generosity'. Pray it for Ukraine, as well as yourself.
 

...

RSVP! (Fifth window now open! Tues - Weds)

Thanks you so much for the treasure trove of RSVPs! Do send me a short response if you haven't already, this week! And remember, you can see it all going up on the RSVP page here. Thank you!

...

Thanks to Paula for sharing the poem with me.

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

25 // In the Place of Stones


“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4.15-16).


*     *     *


Good morning!

In these final days before Easter week, let’s return to Jesus in the desert, to reflect on his three temptations. And today, in particular, "Turn these stones to bread!"

How tempting it must have been for Jesus to cut a corner. He had the power, so why not use it? It’s funny how it's here the Tempter sets to work. (But interesting, too, as CS Lewis points out, that Jesus’ miracles would, during his ministry, tend to amplify an organic process - water into wine, multiplying loaves and fishes - while his adversary's temptation, stones to bread, is more coerced, less natural, and selfish.)

No one was watching him, it wasn’t a sin, and he’d almost finished his time by now anyway. Yet clearly there was still work to be done, in focusing his hunger on God, at this desert table of the Lord.


*     *     *


I’m sure we can cut our own corners in many ways. We can look for the spiritual quick fix (and feel frustrated just as quickly if our prayers don’t seem to ‘work’). We can self-medicate instead of walking a longer path to healing. We can dash off a text instead of having the conversation face to face. Let's be encouraged to stay with it!

Perhaps the pitfall for Jesus is not so much about performing trickery as selling his own humanity short for the sake of expediency; when all along, there’s something of far greater worth to be nurtured in the waiting, the silence, the hunger itself, that will propel him on to feel our every human ache and pain and joy, en route to Calvary.

For this is a moment not just of restraint, but of self-giving love for each of us. A love that, from this first, decisive point, will not waiver from its course. 


*     *     *


And while we might be tempted to see the stones here as a stark kind of absence, perhaps Jesus saw them differently. He must have thought of Jacob, from time to time, who slept on a rock before his extraordinary vision at Bethel, awakening as he did to see that “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Surely the Lord is in this place of ours, even though we’d often love to turn these stones to better use. 


*     *     *


Jesus’ retort to the Tempter - “[Humanity] does not live by bread alone” - is straight from scripture, from Deuteronomy 8 and its recounting of the Israelites’ time in the desert, when they were ‘humbled’, ate manna and learned dependency on God.

Jesus identifies with our humanity in his dependency. Yet how delicious, having fed, himself, on God, to offer himself for us to feed upon; our manna in the desert. The ultimate 'Eastering' act, foreshadowed as it would be by turning water so generously into overflowing wine in Cana; multiplying loaves and fishes on the mountainside.

“I am the bread of life,” he says, after feeding the five thousand. “Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6). 

As Jesus hungers in the desert, then, it's as if he receives his fill of truest, nourishing, bread-of-life identity. God gives to him his deepest, loving self, which he, in turn, will give away.

And as we continue to wait patiently right to the end, this Lent, perhaps we, too, might glimpse a little more of who we are in God; for isn't it here, in the place of stones, that first we come to break some bread with him?


*     *     *

 

May we find that 'Surely the Lord is in this place', today.


Go well!
Brian

 

...

For Now:  Last year, we pondered this painting 'Christ in the Wilderness' by the Russian artist Ivan Kramskoy (1872). I think it's appropriate to look again. It took the artist what he describes as five years of 'tears and blood' to finish it. 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.'

Take your time to reflect on the painting, and when you're tempted to move off, take a little while more to stay with Jesus in the desert.

At mid-day:  Set your alarm to pause for a few moments to breathe, and smile, and take delight. You might like to compose a short RSVP, with love, for the community.

For sunset: Notice the evenings drawing out. Keep watch for the waxing moon. And continue to pray for Ukraine.

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

24 // Perfectly Imperfect


"My grace is sufficient for you.” 2 Corinthians 12.8


*     *     *


Good morning!

‘What is deepest in us is of God, not opposed to God,’ says the the fifth-century Welsh theologian, Pelagius (as explained by John Philip Newell, in his fascinating book on Celtic Christian belief, Sacred Earth). Just look at a newborn baby to see the sacredness of our origins.

And one benefit of our 'original blessing' is that, deep down, a natural wisdom flows within us all from God - although we have to work on drawing it up!

It also means for Pelagius - rooted as we are in the assurance of Jesus and with a humble, appreciative spirit - that we can expect to find wisdom that rings true in people and places located beyond the immediate bounds of our own belief system.

Perhaps you can bring to mind someone you've learned from, or have been inspired by, who isn't directly 'in the fold', so to speak.


*     *     *


Recently, I’ve really appreciated Beth Kempton’s book on the Japanese notion of wabi sabi, which she describes as ‘wisdom for the perfectly imperfect life’. Beth lived in Japan and came to value this greatly as an outsider.

The word wabi evokes a sense of beauty in simplicity, she says; and contentment in a humble way of life. Sabi reflects ‘the refined elegance of age’ (just pause to take that in!), and the ‘beauty revealed in the process of use and decay’ - from a well-crafted, lovingly used object, to a falling leaf, to the laughter lines around our eyes.

It’s a wabi heart, she says, that recognises a sabi beauty, and the two have gone hand in hand for many generations. Gorgeous.
 

*     *     *


One idea in particular accompanies wabi sabi - that everything is impermanent, imperfect and incomplete. And I find this perspective so helpful myself.

I am, indeed, 'impermanent'; my creaking knees remind me! But so does the blossom bursting this spring. I’m sure we love it all the more because it doesn't last so long. Life itself is transient, forever changing, which reminds us to cherish the loveliness; yet to be assured, when times are harder, that ‘This, too, will pass.’

A Japanese man explained transience by gesturing to his garden, where bamboo stood tall. It's growing all the time, yet it's sensitive to its dynamic environment, he said. It's rooted, but flexible. When the wind blows, it sways with it. And still it grows. The buildings that survive in this earthquake-prone land, he said, are 'the ones that can move when the trembling begins'. 


*     *     *


'Imperfect', meanwhile, is not the opposite of perfect, the idealised state that lies forever out of reach. No one has the perfect look, family, CV ... despite our efforts to portray it on social media as such, or to keep working harder to try make it happen.

So while we often think of imperfection as a negative, we needn't. Embrace it as a joyful relinquishing of the unattainable ideal, and we can take the energy we might have poured into the pursuit of perfection, and channel it into living fully now, instead.


*     *     *


Finally, ‘incomplete' speaks happily to me of the wholeness we only ever find as part of the whole: connected with others, earthed with Creation, and joined (we Christians believe!) in communion with the triune God.

This reminds me as a Christian, too, how my impermanence places me at the everlasting mercy of God ('from dust I came'), and how my very imperfection finds fulfilment in the perfect love of Christ, who takes me as I am.

I’m grateful how wabi sabi helps me to see this afresh. There's beauty in difference, after all. Perhaps we find wholeness most elegantly when we dare to share the cracks, and glimpse in them together the God-light shining from our deepest, brightest point. 


*     *     *


May your wabi heart find sabi beauty, today.

Go well!
Brian

... 

With thanks to Emily F.


*     *     *


For Now: 

Take a few breaths, be still, and offer yourself to God, as you are. Let God meet you in your impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness.

If you're up before dawn, have a look out at the ever-changing sky this morning. Three planets should be visible (if it's clear) to the south - Venus, Saturn and Mars. 


At mid-day: 

Set your alarm for a few moment's pause to breathe. If you have the chance to go for a short walk, try to find some blossom, and delight in its fleeting beauty. (Remember to keep taking delight!)


For sunset: 

There's a gorgeous sliver of new moon this week. See if you can see it. If not, use your imagination. Let it remind you of the countdown Jesus faced in the final two weeks of his earthly life, as it waxed toward the full moon of Passover.

Remember how people in Odessa, Mariupol and Kyiv will see the same crescent as you shining this week, and pray for Ukraine.
 

...

If you missed it, why not watch last Friday's Lent YouTube Live

...


Resources

Beth Kempton’s Wabi Sabi: Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life is published by Piatkus (2018).

John Philip Newell's Sacred Earth, Sacred Soul is published by William Collins (2021).



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

23 // Let the Delight In!


'I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God.' Isaiah 61.10


*     *     *


Good morning!

We thought yesterday about looking with the loving eye of an artist. It’s a high calling, to try to see what Susan Ogilvy sees in a bird’s nest. It’s a high calling, too, to try to see with the loving eye of the Creator.

One facet of that calling is to learn when not to look away in difficult times.

Of course, we’re not God, and we need to know the limits of our own capacity for other people’s sorrow, as well as our own. But I think of John and Mary standing at the Cross, bearing witness to the suffering of Jesus, when there was nothing more they could do. It was all they could do, in fact. It was everything.


*     *     *


Another part of the calling is to see the goodness, the holiness of what’s around us, which we so often miss in our rush to press on.

The American poet Ross Gay set himself the lovely challenge of looking for 'delights' - especially hidden among the smaller joys of everyday life - and then to craft a short, written reflection each day on one of them (which he turned into a delightful book!).

‘What surprised me most was that the study of delight made delight more evident,’ he said. You train your eye, and you start to delight in, say, two people sharing the burden of the shopping by holding a handle each, as he gratefully witnessed.

Perhaps you can think of something you have recently delighted in. Catherine Price, who urges us to have more fun (remember!), has begun a practice inspired by Ross of raising her finger in the air and exclaiming ‘Delight!” whenever she sees one.


*     *     *


The word 'delight' takes me to Eden, which means ‘place of delight’, where God delighted in us, in the beginning, as we walked together in the Garden.

And though we had to leave that lovely place, we can still ‘delight in the Lord’, too, as Psalm 37 urges us. Perhaps that means, in this context, training ourselves to see God when we might otherwise miss God, and to share in the togetherness, the communion, with God - wherever we are, today.


*     *     *


Which brings me back to Ross Gay. Because joy, in the end, is not about trying to be a glass-half-full kind of person. For him, it’s about connection, which is so often made through our universal experience of suffering. 'Joy, for me, has nothing to do with ease,’ he says. 'Joy is the moments when my alienation from people - but not just people, from the whole thing - goes away. And that’s a joining - a joy-ning.’

(Thus speaks a poet!) So when we look, with love, it doesn’t have to be either at the sorrow or at the happier, everyday gifts. Mercifully, we can see the gifts within the sorrow, including God's presence, defiantly flowing, creating, lovingly connecting.

I’ve seen many such moments mentioned in the RSVPs. Pauline finding another patient to pray with on her hospital ward, for instance. I’ll raise my finger and say “Delight” to that one, for a start.

And this weekend, can't we bring delight for those who yearn to be delighted in, as well? To show we're all delightful, in the loving eyes of God who made, and sees, us here. All in the gentle spirit of togetherness we share on this journey through Lent, and life, of course. Such joy to be found, within it all, as we seek to let the delight in.


*     *     *

 

Here's to the joy-ning!


Go well!
Brian

PS: Join me today at 4.30pm for our next Lent YouTube Live (or watch later if you can't make it at the time.) I'm also presenting BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day at around 7.45am tomorrow.  


*     *     *


For Now: 

Take a few breaths, be still, and let God delight in you, as you delight in God. You might like to repeat the "I love you" breathing exercise - hearing God's silent "I love you" on the in-breath, and speaking your own "I love you" to God on the out-breath.

Think about a moment of delight from the last 24 hours, and write one spontaneous paragraph about it now, to help you re-live it. 

