Realisation

“Living my way” – sucks.

“Living His way” – rocks.

‘Nuff said.

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What’s there when we can’t see what’s there…

Yeterday I went for a walk.

I was feeling very low, both physically (going down with yet another virus – they’ve been pretty much end-to-end since last September) and emotionally (in response to all that poorliness).

Generally optimistic, I was feeling defeated, running on empty. As I walked I ranted to the God I was no longer sure existed – really, really let rip, no holds barred. And when, just minutes after leaving home with clear blue skies above clouds suddenly gathered, the temperature dropped and the rain began to fall – well, I leave my reaction and language to your imagination!

However, I kept on walking – and suddenly saw a rainbow as the rain eased and remembered God’s promise to Noah. I then turned off the road into Stanley Park and struck off the path through the trees. Gradually the peace of that environment seeped into my bones. I eventually reached the coast and walked east along Stokes Bay. As I walked I took photos on my phone. It was impossible to see what pictures I was taking – the sun made it impossible to see the monitor. All I could do was line up the phone as best I could and press the bit of the screen which usually has the little “press here” icon and listen for the tell-tale click which sometimes came, sometimes didn’t – in which case I tried pressing a slightly different bit of the screen. I was working “blind” – pointing the camera and doing the action which in the past resulted in a photo being taken, and trusting my previous experience of using the phone camera to assess how to line it up in order to get the view I wanted.

None of the photos were bad. Some were pretty good. Here are the best of them.

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I’m sure you don’t need me to spell out the lesson I learned – that when we’re working “blind” all we can do is go through the motions and trust that what has worked before will work again. And the glories of the sun and sea and sky breathed peace into my soul. And the flooded footpaths (all those lakes are usually grasslands) meant that I needed to take a different route – but still ended up here:

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The cross silhouetted against the sun breaking through the storm-cloud speaks for itself.

And today the chance (ha!!) arrival in my intray of another blog post (not part of the Advent Book Club) spoke of the dangers of long-term chronic overload… I stand rebuked and intend allowing myself, just for once, to be poorly today. And maybe tomorrow as well. And maybe as many days as it takes to recover properly this time…

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The beginning of the end

I will stand at my watchpost,
and station myself on the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what he will answer concerning my complaint.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.

I hear, and I tremble within;
my lips quiver at the sound.
Rottenness enters into my bones,
and my steps tremble beneath me.
I wait quietly for the day of calamity
to come upon the people who attack us.
Trust and Joy in the Midst of Trouble

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.

Habakkuk 2:1-3; 3:16-19

This passage speaks to me of hope, of endurance – and of the essence of faith. Not the “faith” which says “I have faith in God and therefore everything will turn out easy and comfortable” but the faith of Christ, who on the cross, having cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” then, as He breathes His last, says “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit”.

That is the faith that we read of here, when Habakkuk, who sees no hope humanly speaking, proclaims:
…yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.

In this Advent season, no matter how deep our darkness, may God grant us the faith that proclaims with Habakkuk “yet I will rejoice in the Lord”.
And may that faith light us up with the light of Christ, that we might shine as beacons in a dark world.

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Day 13: Not in the fire… #adventbookclub.

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13th December: Still small voice? Liar! #adventbookclub.

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Not in the fire…

[Elijah] came to a cave, and spent the night there.

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.”

Elijah Meets God at Horeb

11 He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12 and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 14 He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” 15 Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus; when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael as king over Aram. 16 Also you shall anoint Jehu son of Nimshi as king over Israel; and you shall anoint Elisha son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah as prophet in your place. 17 Whoever escapes from the sword of Hazael, Jehu shall kill; and whoever escapes from the sword of Jehu, Elisha shall kill. 18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

1 Kings 19:9-18

As we reach the end of this particular train of events in Elijah’s life I was particularly struck by the way it shows us how God guides us and deals so, so gently with us.

On Wednesday we heard the story of Mount Carmel and the encounter with the prophets of Baal. Elijah prays as follows: “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that you are God in Israel, that I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at your bidding.” (my italics and bold). Elijah wasn’t acting in deliberate disobedience when he got it wrong – he genuinely thought God was bidding him to do as he was doing. And God went along with that – and then rescued Elijah from the consequences of burnout, depression and the threat of death! It was only over a month later that Elijah, finally rested just a little and at last able to hear the true voice of God, realises where he went wrong.

It’s so, so easy to hear wrong. To be utterly convinced that we are hearing the voice of God when we’re actually hearing our own Inner Drivers – Work Harder, Be Perfect, Be Pleasing (by implication to everyone). This can lead us to think we are indispensable. The needs of others are so great that we do not feel we can set boundaries, say “no”. Or we take that old saying “God has no hands… feet… lips… other than ours” and warp it and twist it into “God has no hands… feet… lips… other than mine“… Do you see the didfference? It’s crucial. Because we are not meant to walk, to live, to work in isolation. God requires our willingness to step back from a particular task, a particular responsiblity, just as much has He requires our willingness to step up to the mark in the first place. We are members of the body of Christ – not isolated individual clones of Christ. No one of us can do it all.

When Elijah finally heard the voice of God – the still, small voice – and realised at last that God had not been in the earthquake, wind or fire there was no condemnation, no wallowing in guilt. Simply instructions to return to the task to which God had assigned him, and this time to work in partnership with others. Each to their own allotted task – and taking time out to eat, drink, sleep…

May God grant us the grace and the space to hear His still, small voice in the midst of the madness in which we find ourselves.

May we never lose sight of the simplicity of the stable.

May we take His yoke and learn from Him and so find rest for our souls (and bodies and minds)

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Eat, drink, sleep

Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life like the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” Then he was afraid; he got up and fled for his life, and came to Beer-sheba, which belongs to Judah; he left his servant there.

 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there.

1 Kings 19: 1-9a

Gosh – what a contrast with yesterday’s story.

And how common such a reaction is.

After all, the encounter with the prophets of Baal must have generated immense amounts of adrenaline for Elijah. And after an adrenaline rush we so often experience an adrenaline hangover. What’s more, I’ll be no-one got around to eating or drinking while all that drama was going on, least of all Elijah… and sleep won’t have figured highly either, before or after, what with anxiety and the need to get away fast!!!

Speaking as a teacher, by the end of term (which is fast approaching, praise be…) I’m often utterly drained, struggling to sleep and fighting a tendency to either over- or under-eat. I’m often vaguely aware that I’m actually thirsty – but don’t take time to drink, not even a quick mouthful, thus becoming even more dehydrated. And like Elijah, when I get into that kind of over-drive I have a tendency to think that it all rests on my shoulders – that if I don’t keep on keeping on then somehow the entire universe will fall apart (ah yes – when I indulge in “all-or-nothing” thinking then it really is all!!) So I drive myself to do “just this one more thing” over and over and over again until, one way or another, I crack up. A lot of teachers I know spend the first week of their precious two weeks off being ill… I’ve often wondered whether it’s the same for clergy in the weeks after Christmas and Easter…

Advent is all about God becoming fully human – God incarnate – God clothed in flesh and blood.

And in the Gospel accounts we read of Jesus taking time out, withdrawing, despite the endless stream of people in need.

So why do we despise our bodies so?
Why do we drive ourselves into illness and exhaustion?
Why do we fail to meet our basic physical needs for food, water, sleep?
Why do we think that we can do what Jesus couldn’t and didn’t – be available 24/7?

Thinking back to yesterday – whose agenda are we working to? Ours? someone else’s? or God’s?

Because in this story of the aftermath of his Mount Carmel experiences, God comes to Elijah and simply provides him with food, water, sleep… God meets Elijah’s physical needs first, and only then is Elijah in a fit state to hear the still, small voice of God speaking to him.

So who are we, to do less for ourselves than God would do?

God’s agenda for us includes taking proper care of the body He has given us – ensuring that we have the right amount of the right kind of food, plenty of water and enough sleep. And if making that my priority means there isn’t always time to write a daily Advent Book Club blog or the blog is shorter, less well-thought-out, then so be it.

God give us grace to know His priority for us in every moment so that we are able to celebrate the feast of the Nativity in peace and calm.

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