Why not write or draw or journal the verse, "Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37.4).


At mid-day: 

Pause for a few moments to breathe, to smile, to relax, and to remind yourself to look for delight. See what you can see, perhaps on a short lunchtime walk or a potter in the garden.


For sunset: 

Reflect on your day, and write one more paragraph on (or a creative response of your choice to) a moment of delight from today.

Remember, too, to pray for Ukraine. Light a candle. Bear witness.
 

...

RSVP!

You can savour all the delights of the RSVP page here. Thank you so much for sharing with such love and care and inspiration this week. 

...

Resources

You can listen to Ross Gay's inspiring interview with On Being's Krista Tippett (from which I've drawn his quotes) here.

Ross Gay's The Book of Delights is published by Coronet (2020)

.................................................

22 // Even the Sparrow and Swallow


Even the sparrow has found a home,
   and the swallow a nest for herself,
   where she may have her young -
a place near your altar,
   Lord Almighty, my King and my God. (Psalm 84)


*     *     *


Good morning!

Thinking about homing signals yesterday, I was excited to realise the swallows will have now embarked on their epic 6,000-mile journey back to us from Africa; each one part of the great ebb and flow of the rhythms of Creation. What exquisite instrumentation to be blessed with, to find their way so far!

And how good that Psalm 84 gives them an honourable mention! ‘How lovely is your dwelling place,' writes the psalmist, a priest longing to be back at the Temple (which was probably cut off by war). 'My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord.'

It's such a delightful detail for him to observe that in that revered space, ‘even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, near your altar’. Creation is part of the very fabric of holiness, at home with its hospitable Creator.


*     *     *


With spring now here, I’ve been captivated by a new book called Nests - a collection of life-size water-colours by the botanical artist Susan Ogilvy. Her project started with a discarded chaffinch’s nest she found one day: ‘I dropped everything and decided to paint it,’ she says. She kept going, with 28 varieties depicted here in stunning detail.

She shares a bit of what she’s learned, too. How birds will camouflage its nest to avoid predators. How a domed nest protects against a strong prevailing wind. How its cup-shape clusters the eggs perfectly for the female to incubate, and for the chicks to huddle warm and close when they hatch. ('How marvellous, your works!')

I love how the long-tailed tit uses the tensile strength of cobwebs to let its nest stretch elastically as the chicks grow. And how ... on earth does the tiny reed warbler manage to connect two heavy reed stems together with her first piece of grass?!


*     *     *


But another intriguing human detail to learn is that a good painting is considered more useful to a botanist than a photo. ‘It may be something to do with the careful observation which has informed the image - perhaps even the love,’ she reflects.

John Ruskin once said of art that the 'sight' itself is more important than the drawing. ‘I would rather teach drawing [so] that my pupils learn to love Nature, than teach the looking at nature [so] that they may learn to draw.’ Stopping to look is an act of devotion, that places us back, with the birds, in the natural courts of the Creator. 

I love taking photos, but I can run the risk of seeing the world through my phone. The invitation, as the swallows make their journey, and the sparrows start to make their home this spring, is to pause, to look in wonder, with the loving eye of an artist. The way God surely loves to look upon each of us, a work of his art.


*     *     *

Wren's nest, painted by Susan Ogilvy. (Used with very kind permission.)

*     *     *

 

May we look with love, today.


Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: 

Take some deeper breaths. Notice the ebb and flow of air. You are part of the ebb and flow of Creation's rhythms, sitting here even as the swallows continue their journey. Be consciously part of that Creation, and aware of the Creator's presence with you, and in you, this morning.

Enjoy the picture of the wren's nest, above. Look with love at the details.

You might like to read Psalm 84, and picture the swallows and sparrows building their nests in the Temple.

Go and look in the mirror, and look with love as God would look upon you. 


At mid-day: 

Set your alarm and step outside, if you can, to listen for birdsong, and to tune back in to Creation and its Creator, remembering that you are part of it all as well. See if you can spot a bird carrying nesting material! 


For sunset: 

Pause at sunset to pray for Ukraine. Why not watch this moving short video of top Ukrainian violinists, including Illia Bondarenko in a bomb shelter, playing with other musicians across the world on line.

.........................................................

21 // The Homing Signal


'He will wipe away every tear from their eyes ... for the former things have passed away.' Revelation 21:4


*     *     *


Good morning!

It’s another 'dazzling' Wednesday, and as part of our weekly rhythm, let’s pause with Walter Brueggemann to pray:  

‘Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us
With mercy and justice and peace and generosity.’

Remember, this day is a gift like no other. It links us back to Ash Wednesday, and it looks forward to Easter, and through Easter, to the day when all is finally made new. And yet it has so many gifts which are unique to today.


*     *     *


So much Big Stuff has unfolded in the last two years that it’ll take time, maybe a long time, for our hearts to catch up. It's felt, at times, as if it's the end of the world as we know it. For some, it truly is; while for the rest of us, there may still be no going back, as such, to how things were just two short years ago.

And while it may feel wrong to dwell too much on ourselves when others are worse off, it’s right, I'm sure, to tend our own unsettled hearts. To pause to feel a homesick ache for a world that may be passing, and to let it call, in wilderness, to more.


*     *     *


There are different types of home-sickness, of course, from the literal (so disorienting for body and soul, to move away), to the familial (we miss the days when friends and family were close by, happy, and healthy), to the geopolitical, and the personal …

And spanning all of these, of course, the spiritual. How can we not yearn, deeper within, for the way things were in Eden, or for the way, we pray, they'll be resolved? CS Lewis calls it ‘the inconsolable longing’; Ecclesiastes says, 'God has set eternity in our hearts.' It surfaces when we're moved to tears by music, or stirred by the sight of blossom, or touched to the core by a baby's smile.

And we carry that ache like a homing signal, for it reminds us, surely, that there was, and will be, another Home to find, and make, together.


*     *     *


Past goodness, as well as future promise, can inspire us, of course.

What was it about the sense of 'home' you loved, that you can bring to life for those you find yourself with, now?

What is it of the Bible's future promises - swords into ploughshares, the last will be first, every tear wiped away - that we can flesh out, somehow, as first fruits?

And, for now at least, the invitation surely is to follow the signal not back, or forward, but deeper in to here, upon this precious Wednesday.
 

*     *     *


I love to think that Jesus, being human, must have shared the ache and longing, too, perhaps in purest form.

Did he miss the family home as he stepped into the wilderness, at the start of three years on the road in itinerant public life; no place to lay his head, from here?

Did he get flickers of memory, growing up, of his 'Father’s house', to carry with him like a little piece of home?

How painfully did he feel the separation writ so large around him - brutal military occupation; corrupt religious leaders; the rich, cheating the poor. The Big Stuff. Yet how much stronger the signal, in such a place, for those like him with ears to hear and eyes to see and an aching heart to feel?

The ache of love, compelling him not just back to Eden as the Second Adam, and forward as the Saviour with so many rooms to offer in his Father’s mansion ... but in the meantime, in between times, to seek and find and make his loving home in us.


*     *     *


May we follow the signal, today.
 

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: 

Just pause and relax and welcome him home in you, this morning. And be at home in him.

Here's a lovely song of comfort, called Eternal Light, sung by Paul Zach and Liz Vice.“You are the same, yesterday, today, for ever.”

And here's a 'Wednesday' song to take us back to Psalm 103, remembering our study on ‘dust’, also by Paul Zach. It's called 'East/West (Psalm 103)'. "The steadfast love of the Lord, from everlasting to everlasting ..."


At mid-day: 

Set your alarm and take five breaths in, and out. 

For sunset: 

Pause at sunset to pray for Ukraine, and use this poignant new choral piece by John Rutter - 'A Ukrainian Prayer' - to help you. (Thanks to Karen L.)

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

20 // Greater Love


'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends.' John 15.15


*     *     *


Good morning!

In a recent poll, one in five Britons said they'd become distanced from close friends because of the pandemic. It's not been an easy time for anyone (and I think about how many children, in particular, have been affected). And when we finally get to a place beyond having to be so careful, there'll be some gentle re-orienting to be done.

In a helpful piece in praise of friendship this week in the i newspaper, the novelist Elizabeth Day said that it struck her, after her divorce, that her friends 'were the biggest, most consistent love of my life ...' What a delightful description.

'Whereas romantic relationships had let me down, my real friends never had. They had always accepted me, even when I hadn't accepted myself.'
 

We all have different experiences, of course, but as we feel our way forward, it's good to be reminded that we can work at, and honour, our friendships (as Day and her best friend are exploring in a new podcast called Best Friend Therapy). 
 

*     *     *


'Friendship is about thinking the best of your friends,' she says. And in that spirit of appreciative enquiry, you might like to reflect on the qualities you'd attribute to someone dear who has (at least, for a season) shared the sacrament of friendship with you. Pause, to write a few things down, or speak them out, before you continue.

It's moving to think, isn't it?

And happily, it's not just them we can appreciate, in the process. For every facet they offer is a reflection, too - we might say an embodiment - of the friendly nature of God.

The theologian Jurgen Moltmann points out that Jesus is traditionally, 'officially' attributed the titles of prophet, priest and king, but we simply cannot forget friend, he says. Friendship defies official categorisation by its very nature, which surely makes it all the lovelier, more compelling, more profound. 'Friendship with God is not a formal title, but a relationship that makes no claims,' he says.


*     *     *


That's something echoed by Thomas Merton: 

'Christ has granted us His Friendship
so that He may in this manner enter our hearts
and dwell in them as a personal presence,
not as an object, not as a "what" but as a "Who" ...
... present in the depths of our own being as our Friend
and as our other self.'

That's some pretty amazing back-up, isn't it? I'm reminded of how John O'Donohue describes God's in-dwelling presence as the Anam Cara, or soul friend.
 

*     *     *


I wonder what it was like to have Jesus as a friend. Not just the kind who, even on the night he was betrayed, would let John rest back against him intimately; not just as the one whose heart broke for Lazarus; not just the one who called his followers his "brothers, sisters and mothers" ...

But I wonder, too, what he was like as a child. Playful, demonstrative, supportive, funny, encouraging? Would he have stuck up for a mate when others turned on them? Would he notice the one who was always left out?

They must have been formative years, which edged him to the point, over time, when he was able to say with quiet conviction, maybe to himself as much as to his listeners: "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends." 

I'm sure he could have been forgiven, maybe in the desert of Lent, for wondering what on earth his heavenly presence was doing here, among us. How humbling, then, to remember that friendship was the crux of his sacrifice, and that we are the love of his life.


*     *     *


May we be good friends, today.
 

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: 

Take some time to breathe, and relax, and be thankful for the attributes of friendship you sense in Jesus. Speak them out. Receive them. And why not become aware, in the quiet, of what he appreciates of your friendship.

...

In a quiet moment either now or later, try this exercise (which is not dissimilar from yesterday's), from the psychologist Dr Julie Smith's recent book, Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? It's called 'The Perfect Nurturer' -

'A perfect nurturer is an image of a person that you can return to in order to feel safe and nurtured when that is what you need,' she writes.

(1) 'Create an image in your mind of the perfect nurturer (this could be a real or imagined person).

(2) 'Imagine you are sharing with them what you are currently facing, how you feel about it, and what you want to work on.

(3) 'Take some time to imagine in detail how that perfect nurturer might respond, and write it down.'

I'm going to suggest - for the sake of this exercise! - that you imagine your friendJesus as 'the perfect nurturer' - listening to you, and then responding. So please talk to him, and then use your imagination to write down his response - this will help to release those of us who don't feel we 'hear from God' so clearly. And it will help you to set the tone for the kind of words you can start to use about yourself (yes, the kind your friend Jesus would use about you) as you walk through, and work on, your life!

At mid-day: 

Set your alarm and text an old friend to say hi, and thank you. 

For sunset: 

Why not read this 'blessing for friendship' by John O'Donohue:

May you be blessed with good friends.
May you learn to be a good friend to yourself.
May you be able to journey to that place in your soul where
there is great love, warmth, feeling, and forgiveness.
May this change you.
May it transfigure that which is negative, distant, or cold in you.
May you be brought in to the real passion, kinship, and affinity of belonging.
May you treasure your friends.
May you be good to them and may you be there for them;
may they bring you all the blessing, challenges, truth,
and light that you need for your journey.
May you never be isolated.
May you always be in the gentle nest of belonging with your anam ċara.

...

The first episode of Elizabeth Day's new podcast 'Best Friend Therapy' - which she's doing with her best friend, the therapist Emma Reed Turrell - is about boundaries, and is available here. (It's not a 'Christian' podcast, and there's the occasional bit of swearing, but if you don't mind that, it's really good!)

Dr Julie Smith's Why Has Nobody Told Me This Before? is published by Michael Joseph (2022)

John O'Donohue's Anam Cara: Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World is published by Bantam (1999)

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

19 // Sent With A Gift


'Do not judge, or you too will be judged.' Matthew 7.1


*     *     *


Good morning!

‘One of the keys to spiritual growth is to look on each new person we encounter along the way as someone who has been sent to us with a gift,’ writes Mike Riddell in his powerful short book of Christian spirituality, The Sacred Journey.

‘They have some lesson to teach us, some quality to awaken in us, some blessing to bestow upon us, some need for us to fulfil, or some question to ask of us.’

Just bring to mind the next person you’re likely to meet, today ... and how the quality of your encounter with them could shift, even before it happens.


*     *     *


I like to think of Jesus, and the way he must have looked upon those he met along the way. I’m sure he didn’t just see every person as a problem to be solved.

Imagine him learning from others (he was lost, and found, in the Temple as a child, listening to the teachers there; did he ever stop seeking to learn, I wonder?)

Imagine him having his patience tested. Imagine all the different kinds of people he looked straight in the eye: Mary Magdalene. Zacchaeus. Nicodemus. Mary and Martha. The woman accused of adultery. John, the beloved disciple. Judas. Pilate.

I don’t expect, either, that he came up with the teaching "Judge not …" without first learning to cultivate the practice himself. He’s not a "Do as I say, not as I do" kind of leader, after all, but one who came to show us how.


*     *     *


It's not always easy though, is it? I've found some help recently from Pema Chodron, who offers a simple exercise to help us nurture compassion instead of judgment, which she calls the ‘Just like me’ practice.

It starts with two simple steps to deepen our awareness of what other people are going through, in any given moment. She explains: When you are in discomfort, say: “Just like me, there are others feeling pain like this.”

And when you experience a particular pleasure - the sun on your face, for instance! - say: "Just like me, there are others enjoying this."

This helps us to gain a compassionate sense of the roots of suffering, she says. So when you meet someone at work or in a traffic jam or the shopping queue and they don't seem like a gift, and you’re tempted to judge them, you can say:

“Just like me ... this person has somewhere to get to. Just like me, they feel trapped and frustrated. Just like me, that person doesn’t want to suffer. Just like me …”
 

*     *     *


When we're open to the possibility of others being sent with a gift, writes Mike Riddell, ‘we can cease to look on even the apparently most obnoxious as enemies, but rather begin to probe for their essential mystery. It is astonishing how much a simple change of orientation can release grace and discovery for those willing to try.’

I had the privilege of meeting Mike, once. We went for a walk. I was younger, and expected a 'leader' like him, unorthodox as he was, to tell me stuff, dispense wisdom like a guru, be instructional. Instead, he said hardly anything, except to ask a few questions and listen, while offering the utter grace of his wholly absorbed presence.

It was a turning point for me, personally. He was the gift, searching out mine. I'm sure I glimpsed Jesus walking alongside, looking me in the eye. It is a sacred journey, this one - and who knows where it will lead us, and to whom, this week.


*     *     *


May we exercise compassion, with every step.
 

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: 

Take a few breaths. Be still, be here ...

Imagine Jesus listening to you, without judgement, in this moment. Share a few things with him, now.

Prepare to step into the week without judgement. (Have a go at the 'Just Like Me' steps today. Stay present to the practice.)

At mid-day: 

Set your alarm and pause to reflect on your morning for a few moments. Prepare your heart to be open to those you meet this afternoon. 

For sunset: 

The clocks have changed, here in the UK. Why not step outside (or to a window, if you can't) and experience the light falling, later. Give thanks for the lengthening of the light. And spend some time praying for someone you've been struggling with, as well as someone who's been a more obvious and delightful gift in your life.

 

...

If you missed my YouTube Live, you can watch again here. The sound went with a few minutes to go, but it still made for a connective experience! 

...

I will open RSVPs again tomorrow - please wait for the invitation! Thank you!

...


Mike Riddell's The Sacred Journey was published first by Lion in 2000.
Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart was first published by Shambhala, 1997

...

Dedicated with my love and eternal thanks to Mike Riddell, who was sent with a gift to so many of us, and who died at the weekend, aged 69.

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

18 // A Higher Power


‘'The Earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness.' Psalm 24.1


*     *     *


Good morning!

Yesterday, my daughter looked so tired as she got ready for school. You’re more than halfway there, we said. “You’re over the hump!” She smiled.

And it reminded me that we’re now halfway through our Lent journey. Be of good cheer, especially if you're feeling weary! I’m encouraged by lines from Christina Rossetti’s poem ‘Mid-Lent’, written for those of us who’ve made it this far (please forgive the exclusive language):

‘O weary man, in weariness take rest,
O hungry man, by hunger feast thy fill.’


*     *     *


It’s Earth Hour tomorrow (organised, as ever, by the World Wildlife Fund): a soulful opportunity to pause at 8.30pm, wherever we are in the world, to switch off our power and reflect on our relationship with God's wonderful, wounded Earth.

Halfway into Lent, it’s a good moment, too, to remember the ego’s temptation to push us restlessly on toward ‘More, Bigger, Faster’ - which makes us part of the problem - and the soul’s counter-invitation to find contentment upon a different path. We do not live by bread alone; by hunger feast thy fill. 

The idea, with Earth Hour, is to light some candles and try something simple, lovely, life-affirming that you might not otherwise get round to - like playing a game, or singing some songs, or reflecting prayerfully in the evocative glow of a single flame. Remember John O’Donohue’s wonderful words last week:

'When we look into the heart,
May our eyes have the kindness
And reverence of candlelight.'


*     *     *


It all takes on a different texture this year, too, given the cost-of-living crisis, which in the UK means too many people are ‘powered down’ already, without heat or light or gas, through rising poverty. And then, of course, there are those in the besieged cities of Ukraine such as Mariupol, without power, food or water.

Perhaps this is the moment, then, to remember that nothing is ever unrelated. Climate change and the sixth great extinction of species, the cost-of-living crisis, war in Ukraine … It all connects, somehow, if we join the dots, because everything does connect in God's world, including the desecrated places. We do nothing n isolation, for ill, or good.

Which means, happily, that we always have the invitation to positively reconnect - with the planet, each other, God, ourselves - even as we disconnect a little more, starting this weekend perhaps, from the artificial glare of distraction and over-consumption.

And as we seek to unplug from ego, in this second half of Lent, here's to tapping a more renewable Source of life and soul for the days ahead. A higher power, we might say; and deeper, wider, gentler, lovelier, too. Graced and lit, as we go, with the candlelight kindness and reverence of the Creator's enduring love.


*     *     *


May you 'feast thy fill', this weekend.
 

Go well!
Brian

Join me today for our next YouTube Live at 4.30pm (or watch later on that same link). Tomorrow, I'm presenting Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4 at 7.45am. (It may be something new, or it might be something we've touched on. Let's see!)

...

For Now: 

Why not reflect prayerfully on the first half of your journey through Lent. Look back through your journal, or the reflections. (You can browse the whole collection here.)

For Saturday night: 

Plan ahead to do something a little different. As you power down, make this a halfway commitment to the second half of Lent, as well as to having soulful fun as you go, and deepening your connection with the Lord's Earth!

 

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

 

A short 'extra' for the weekend:
Reawaken your love of the wild

I borrowed the title of our series this year from a musical project, ‘Let the Light In’ - which complements Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s lovely books of nature poetry and art, The Lost Words and The Lost Spells.

With the help of some wonderful folk musicians, they've turned their poems into songs to create ‘a listening experience that intersects music, literature, language and art, as a call to reawaken our love of the wild.’ 

One of my favourites is about the ‘Oak’, which they describe as ‘a waiting tree’:

'Three hundred years to grow,
Three hundred more to thrive,
Three hundred years to die,
Nine hundred years alive.'

While Lent can seem like a long time for those of us who like to get from A to B as quickly as we can, here at the halfway stage we can take inspiration from the waiting oak, which has never seemed in a hurry to be anywhere but here.

And I don’t think there’s a much more hopeful sight in the natural world than to see fresh new leaves gracing a scarred and ancient tree.

So why not try to find one, this weekend. Spend time with it. Sit beneath it. Wait with it. Look for signs of life, in the form of new leaves. And then sense this patient springtime renewal stirring within you. For the Earth is the Lord's, and you are part of the beauty of this turning season, however old, however young.

...

I love this exquisite 'Lost Words Blessing'.

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

17 // The Bittersweet Symphony


‘Look at the birds of the air …’ Matthew 6.26


*     *     *


Good morning!

Do you remember all the bird song in that first lockdown of March 2020? It was as if ‘morning had broken, like the first morning’. Not that there were any more singers than usual, I'm sure - but as the noise of the traffic fell silent, we could hear the sacred magnificence of what had been there, all along.

You have to listen more carefully now. Yesterday, I paused in the garden, to tune back in. A blackcap poured its liquid melody into the air, above a rumbling lorry. A robin rose above the staccato sputter of a local rifle range, which seemed like an eery and powerful metaphor indeed. We listen for God, amidst it all.


*     *     *


An encounter with a bird doesn't have to 'mean' anything, of course; but it can train our attention. Jesus himself told us to look at the birds of the air, and so I'm never surprised when I find my soul stirred by Creation’s call.

I've too many examples to share, and you'll have yours. But one stays with me, from when I watched Storm Eunice from my window. A humble wood pigeon flew past, but as the wind suddenly gusted, the bird, which was aiming forwards, found itself going backwards, despite all its exertions.

I’d never seen that before (and felt a strong affinity!). But quickly, she stopped her striving, spread her wings, banked, and harnessed the wind like a sail, departing at warp speed. She found her flow, and ever since, I’ve been seeking to find my own upon the currents of the Spirit.


*     *     *


Much has been written of birds, of course, and I'm always grateful to the poet Mary Oliver, for the way she helps us to see, and hear. She tells the meadowlark:

'You sing, I listen.
Both are necessary
if the world is to continue ...'

It's like an act of resistance to pause, to listen, in a world caught up in 'the terrible debris of progress'.

Elsewhere, she wonders, 'Who knows the sorrows of the heart?' - beside God, and ourselves, that is. Not the clouds or the trees, but maybe the thrush, who stands alone at the edge of the woods and sings of 'every estrangement, exile, rejection' - 

'And then, so sweetly, of every goodness also to be remembered.'


*     *     *


I love that she hears a bittersweet symphony of sorts. It complements another bird analogy, which has helped me in these troubled days, when I watch the news through my fingers, and don't know quite where to look.

Hildegard of Bingen, the 12th-century Christian mystic, says that we fly with two wings of awareness. ‘The one wing is an awareness of life’s glory and beauty. The other is an awareness of life’s pain and suffering. If we try to fly with only one of these, we will be like an eagle trying to fly with only one wing.’ That's why it's crucial, I'm sure, to take joy in good things, even in the midst of sorrow.


*     *     *


All of which reminds me that Jesus, in whom all these things hold together, is likened to a bird himself by the great GM Hopkins, in his poem ‘The Windhover’.

A windhover is another name for a kestrel, or falcon, and one landed in our garden just before Lent, out of the blue (another 'first'!). It was a connection, for me, to the man of sorrows who tells us, yet, to wonder at the birds and not to worry.

Enraptured by the beauty of his windhover, Hopkins saw the scintillating glory of his Lord in it, ‘a billion times told lovelier, more dangerous ...'

Jesus would have his arms outstretched for us at Easter, much like wings, it strikes me now; this 'dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon' Lord who bids us watch the birds with him, would also die to watch us fly.


*     *     *


May you hear Creation's call, today.

Go well!
Brian

...


For Now: 

'Christ's Passion is central to the poem.' You can see a short, helpful commentary on 'The Windhover', and you can read the poem itself, here.

Or listen to Yusuf / Cat Stevens' version of Morning Has Broken here.

You might appreciate this really helpful 5-minute reflection from John Philip Newellon Hildegard's analogy of the two wings of awareness. It was set within the context of the pandemic, which lends it some poignancy as we reflect back! (Thanks to Rae M for introducing me to the metaphor.)

Mid-day: 

Why not go outside, or to your window, and watch the birds. Try to tune in to the birdsong, above the noise of traffic, and beyond the debris of progress.

Tonight: 

Light a candle, and why not listen to this Ukrainian version of the Blessing, as a way of praying. It's a bittersweet symphony indeed.

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

16 // A Thousand Flowers


'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 77.12 [MSG]


*     *     *


Good morning!

And as it's a dazzling Wednesday, why not pause, before reading on, to pray with Walter Brueggemann:

'This day, a gift from you.
Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us.'


*     *     *


Two years ago today, here in the UK, we went into our first Covid lockdown. We were mid-way through Lent, and so I wanted us to mark it, perhaps for one last time. 

I’ve been browsing my series from that week in 2020, to help me feel my way back. With our diaries cleared in one fell swoop, I wrote about the practice of coppicing hazel trees, in which nothing of the tree is wasted when it’s cut, and sunlight floods the woodland floor, to awaken long dormant wild-flower seeds.

‘In the clearings of this Coronavirus year, what if nothing were wasted,’ I asked. ‘And that on this woodland floor, a thousand flowers are getting ready to bloom.’ Perhaps it was naive optimism; but in the God-light of that sun-drenched spring, it might also have been true.

I wrote about Anne Frank that week, who in her wartime ‘lockdown’ in Holland gazed through her attic window each day to a horse chestnut tree which brought her joy. The view from our own windows would become familiar, too; though we had the luxury to step outside and breathe the air.

And I wrote, too, about how, in life’s rush, we can overlook what's on our doorstep, in search of treasures farther off. Quite the test then, when we’re stuck here. "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" asked the crowd, of Jesus. "Come and see," said Philip, of the God who embraced the tightest human limits, yet exercised such freedom there.

Could anything good come from lockdown? Perhaps we could, in God’s grace.


*     *     *


Two years ago today, we were set to lose so much. People, most significantly. I spoke to a friend yesterday whose voice cracked as he spoke of losing his dad to Covid early on. So many lost the chance to say goodbye, as well.

And between us all, we lost a painful mix of work, health, day-to-day connection. We lost confidence. And time, with those we love.


*     *     *


We lost, but we started to gain, too (and not just lockdown weight!). New found skills on Zoom, in the kitchen, in the home classroom. Creativity. Community spirit. Kindness. Nature. New rhythms, including prayerfulness. And in time, a vaccine.

We gained new perspectives, and perhaps more than anything, appreciation for so much we might otherwise have taken for granted.


*     *     *


I wonder what we might have said to our future selves, back then?

'Don’t leave it too long to see those you love, next time'?
'Be kind to yourself - and not quite so busy'?
'Try to live as if you trust in God'?
'Take it day by day, step by step, breath by breath ...'?

Back then, as Covid struck and everything was cancelled, I asked ironically, ‘What had we been planning? To give up chocolate? Alcohol? TV?’ We gave up so much more. And the thing is, it’s not over yet, is it? There may be no going 'back', as such. But truly, the path of life and faith continues on. 'For you are with me,' as Psalm 23 reminds us, always.

I saw a comment on social media, at the start of this Lent, 2022, that made me laugh and wince in equal measure. Someone had written, ‘This Lent, I’m just giving up.’ But if looking back has taught me one thing, it’s how glad I am that we didn’t. And how thankful I am - even more so - to know that God never gives up on us.
 

Here we are, then, two years on. Better equipped, I'm sure, to face tomorrow's challenges, of which there will be plenty. But ready to live today, too, with all we've lost, and gained, and learned and loved along the way. Rooted in the dark, and reaching for the light.


*     *     *


May you bloom, today, upon the sunlit woodland floor.

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now

Why not listen to the UK version of the Blessing, which brought so much comfort to so many of us in the early days of that first year. 

You might like to ask, in a few moments stillness:

What have I lost?
What have I gained?
What have I learned?
What have I loved?

Mid-day:

As it's Wednesday, set your alarm, and pray with Walter Brueggemann:

‘Ruler of the Night, Guarantor of the day ...
This day - a gift from you.
This day - like none other you have ever given, or we have ever received.

Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.
We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.'

Tonight

Light a candle in thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, and remember those whose freedoms have been so cruelly denied at this time, especially in Ukraine.

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

15 // This Uncluttered Moment


'I have set before you life and death ... Choose life.' (Deut. 30.19)


*     *     *


Good morning.

Three snippets of simplicity, today.

The first is from Greg McKeown, whose book Effortless has encouraged me recently to keep it simpler. Neuroscientists, he says, have worked out that the 'now' we experience psychologically is reckoned to last 2.5 seconds.

Becoming aware of our window on the present gives us the opportunity to take tiny but significant steps of progress, he says. 2.5 seconds is enough time, for instance, to shift our focus: to put our phone down, to breathe, look up, look out …

Try it. It could shift the quality of your day, beginning in this very moment. Especially as we believe that God waits within those seconds of the present, filling them with eternity, even as we dare to keep them clear.

It is time enough to get distracted, too, however - which is why the tech companies create social media in such bite-size morsels, and tempt you to keep scrolling. Greg's advice is to make it harder for yourself to do what's trivial, and easier to get started on what's significant. But if you're feeling overwhelmed, today, remember you don’t have to take on everything - just take on the next 2.5 seconds, and choose life.


*     *     *


It’s not easy to stay present, of course, but we can practice in different ways, and that's surely what so much of the spiritual life is about.

The theologian Frederick Buechner offers a creative approach through haiku, the short-form Japanese poetry. This minimalist kind of literature, he says, describes the moment as it is. So it frames the present like a work of art - helping us to experience it with loving attention. 'Hear it. See it. Smell it. Participate in it,' he urges.

Here’s a famous example:

An old silent pond.
Into the pond the frog jumps.
Splash. Silence again.

I tried one myself, sitting outside at mid-day:

The sun’s weak March warmth
Tenders (once the wind calms down)
Apricity’s kiss.

I think we can see love in the present, whenever we frame the present lovingly.
 

*     *     *


Back to Greg McKeown for one final insight, which is to turn a habit into a ritual; or, to create a soulful practice, as we might say.

He offers the example of the de-cluttering expert Marie Kondo, who doesn’t just encourage us to get rid of things that clutter our home, but to create a ritual of letting go in the process. It brings meaning to the act, and helps it to stick.

All sorts of possibilities spring to mind for soulful ritual, from our slow walk using ‘Glory and ‘Amen’, to unloading the dishwasher mindfully to practise doing the small things with love, to taking a breath before meeting someone, becoming present to God’s presence in you, and them.

But why not try something before this moment passes? Find one object of clutter to throw out, recycle or give away, to begin a Lent ritual of relinquishment. Imagine following Jesus further into the wilderness by seeking to travel more lightly, like him; present to God in the pristine space of the uncluttered moment. As if it really could shift the nature of our day, our Lent, our life, for good.

 

*     *     *


May we choose life, today.

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: Behold the beauty of this uncluttered moment for the next 2.5 seconds. Relax, draw breath, smile, and sense God waiting within it. Stay there, a while.

When you're ready, find something to throw out, recycle or donate, and begin a ritual of Lent relinquishment. 

Mid-day: Pause to write a haiku. It should consist of three lines, using 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively. Describe something of the moment, and let this frame the present for you in a way that helps you to 'hear it, see it, smell it, participate in it'.

Tonight: Light a candle, pray for Ukraine and/or anywhere else in the world that is on your heart. Allow today's small act of relinquishment to help you pray for those who've had to let go of everything so suddenly.

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

14 // Let Us Play


“The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.” Zechariah 8.5


*     *     *


Good morning.

When was the last time you had some real fun?

That’s not a loaded question, though it may be harder to answer, with so much war and Covid. But bear with me, because we don't always have to rely on times being good to be fun, do we? In fact, it can take having fun to make harder times better.

As Catherine Price, author of The Power of Fun, points out: ‘Fun isn’t just a result of human thriving - it’s a cause.’ It’s characteristic of God’s kingdom, too, I'm sure.

She's not talking about frivolous or ‘fake fun’ as she calls it - overdosing on social media, and all of that. 'True Fun’ restores the soul, and contains a confluence of three particular elements which - for me - overlay the contemplative spiritual life: play, connection, and flow.
 

*     *     *


If playfulness feels too light for Lent, picture Desmond Tutu giggling infectiously through so many years fighting oppression and subjugation. Remember, too, that Jesus said we enter the kingdom as children. Zechariah’s vision of the City of God, meanwhile, is filled with kids playing on the streets. I think of the little girl singing 'Let It Go' in her Ukrainian bomb shelter - chased from the streets so cruelly - and I'm reminded of the eternally irrepressible nature of childhood.

It makes me wonder, too, about Jesus' own childhood nature, and what it must be like to play with God. Which brings us to the second element of True Fun, connection - sharing the joy with others. I'm sure that extends not just to connection with other people but to all of God’s Creation, and its Creator.

In fact, I love how Psalm 104 in particular mentions the great creature of the seas, Leviathan, 'which you have made to play there.’ Gorgeous! It’s the same Hebrew word for play as Zechariah's. The Talmud, the Jewish rabbinical collection of wisdom, even says that ‘God sits and plays with Leviathan.’ When I think of how my daughter plays with her rabbit, I reckon I’ve glimpsed something more of God.

Meanwhile, flow is that state of being utterly absorbed - harder in the screen age -  whether with a pet, or baking or worshiping or crafting or jogging or whatever it is you’re doing when you’re in the zone (what are you doing?); not judging yourself or others, not grasping or striving, just focused, exquisitely.


*     *     *


Each of these three - playfulness, connection and flow - is enough to elevate the spirit, says Price; but when you combine all three, you’re in the realm of True Fun. And there's a reason such moments stay in the memory: 'It's when we feel alive.'

It's hard to disagree.

I climbed a hill with mum and dad on Friday to watch the sun set and the full moon rise. It was a bit of a mission - no one's getting younger - but we had fun! And as we stood at the top, lost in the wonder of a mesmerising sky, something unspoken, unforgettable, flowed between us and the heavens and the earth and our Creator.

You'll have your own moments, some planned, some not. They don't have to be deep, and we don't have to turn fun into a task! But in harder times, there is an open invitation to participate in the energy and light and love that can flow as fun between us - pointing, as it does, to the promise that we will play like kids again, one happy day, on the sunlit streets of the city of the playful king.

 

*     *     *


May you have some fun, this week.

Go well!
Brian

...

For Now: Relax your body, bring your awareness to your breathing, and settle in for a few moments of stillness with God. 

You might like to read Psalm 104, and smile when you get to Leviathan. 

Mid-day:  Whether you're able to connect with someone else or not, take a few moments to play, connect and flow. Look for opportunities not just to have fun, but to bring fun, today. 

Tonight: We know it's no fun in Ukraine right now, to put it mildly. As you light your candle tonight, why not use this set of live feeds from Ukraine to help you pray. It's on the YouTube channel of Patrick Lenk, who provides a musical version of the Jesus Prayer in the background. (Thanks to Claire P.)

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

13 // Sun-kissed, Moon-blessed


‘He made the moon to mark the seasons,
   and the sun knows when to go down.’ Psalm 104.19


*     *     *


Good morning.

 

As I walked my daughter halfway to school yesterday, we inhaled the smell of fresh grass, felt the sun bless our faces, and stood transfixed as a sparrow came to and fro with nesting material, disappearing into the eaves of a nearby house. Some parts of the year sweep you up in Creation’s hopeful flow, and this is surely one of them.

‘His eye is on the sparrow’ too, as the song goes. And I love to think of the Creator, in person, in Jesus, welcoming signs of spring, turning his face to the sun, even as he kindled the God-light within. How finely tuned to God's rhythms he must have been!

And we can seek that flow with him, between Creator and Creation, can't we? This weekend it's the equinox, that point at which the whole world is held in the balance of equal dark and light for just one day. North and South, East and West, you and me and them and us and we. All God's children.


*     *     *


There’s a full moon tonight, too, just to pile on the wonder. A moment, perhaps, to imagine Jesus watching it rise in the wilderness, there amid the ebb and flow of the Creator's handiwork. The moon glinting in his watchful eye. Perhaps he recalled the words of the wonderful Psalm 104: ‘He made the moon to mark the seasons’.

It’s the same moon we’ll all look up to, around the equinoctial world tonight. Soldiers at their post in Ukraine. Refugees walking the road to who knows where. Presidents, even. Moonlight shining on the rubble of the Mariupol theatre. On my budding magnolia. On the eaves where the sparrows nest.


*     *     *


In Lent, we keep one eye with Jesus, too, on the end of his life and ministry, and this full moon tonight is the one in the lunar cycle which sets his countdown to Easter. The feast of Passover (at which he'll be arrested) is held on the first full moon afterthe equinox, so this one, tonight, marks the beginning of the end-game, the season of the Cross; as he turns his sun-blessed, moon-kissed face now toward Jerusalem.

Spring is a season of unfurling - buds open into flowers, butterflies unfold their crumpled wings from the safety of a cocoon; Creation invites us, too, to open a little further to the warmth, to the incoming flow of light like a tide, turning.

Meanwhile, Jesus prepares to unfurl his arms like red-rose petals, wide as God’s heart, to hold it all for us, in him, when we can't hold it anymore: the wonder of this world, and its bitter cruelty; death itself, and the unstoppable outpouring of life that flows, as surely as winter turns to spring.

 

*     *     *


May you be sun-blessed, and moon-kissed, today.

Go well!
Brian

Do join me at 4.30pm (GMT) for our next Lent YouTube Live!
...

For Now: Try this breathing exercise from James Finley (which we've used a few times during my YouTube sessions). He writes:

'As you inhale, listen to the incoming breath so intently that you can hear in it God’s silent “I love you“, in which God is flowing into you as the source and reality of your very being.

As you exhale, breathe out your silent “I love you“ back to God.

Simply sit, open to God breathing divine love into the depths of your being, as you breathe your whole being, as a gift of love, back into God.'

Mid-day: Thanks to Susie Dent (via my friend Martyn) for alerting me to the word 'Apricate'. It means, 'to revel in the warmth of the sun on your back'. Take a few moments to revel, in the sun, and in the light and warmth of God. Don't try and multitask or check your phone - just do that.

Tonight: Watch the moon rise. Remember Jesus, watching. Remember those you love, who are far off. And those in danger. Commit them to the care of God's love.

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

12 // To Light a Fire


‘I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.' Romans 8.37-39


*     *     *


Good morning.

 

And a happy St Patrick’s Day, especially if you’re in, or from, Ireland!

Patrick became a man of courage and faith, having been snatched from his home in 5th-century Roman Britain, aged 16, by marauders and taken to Ireland. He spent six years in slavery as a shepherd before managing to escape and get home. Six, long wilderness years in which his Christian faith was sparked into flame. He writes in his autobiographical Confession that 'I turned with all my heart toward the Lord...
 

'I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently ... More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved ... I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain... I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time.' It's amazing what can happen in the wilderness.


*     *     *


Imagine, then, his courage to answer God's call (through a dream) to leave the safety of his family again and return to Ireland as a Christian missionary. That takes a very particular kind of guts, and love.

The famous story goes that Patrick wanted to celebrate Easter by lighting a fire at Tara, in defiance of a pagan festival in which the high-king decreed that all fires and lights be put out. It was for the high-king to provide fire and light for his people first, and for them to show allegiance by extinguishing their own.

Into that darkness, Patrick lit his Easter fire, to offer the light of Christ. According to the story, the king’s wise men warned that ‘if this fire was not put out, it would flood Ireland with its light’ - which, in time, it did. Though the king sent guards to capture and kill Patrick, he evaded them, and the gospel, through his witness, spread.


*     *     *


It takes courage to light a fire.

I’m in awe of the incredible courage shown by the Russian TV news producer Marina Ovsyannikova to interrupt the news live on a state programme on Monday night with her anti-war protest. And of any brave Russians daring to dissent on the streets.

It takes courage for the likes of Richard Ratcliffe and Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to stand strong in the face of terrifying human rights’ violations and to keep the flame of hope alive. What wonderful news we witnessed yesterday.

It takes courage for someone like Alice D to take in refugees, as she mentioned in the RSVPs this week, requesting prayer. It's a great undertaking for anyone willing to offer sanctuary and to let the light of welcome shine and spread.

It takes courage for ordinary people to make a stand through creative, non-violent action as the climate emergency continues to deepen.

It always takes courage when you can’t be sure of the outcome. 


*     *     *


Patrick is said to have written his famous ‘Breastplate’ prayer of protection around the time of the Tara event. No one knows for sure whether the ancient words are his, but they've certainly reached all the way to us from the earliest days of the faith in Ireland, and as we pray them today, we enter a most powerful, spell-binding flow -

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation...

As (the Celtic expert) David Adam points out so helpfully, ‘It is not a belief in magic but an assertion that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. It is not protection from bad things happening, but a protection from them destroying us forever.' Which makes them, surely, even greater ...

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ within me ...

I'm not sure how courageous you're feeling; I wish I were braver. But we can pray this prayer (there's more, below) in solidarity, at least, with those daring to light a fire in today's present darkening world. And who knows, it might en-courage us to light a small fire of our own, this Lent, and feel its heat, and watch the God-light catch.

 

*     *     *


May you arise, today.

Go well!
Brian

...

Today's Rhythm

For Now: Take some time to pray these excerpts from St Patrick's Prayer. Speak them out loud, if you're able.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation...

I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.

I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.

Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.

(To read a version of the full text, click here.)

For Mid-day: Is there anyone you know who has lit a fire, and needs your prayer, or practical support, or encouragement? Think of them, and perhaps be in touch. If youwere to light a fire, but haven't yet had the courage to do so, what would it be?

For Sunset: You might like to light an actual fire tonight to remember the light and love of Jesus on Patrick's day. Or a candle. Remember the brave people of Russia who have taken a stand, and those in Ukraine who are resisting.

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

11 // Remember, You Are Dust


‘Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ Genesis 2.7

'As a father has compassion on his children,
   so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
   for he knows how we are formed,
   he remembers that we are dust.' Psalm 103.13-14


*     *     *


Good morning.

 

It’s Wednesday! So for the sake of rhythm, let’s start as we did last week with those words of Walter Brueggemann from his poem ‘Marked by Ashes’:

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

Why not pause to be open to the possibilities that will come your way, today; to welcome God within them; and to be a God-breathed part of the love, the beauty.


*     *     *

 

Remembering the path we're taking from Ash Wednesday to Easter, I wanted to touch on the Lent theme of dust.

I love the way Genesis 2.7 describes the creation of humanity. We’re very much ‘dust’, as we remember on Ash Wednesday. But God takes that dust, forms a person, breathes life into it, and it becomes, as the King James version puts it, ‘a living soul’. (Matter + Spirit = Soul!)


Take a breath. Relax your shoulders. Smile.

It needn't be miserable to ‘remember that from dust we came’. It can be magical. Especially if you think about the kind of beauty that’s emerging from the ground all around us at the start of spring! Our magnolia is about to bloom, and it feels like a miracle, it feels like hope.

And there's much to 'remember', with the dust:

that matter matters (get your hands dirty, today!);
that we belong with all the other creatures who share life on Earth with us;
that being from the dust doesn't make us bad;
that it's not all we are - it's when we receive God's breath that we come fully alive;
that it means we have our creaturely limits. Which is OK.


*     *     *


Of course, Genesis tells us that we did try to transcend our human limits at the Fall, over-reaching to eat the apple, seeking somehow to become like God.

But when God tells Adam and Eve, after the event, that ‘dust you are, and to dust you shall return’, it's not in retaliation, at least according to Walter Brueggemann (this time, in a fascinating scholarly article on 'dust'). Instead, it's a reminder of Genesis 2.7, and our true identity as humans: created for life with God, not as God.. 

Meanwhile, the restorative words of Psalm 103 mean it’s not just us doing the remembering. ‘God knows how we are formed,’ writes the psalmist, ‘and remembers we are dust.’ It's the same word for dust as in Genesis, evoking the Creation account; God knows how we came about, and how we come to life in him still.

This is, after all, the God who lovingly forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies and vindicates, as we read at the start of the psalm. Whose loves stretches ‘from everlasting to everlasting’.


*     *     *


I’m reminded of the cross that was marked in ash on my forehead, which feels as if it's stayed with me on this journey, even though I washed it off two weeks ago. I wondered, at the time, why its mark on me felt like a relief, not a condemnation.

'Remember...'

I remember, now, that it's not just about my degradation, but about my creaturely goodness in God, and God's divine, sustaining goodness in me.

This God, who breathes us into being, yet who was breathed into being himself, to breathe our air and bear our limits. This Jesus, whose dusty feet surely spoke to him, in the desert, of how it all started, and how it was all set to start again.

Remembering us, and reminding us, with supreme love, of who, and whose, we are.

 

*     *     *


May we remember, today.

Go well!
Brian

...

Today's Rhythm

For Now: I'm thankful to Rae M for sending a link to this gorgeous choral piece, Calm Me Lord. Have a listen, now, and breathe deep, and be still, and be with God.

I'm fasting today, as part of my rhythm for Wednesdays, if you'd care to join me for some or all of it. Bring your hunger for peace to God.

For Mid-day: Set your alarm for mid-day and get outside, if you can, to feel the ground beneath your feet, and to notice spring. You might like to take off your shoes and socks. As you stand there, imagine what it was like for the Creator to feel the ground beneath his feet, and to contemplate the dust, and to remember.

For Sunset: Light your candle, and pray for Ukraine.

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

10 // Messy, Beautiful & Blessed


'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Matthew 5.3 


*     *     *


Good morning!

Three simple, related thoughts on the upside-down, inside-out nature of the 'good news' of the Gospel, for a Tuesday morning, if I may.

First, from the down-to-earth US pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber, who writes: ‘Your weakness is fertile ground for a forgiving God to make something new and to make something beautiful, so don’t ever think that all you have to offer are your gifts.’

Our gifts are wonderful, unique, and to be celebrated. But how good to realise that it's not just our strengths we have to offer, but also the transformational possibilities contained in our weakness, through God's grace.

And, maybe even better, how liberating it could be to see each other's weakness in that way too - less in frustration, more in trusting that God can make something truly new and beautiful with each of them, in the fullness of time.

Blessed are the weak.


*     *     *


Second, this from Thomas Merton: 'Be anything you like … but at all costs avoid one thing: success. If you are too obsessed with success, you will forget to live. If you have learned only how to be a success, your life has probably been wasted.'

Mercifully, I'm sure none of us have only learned how to be a success. And success is something to be enjoyed, when we've worked for it. But the point remains, in Lent especially, that life in the kingdom of God has a very different agenda from the main-stream. And that's good news for any of us reined in by a fear of failing today's test, whatever that may be. 

Blessed are the so-called losers.


*     *     *


Third, something from the artist Charlie Mackesy (creator of the gorgeous book The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse). In a touchingly unscripted talk on-line, he shares how he volunteers with elderly people with Alzheimer's, helping them to paint and draw. Most are very reluctant to have a go at first, as they were told they were no good at art, usually at school, a whole lifetime ago.

“But did you enjoy it?” he asks them.
“Yes!”
“Well let’s abandon the idea of being good, of having merit ... and just make a mess.”

 

One of them ended up having a painting hung in a prestigious gallery beside a Lucian Freud, but that’s beside the point, he says. They all began to talk, to laugh, to connect with each other and reconnect with themselves; to start to belong, to use their imagination, to be released to create. “From the mess can come beauty,” he says. Adding, “But even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter.”

Blessed are the messy. For they are the works of art.


*     *     *


At the start of Charlie's lovely book, the boy meets the mole for the first time, and they sit on a branch and start to chat. "What do you want to be when you grow up?" asks the mole. "Kind," says the boy.

"What do you think success is?" asks the boy. "To love," says the mole. 
 

We try hard to make it harder, don't we. But, just for today, could we make it easier, instead? "Sometimes, all you hear about is the hate," the horse tells the boy at the end, "but there is more love in this world than you could possibly know."

We can play our unique part in that movement, today, one that's ready to mess things up for a positive change, if we're willing. Far from perfect, close to God.
 

*     *     *


May you be messy, beautiful and blessed.

Go well!
Brian

...

Today's Rhythm

For Now:  ‘You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things out of us.’ I’ve shared this before, but this lovely song by Gungor called Beautiful Thingsis worth absorbing into your bloodstream. Close your eyes, and let its light in.

If you’ve 15 minutes you can watch Charlie’s talk here.

For Mid-day: Be creative for a few minutes. Don’t judge the outcome: enjoy the process. As Charlie says, “Leave your head out of it. Work directly from your heart, soul, spirit, through your arm onto the paper. Feel it, and tell the world how you feel.”

For Sunset: Light your candle, pause and pray your encircling prayer, remembering Ukraine and any other area of conflict that's especially on your heart.


...........................................................

9 // Better to Light a Candle


'Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.' Romans 12.21


*     *     *


Good morning.

As I mentioned on Friday's YouTube, the Celts had a saying:

“It is better to light a candle
Than to curse the darkness.”

It's stayed with me all weekend, so I wanted to repeat it here. It's not some twee mantra for a fridge magnet, either. As Esther de Waal points out, the Celtic nations had ‘long experience of living under threat’, yet their faith helped them to hope, against hope, and to ‘expect the morning light’.

'Light in darkness, hope in despair, life in death is their constant theme’, she says.


*     *     *


I went to our cathedral’s vigil for Ukraine on Saturday morning, along with several hundred others, and as we stood there feebly but defiantly clutching candles and daffodils, it was hard for many of us to hold back the tears.

I’d been asked by a reporter why I’d come, and hadn’t really been able to express my ‘why’ very clearly. Which seemed apt, as it all feels so inexpressible. I said something about standing in solidarity, coming to light a candle and to pray.

But as I lit my candle, and as we all stood together in that historic space, holding silence, sharing 'the peace', hearing a violinist play Bach, praying the Lord’s Prayer together, laying our flowers at the altar, and listening to the children of Ukraine read Psalm 31 again, I realised this wasn't all about our love being powerfully directed east, despite it indeed flowing beautifully, inexorably in that direction.

I realised I needed this, too. We all did, as several of us admitted afterwards.

‘The only way to spiritually hold suffering - and not let it destroy us - is to recognise that we cannot do it alone,’ writes Richard Rohr. Which is such a relief to remember.
 

*     *     *


In any community, including this most precious Lent one, we can share in the universal experience of suffering, because at different levels, we all suffer. And it's all shared ultimately, says Rohr, in the suffering of God, for which Lent prepares us.

There have been sudden, unexpected diagnoses among our Lent community even since we began this journey. Two years of Covid has taken its toll on so many. We all have our reason to curse the darkness, should we choose.

But our very sharing itself, together, with God, brings light, doesn't it? And together we get to practice the hope; to stay grounded and earthed in Creation; to take joy in the small gifts; to spread kindness, and to keep each other encircled in God's love.


*     *     *


We lit a candle last night at supper and remembered those in Ukraine who’d give anything to be heading into an ordinary Monday morning right now, with the usual stresses of getting ready for work or kids to school or tackling the to-do list … and resolved to make the most of every scrap of ordinariness we can, this week, almost as sacrament.

It's no empty gesture. I think we're remembering the 'why', after so much initial shock. Light in darkness, hope in despair, life in death. The 'constant theme', which together we inherit not just from the Celts but from the suffering, loving, victorious God, who bids us share with each other, and pass it on.


*     *     *


May we light the candle, and keep the flame alive this week.

Go well!
Brian

...

Esther de Waal's The Celtic Way of Prayer is published by Canterbury Press (2010)

Richard Rohr's The Universal Christ is published by SPCK (2019)

...

For Now: Here's the prayer of Columba I shared on Friday. Why not pray it, as an encircling prayer this morning:

Be a bright flame before me, O God
a guiding star above me.
Be a smooth path below me,
a kindly shepherd behind me
today, tonight, and for ever.

Take some time in stillness to remember anyone you know who's suffering. 

For Mid-day: Set your alarm, and take a minute to be still. Relax, breathe, feel the ground beneath your feet, and become aware of God's presence within you and around you. Carry that Presence with you as you continue on.

For Sunset: At 6pm tonight, why don't we each light a candle and pray for Ukraine. Spend some time just watching the candle, and reflecting on what it means for you to share in the suffering of others, and to bring light into darkness in God's grace.

...

You can watch the Winchester vigil here. But in particular, you might like to scroll forward to 20 minutes, where you can see Chris Roles, a trustee of the Disasters and Emergency Committee, speak very helpfully for a few moments on the role of the DEC, and the combination of 'give, act and pray'. 

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

8 // Circle Me, Lord


'Where can I go from your Spirit?
   Where can I flee from your presence?
  If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
   if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
  If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
   if I settle on the far side of the sea,
   even there your hand will guide me,
   your right hand will hold me fast.' Psalm 139.7-10


*     *     *


Good morning!

(Today's is a bit longer. I hope we can find a prayerful rhythm this weekend if poss.)

The Bible's clear that we are encircled by God’s presence and love, as the words above so powerfully describe. Of course, Paul talks of ‘how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’ (Ephesians 3.18). And I love how Psalm 103 places our human fragility at its centre (verses 14-16), but hems it in before and after with God's love, which is 'as high as the heavens are above the earth' (v 11) and reaches 'from everlasting to everlasting' (v 17). We'll return to that psalm next week! 

It's not always easy, however, to stay present to that reality, especially in winter seasons (as we touched on yesterday) or in the wilderness of Lent.

So I was grateful to Ian M for mentioning the Celtic practice of ‘encircling prayer’ this week in the RSVPs, which not only helps us to call upon God's presence and protection, but awakens us to the fact that it was there, all along.


*     *     *


Encircling prayer is also known as Caim (the Gaelic for ‘protection’ or ‘sanctuary’) and it's a beautiful, ancient prayerful tradition, arriving here via St Ninian in the 4th century, who drew from the Desert Fathers and Mothers.

And it does involve drawing - a literal or imaginary circle around yourself, or others, to embody the prayer and help us yield to the mystery of our connection with God.

 

The Celts were powerfully aware of God's encircling presence, and St Patrick’s Prayer, an early version of a Caim, is both invocation and awareness of what 'is':


‘Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me…’

Practicing the prayer is simple. One way is to stand, point your arm and index finger in front of you, and slowly rotate yourself clockwise, creating an imaginal circle all the way around yourself, as you pray. You can imagine the line incorporating your house, family, trees, wildlife, whatever's around you ...

Otherwise, you can call to mind someone else as you draw the circle, and if you're unable to stand and rotate, trace your finger around a photo of them, or write their name down and circle it. Ian M drew a circle in the sand on the beach.

Why not pause to sense God's encircling love for you, before you continue.
 

*     *     *


In terms of words to pray, you can offer up you own. But for an example, George Macleod, who re-founded the Iona community in 1938, wrote these lines, which are popular and helpful (you can replace the word 'me' with the name of someone else, like 'President Zelensky', which I've started doing):

Circle me, Lord. Keep protection near and danger afar.
Circle me, Lord. Keep light near and darkness afar.
Circle me, Lord. Keep peace within; keep evil out.

But I love, too, the words of this famous blessing from St Columba (who founded the first community on Iona in the sixth century) and which is one of the earliest Caims:

Bless to me the sky that is above me,
Bless to me the ground that is beneath me,
Bless to me the friends who are around me,
Bless to me the love of the Three
Deep within me and encircling me. Amen.
 

*     *     *


I like to think, too, we can pray this not just for ourselves, or those we care about (including creatures or features in the natural world), but also for those who upset us, or indeed who are very different to us in their orientation or beliefs.

The circle doesn't ring-fence us from each other, after all, but reminds us of God's extraordinary, everlasting love for - and presence with - us all. As such, by praying, we're not only enfolded and awakened, but in some small way, by God's grace, we're slowly but surely transformed.


*     *     *


May you be encircled, today.

Go well!
Brian

...

A Rhythm of Encircling Prayer for Today and the Weekend

For Now: Write the words of one of the Caim prayers above on a piece of card or paper. And then, when you are ready, stand and use them for your prayer. To start with face east, to the rising sun. Point your finger, and slowly turn yourself to the right, speaking the prayer for yourself until you're full circle. Take your time.

For Mid-day: Face south, where the sun is at its highest. (Or north, if you're in the southern hemisphere.) Repeat the encircling prayer, for yourself first, but then for someone you know or love who is close to you. 

For Sunset: Face west, toward the setting sun. Repeat the prayer, first for yourself, then for someone you know who is in need. Maybe you'd like to remember the people of Ukraine, or specifically President Zelenskyy.

Before Bed: Face north (toward the pole star, if you can step outside!). Repeat the prayer, first for yourself, and then for someone you have fallen out with, or are struggling with, or who is very different to you. 

Try and continue with this through the weekend, if you're able! 

............................................

7 // Our Winter Friend


‘One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan.’ Luke 17.15


*     *     *


My daughter’s so excited. Every day she charts the emergence of buds and leaves, tracing the finest speckles of green along the hedge, noting how the evenings are drawing out. She, and the man who came to read our meter yesterday, who clapped his hands with joy and exclaimed, "Spring won't be long!"

We can feel it in our hearts and bones! But before we rush headlong into all that we most easily love - the warmth and colour and new life! - perhaps it's worth pausing to give thanks for what the passing season has gifted us, which is not always so easy.

At the start of my recent Advent series, we resolved to face winter with reverence, shifting our position from 'brace' to 'embrace'. If it's God's season, why not? A friend wrote to me recently, having done just that, to say how much he'd loved the winter trees - observing how their bareness was not a weakness but a strength, when it came to surviving Storm Eunice.
 

*     *     *


As Katherine May writes in Wintering, ‘Sometimes the natural world pares back to the very basics of existence in order to keep living. It doesn’t do this once, resentfully, assuming that one day it will get things right and everything will smooth out. It winters in cycles, again and again. Winter is part of the job.’

And we're part of the natural world, and the rhythms of Creation, even if sometimes we forget, or fight against them.

There've been gifts, all right. I'm thinking toasty fire-pits with friends under starry skies. Hot chocolates after a gentle walk. Slowing the pace. Hunkering in. A Sunday roast with family (you can't take it for granted, post-restrictions). Cold air, and the kind of clear-headed clarity you get on a frosty, sunny morning. Simplifying.

But it's not been an easy time for anyone, either - and I know I, for one, feel like I’ve experienced a personal winter more prolonged than anything meteorological. Within it, one of the great blessings has been 'winter friends' who, to quote Katherine May again, ‘allow us to be weak for a while when we’re finding our feet again'.

And I’d say - thinking it about it now - that’s exactly how I’ve experienced God’s friendship, more than anything, in the days I’ve struggled most.
 

*     *     *


And so, as we, like the buds, prepare to unfurl into the loveliness of springtime, I’m mindful of the story of the ten men with leprosy, who cry out to Jesus. He tells them to show themselves to the priests, and as they go, they are healed. But only one, the foreigner, comes back to thank him.

I wonder what we might pause to thank him for, like the Samaritan, without hastening off too quickly? Perhaps it's just to be able to look back, with the blessing of hindsight, to see how he was there, even when it felt, for a time, that he wasn't.

Perhaps it's that we can embrace the next winter cycle, as creatures who belong naturally within it, with a little more love, and a little less fear. Part of the job.

Or perhaps it's just that here, on the threshold of winter and spring - between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, in this present 'now but not yet' Lent of ours - he waits with us, as we find our feet again. Our winter friend.


*     *     *


May we return to thank him, today. 

Go well!
Brian


For now, mid-day, & sunset

For Now: Have a listen to this lovely, sparse piece of piano music called 'Gifts'. Speak out anything you're thankful for, as the season passes. 'Thank you for ...' 

For Mid-day: Take yourself outside, or to a window, and sketch (however roughly, but lovingly!) a tree that's still bare - as a way of meditating on the seasons.

For Sunset: Why not light a candle this evening, and remember those for whom winter is very much still here. A particular friend who is in the midst of a personal winter. The people of Ukraine. 

...

You can read the account of Jesus and the Ten Men with Leprosy here

We'll be gathering tomorrow at 4.30pm for another Lent YouTube Live, here.

You can read all the responses from this first week at the RSVP page here.


Katherine May's Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult times is published by Penguin (2020).
 

 

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

 

6 // This Wednesday Dazzles Us


‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ Matthew 25.35


*     *     *


Good morning!

To begin with, a few words from the opening lines of 'Marked by Ashes', a poem by the theologian Walter Brueggemann. Take them slowly, and pause after each line:

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


*     *     *


His poem (there's a link below) goes on to explore the trajectory between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, honouring the Wednesdays in between - the half-way point of every week, and, for the poet, a day that symbolises the 'now' and 'not yet' nature of our journey.

‘All our Wednesdays are marked by ashes,’ he says. ‘Take our Wednesday,’ he prays to God, ‘and Easter us.’ Easter becomes a verb in this poem!


*     *     *


As I said the other day, I feel led to fast each Wednesday, in part to ground me in the ashes of the start of our journey, even as we travel onwards with hope to Easter. And you’re welcome to join me for whatever you can manage.

I find fasting to be a ‘discipline of hope’ for many reasons, but here are three:

First, it takes me to a place beyond words, in which all I can do is offer myself, and my hunger, as a prayer. That’s especially apt in the face of the Ukraine war, for which, in a sense, there are no words. This is an act of spiritual resistance.

Second, it helps me to participate, somehow, with Jesus in the desert. We've said before that Lent is more about experience than ideas, and this takes us deeper in. There's a fullness in emptiness.

’If you are the son of God,’ says the Tempter, ‘turn these stones to bread.’ Jesus of course replies, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone...’” I guess there was a reason he didn’t just give up sweets, and it’s helpful for those of us with access to plenty to feel a gnawing, unfamiliar hunger and to glimpse a different kind of reliance upon God, one that could become our food and drink. 

Third, in any act of ‘dying to self’ (which fasting represents), you discover more of who you are in God. As Richard Rohr says, ‘Life is not a matter of creating a special name for ourselves, but of uncovering the name we have always had.’ That's a Lent-long, and life-long, journey. But what gifts this Wednesday might contain!


*     *     *


And whatever our discipline of hope today, let's pray together with Walter Brueggemann the timely, transformative words at the close of his poem:

'Before the sun sets, take our Wednesday and Easter us,
Easter us to joy and energy and courage and freedom;
Easter us that we may be fearless for your truth.
Come here and Easter our Wednesday with
mercy and justice and peace and generosity.

We pray as we wait for the Risen One who comes soon.'

Amen.
 

*     *     *


May this day be like none other you have ever received.

Go well!
Brian


For now, mid-day, & sunset

For Now: You can read the full poem here.

Or simply settle in to some stillness, and bring yourself with love to this particular Wednesday, and to God's presence within it, and to all who you'll meet, today.

For Mid-day: Reflect on your week, from Ash Wednesday to here. You might like to browse the wonderful RSVP page, to help you remember the journey so far.

For Sunset: A church in Ukraine has created this video of people in cellars and shelters reading Psalm 31. Why not pause to read it with them, and to pray for them. 'Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.' (Thanks to John R).

 

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

5 // The Discipline of Hope


‘I was hungry, and you gave me food ...’ Matthew 25.35


*     *     *


Good morning. 

It’s been hard not to feel overwhelmed with emotion, and a sense of hopelessness, since Ukraine was attacked. So I was grateful to Miriam M in the RSVPs yesterday for highlighting the words of the prison reform activist Mariama Kaba:

'Hope doesn’t preclude feeling sadness or frustration or anger or any other emotion that makes total sense. Hope isn’t an emotion, you know? Hope is not optimism. Hope is a discipline… we have to practice it every single day.'

I find that so helpful. It reminds me of being a writer. It’s no use waiting until you’re in the mood to write, or for the muse to fall: instead you must sit down, each day, and make a start, writing one word after the next.


*     *     *


When it comes to the discipline of hope, I’m sure it helps to start small, because it means you do make a start. I’ve enjoyed sifting the ideas of a recent article, ’100 Ways to Slightly Improve Your Life Without Really Trying’, and some of its low-bar ideas have really resonated:

* Go for a walk without your phone.
* Learn how to breathe deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth.
* Make a friend from a different generation.

It's inspiring to re-frame these as hopeful acts. They really are. And you’ve shared some great disciplines in the RSVPs too, such as singing gospel songs, using the serenity prayer, watching a candle burn, drawing and writing poetry.


*     *     *


When it comes to passing hope on, small can be beautiful, too (especially if the alternative, when we only wish we could do more, is to do nothing). Think how the simplest act can bring you great joy if you're the recipient: a bunch of daffodils from a friend; a handwritten note at a difficult time; someone willing to listen.

And wonderfully, mysteriously, we welcome God into the midst when we act with mercy. Not because we get to play Jesus - we can lay that burden down! - but because we get to meet Jesus, in those we help: “I was hungry, and you fed me,” he says, in Matthew's Gospel.

Jesus is subversively present like this wherever we meet each other’s needs, whether it’s in the hell-scape of war (what scenes, of strangers welcoming refugees at the border this week), or in our local neighbourhood.

And just as we get to meet him in others, remember: someone could meet him in you, if you’re willing to be helped. Another small discipline we can practise, then; as we flicker with God-light, together in hope.
 

*     *     *


May we keep at it, today.

Go well!
Brian


For now, mid-day, & sunset

For Now: Pray for someone you know who's in need, today. Bring them to mind, and in a few moments of stillness, hold them lovingly within God's presence. Why not drop them a text later, to say you're thinking of them.

For Mid-day: Pause to remember how someone has helped you. If you have a pen and paper, write a few lines about the difference it made. Give thanks for the gifts of kindness you have received from others. Try to list a few, and let gratitude well up.

For Sunset: Thanks to Philippa H for sending a link to this short classical piece called Melody, written by the Ukrainian composer Myroslav Skoryk and performed last week by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. Pray for Ukraine, as you listen, and for our own human condition.

(You can read '100 ways to slightly improve your life without really trying' here.)

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

4 // Nowhere to Be but Here


‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness …’ Matthew 4.1


*     *     *


Good morning. 

Why not pause before reading on, to take a breath, smile, and relax. Bring yourself with love to this moment, and to God's presence within it, and to the week ahead.
 

*     *     *


It’s easy to gloss over the words ‘Jesus was led’ at the start of the account of his time in the desert. But they're worth noticing, here in the opening days of our own Lent story. The willingness to be led is a mark of true leadership, after all. 

You might already sense how, and where, God is leading you, this Lent. Sometimes we get to glimpse a ‘signpost’, or a few serendipities begin gently to weave together. It's good to pay attention to those, without over-thinking the possibilities.

On a practical level, you might now have a better idea of what to give up, or take on. Lent's an ideal time in which to let go old habits and to cultivate life-changing new practices: to turn off some anxiety inducing social media, perhaps; or to pause prayerfully in the day (see below) in soulful rhythm, or to keep a gratitude journal ...

With all that's going on in the world, I'm feeling led to fast each Wednesday, and I'll say more about that this week, in case you'd like to join me in some small way.
 

*     *     *


But if, like many of us, you feel you can't see any signposts right now, please take heart: for Jesus was led, by the Spirit, precisely into a vast, barren space.

Such panoramic emptiness can seem scary or even like a mark of failure to find ourself in - it's so tempting to try to fill a void, or to squeeze what's useful out of it. But Jesus seems to yield, as if the space itself is gift and teacher.


*     *     *


I’ve noticed, in my own times of silent prayer or retreat, how 'guidance' rarely arrives in the moment (though it can). And that's OK: through our daily stepping into space, we naturally become a little more opened and inclined to hear the still small voice, or to act upon a growing sense of conviction, when the time comes.

But meanwhile, this sacred, set-apart time for not knowing can, if we allow it, help dismantle our assumptions about the path ahead, as well as our self-reliance; and prepare us for something richer than we might achieve in our strength alone.

It takes courage, admittedly. ‘I will trust you always, though I may seem lost,’ writes the contemplative leader Thomas Merton in a famous prayer of his. I can't help wondering how it felt for Jesus, arriving in this unmapped desert place with nothing to do but trust in God, and nowhere to be but here.

Two of the greatest invitations, come to think of it. Oh Lamb of God! Willing to lead me into life, by being led.
 

*     *     *


May we follow, today.

Go well!
Brian

PS: It's not too late for friends, family or colleagues to sign up here. (I'll send them the ones they missed!) + If you missed last Friday's YouTube Live, you can catch up with it here.


For now, mid-day, & sunset ...

For Now: Pause to acquaint yourself with the space of Lent - with 'nothing to do but trust in God, and nowhere to be but here'. Be still, be here.

Why not pray Thomas Merton's prayer:

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

From Thoughts in Solitude (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).

For Mid-day: Set your alarm for mid-day, and pause to take a few slower, deeper breaths. Use a phrase from Psalm 5 as a prayer: "Lead me, Lord."

For Sunset: Thanks to Sue T for sending a link to this two-minute Ukrainian Orthodox Chant of 'Kyrie Eleison' ('Lord, have mercy') by the Kyiv Chamber Choir. Pause around sunset (5.49pm, here), to listen and pray for Ukraine, and for our own human condition. Lord, have mercy.

(There's a beautiful waxing crescent moon around dusk, too, so you might like to step outside to connect with God's Creation, too.)

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

3 // Into the Godlight


'The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.' John 1.5


*     *     *


Have you ever been in a forest, perhaps on a misty morning, when the sun breaks out in glorious, angled rays through the trees to make pools of dappled sunlight on the woodland floor? It's sublime!

According to the arboriculturalist Adam Winson, the Japanese have a term for it, for which we have no direct translation: Komorebi. It derives from three Chinese characters, meaning ‘trees’, ‘leaking through’, and ‘light’ or ‘sun’.

And I love to think it expresses something of the inexpressible wonder and goodness we can feel when light breaks through, and the soul stirs, and we light up.


*     *     *


We do have some lovely poetic adjectives in Engish for the dappled light itself: Dylan Thomas writes of ‘the rivers of the windfall light’ (in 'Fern Hill'). Gerard Manley Hopkins coined the term ‘shivelights’ for the ‘long lances’ of sunshine that can pierce the woodland canopy.

And CS Lewis (in Letters to Malcolm) muses theologically on ‘patches of Godlight’ to describe the difference between knowing about God, and experiencing the Creator's love:

‘Any patch of sunlight in a wood will show you something about the sun which you could never get from reading books on astronomy,’ he says. ‘These pure and spontaneous pleasures are patches of Godlight in the woods of our experience.’
 

*     *     *


And that's a timely reminder for us, as Lent is very much a season of experience, more than ideas - as we pause, to make space, pray and fast, cultivate a practice (such as yesterday's slow walk), and find connection ...

You may, or may not, experience a dappling Komorebi moment in the woods today. The forecast here isn't so promising, though I'll be looking out anyway! And that's OK: the dark clouds seem to fit the prevailing mood, for now.

But crucially, even as we yearn and wait for brighter days on every level, we can turn our face to the 'Sun behind all Suns, the Soul behind all souls' (as George MacLeod puts it so beautifully) ... to let the Godlight in, whatever the weather.

And what a joy, this weekend, to think that we could also bring a soulful sunburst of Komorebi blessing to someone else's darker day, as we ourselves are lit with God.


*     *     *


May you step into the Godlight.

Go well!
Brian

PS: The next reflection is on Monday. But do tune in at 4.30pm today for our first YouTube Live session, here. (Or watch later, if you can't make this afternoon.)


If you have a little time, now or later:

* Take a few moments to breathe, smile, relax, and pause. Invite some rays of God-light to break through, within. Turn your face toward the 'Sun behind all suns'.

* Try to get outside later, or at least to a window, and for a few minutes be still and watch how the light falls around you. Don't over-think it, simply use this as a meditative way of becoming present to the light and to what's around you.

Lament and Light: A word on Ukraine

It can feel impossible to adequately 'capture' the maelstrom of emotions swirling around an event as terrible as the war in Ukraine. And certainly, words or 'thoughts' alone don't always help us to process, pray or protest. You might find that a song or a piece of art can help - however imperfectly - to express something for you. 

You might already be finding solace in particular creative works, or are producing them yourself. And I can't wait to hear all about it when I invite your first batch of RSVPs next week.

But for now, I wanted to say that I've found this song by Snow Patrol called 'Run' to have helped me reflect on the sorrow of separation, and to think of ordinary people in Ukraine who are being split apart from friends and family, or worse.

It also seems to speak of love, loss, defiance and light. It's an old song, it's not written for the moment and it's not a perfect fit, but I share it with you, just in case it helps to channel some emotion for you, as well.

Light a candle, pray for Ukraine, sing, lament, light up. x

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

2 // Between Glory and Amen


'And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”' Isaiah 6.3


*     *     *


In troubled times, we can end up living more in our head than our body, and our mind can go into overdrive. So it helps to earth ourselves with simple physical practices.

I was recently re-reading some of Annie Dillard’s brilliant Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. (She says she's ‘a poet and a walker with a background in theology’, but I’d say she’s a seer.) Her book is full of wonder at Creation, and at its close, she writes:

“I go my way ... and my left foot says ‘Glory,’ and my right foot says ‘Amen’…”

I love that! Her own 'earthed' connection was to the countryside of Virginia, but duly inspired, I settled for a slow walk along local streets instead, feeling the ground beneath my feet, whispering “Glory” with my left foot, and “Amen” with my right.

I had to go really slow, to find a rhythm. But soon, between the “Glory” and the “Amen”, I began to see so much I'd otherwise have missed: flower boxes outside a shop, filled with hyacinths and narcissi; a church window depicting a family looking upward to a trinity of doves; words on a statue written in English and Hebrew, ‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’

Glory.   Amen.
Glory.   Amen.
Glory.   Amen.

I couldn’t hurry sheepishly past the Big Issue seller this time, even if I'd have wanted to. She had such a kind smile. You overhear so many conversations, too. “I can’t go on like this,” one lady said to another as they overtook me. Her friend looked and listened, kindly. A bicycle basket overflowed with flowers. And there, a welcome bench, and a French busker filling the street with song, and my heart with delight.


*     *     *


Our steps may not always be easy - I have a physical limp just now, and I think most of us have a metaphorical one in 2022 - but each step is holy in God’s kingdom, when we bring it our loving attention.

It’s the poet Edward Thomas’ birthday today, and in his 1914 book In Pursuit of Spring, he describes his experience walking in a wood after a downpour, in which the birdsong sounds to him as he imagines it might have on the first day of Creation:

‘I found myself repeating with an inexplicable fervour the words, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.” Thomas was not a Christian, per se, and a sometimes troubled soul, which makes his response that much more moving.


*     *     *


I imagine Jesus walked slowly in the desert. He had nowhere to rush to, after all. Training his eye to see, his ear to hear, and perhaps his mind not to worry; tuning his heart to find its rhythm with God, and his feet to walk the holy, awkward pilgrim path of love which lay ahead.

And one slow, simple step at a time, we can follow, can't we? Tuning in to all we might otherwise miss, and bringing ourself, with love, back to the world around us. Learning to walk like him, with him, finding our feet between the glory and the amen.


*     *     *

 

May you walk in wonder, today.

Go well!
Brian

 

If you have a little time, now or later:


* Stay in the moment. Take a short while to imagine how Jesus tuned his heart to find its rhythm wth God. And now, do likewise.

* Listen for birdsong this morning - or to some of this RSPB recording of the dawn chorus - and imagine, like Edward Thomas, that the sound is coming from the beginning of Creation itself. Speak his response: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end, Amen.”

* Try a slow walk, like I did, whispering the word 'Glory' on the left foot and 'Amen' on the right. You don't have to go far to go deep!

* And a heads up: tomorrow will be our first 'YouTube Live' session of the series. A chance to enjoy some gently contemplative space, and to gather up the week. It's at 4.30pm (GMT) on my YouTube channel here. And you can catch up with it later if you can't make it in the moment.

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

1 // All of This


"All of this I will give you,'" he said, "if you bow down and worship me." Jesus said to him, "Away from me..! For it is written, 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.''' Matthew 4.10
 

*     *     *

 

Good morning.

After two years of the pandemic, I'd been hoping we could start, today, with the promise of sunshine and springtime. And our focus will turn to those hopeful signs of light and life, for our Lent path, let's not forget, leads inexorably on to the glorious dawn of Easter Day.

But on this Ash Wednesday, a day of penitence, how can we not also face into what's happening in Ukraine? Ours is not an escapist spirituality, after all, but one of embrace.

In fact, I'm so glad we are together again, in our Lent community, for such a time as this. To express lament as well as hope; to hold the space open for each other; to seek God; to cultivate wisdom; to walk a path together.

Why not pause for a breath, before you continue, to bring yourself with love to this moment, and to our Lent beginning, and to God within it.


*     *     *

Sometimes, Lent might seem like a short-term lifestyle choice for those of us who give something up, or take something on, for the season. This year, we're surely reminded of its deeper power, too.

Watching the news unfold in Europe this week, I couldn't help thinking of how Jesus himself was tempted, at the end of his 40-day fast in the wilderness, to sell his soul for 'all of this', for all the kingdoms of the earth.

And how he resisted.

As we face into Lent, we participate in a universal reality, then: of the often darkening pull of human ego, and of the brightening hope we share, in Jesus, of a very different way to go.
 

*     *     *

We may feel, in these darker days, powerless to act. Let's not underestimate the power of prayer, especially today as the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury lead a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Ukraine. Perhaps we can find a rhythm of prayerfulness that leads all the way to Easter, and beyond.

But at the start of our Lent journey together, it's a good day, too, to stand down the kind of ego in each of us that can start an argument, pick a fight, or worse. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. Lord, have mercy.
 

*     *     *

And while it feels hard to just get on with life while others are in such grave peril, perhaps the greatest act of resistance we can seek to make, this Lent, is to live as selflessly, without ego, and thus as soulfully, as we can.

To fight for love, with love, at every turn, whatever that looks like: welcoming the stranger, offering mercy, celebrating difference, sharing together in the best and simple gifts of life we've already been given in abundance.

None of which were the tempter's to offer in the first place, nor ours to bargain for, or take by force. "Your kingdom come," Jesus teaches us to pray. And in that kingdom of love, 'all of this' is freely ours, for it is only ever God's to give.


*     *     *

May we stand together in love, today.
Go well!

Brian


For further reflection:

* I find it helpful to use a 'breath prayer' especially when it feels like things are out of control. On the in-breath (breathing through your nose), pray silently, "Your kingdom come." Be filled. On the out-breath, pray, "Your will be done." Give control to God.

* Today has been declared a day of prayer and fasting for peace by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury. If you feel healthily able, plan to miss a meal, and spend the time in an act of prayerfulness instead.

* Some people in our Lent community like to keep a journal and respond creatively by writing or drawing a word or phrase from each day's reflection. Why not start a journal for Lent 2022?

* You might like to go to an Ash Wednesday service. I'm hoping to go to our local cathedral in Winchester. If you can't get out, you could watch Winchester's service live at 5.30pm 'with' me via its excellent livestream here.