The Lake of Beauty

Oh! What a frenetic week. Pot lucks and drop offs, bag packing and car cleaning, protesting and painting and I promised my youngest we would make a chocolate cake. At seven pm each night I’m so exhausted I’m cleaved to my chair, unable to move. But when I get to bed sleep doesn’t come, and when it does come, it’s only for a couple of hours, chased off by the enthusiastic occupants of my To Do list.

So today, five hours before a flight across the world with two small children, I’m taking a few moments with Edward Carpenter’s poem, The Lake of Beauty. The poem that spurs me to bring all the wayward threads of myself together and to trust in the presence of God in all my simple love-filled actions.

***

The Lake of Beauty

Let your mind be quiet, realising the beauty of the world,
and the immense, the boundless treasures that it holds in store.
All that you have within you, all that your heart desires,
all that your Nature so specially fits you for – that or the
counterpart of it waits embedded in the great Whole, for you.
It will surely come to you.

Yet equally surely not one moment before its appointed time
will it come. All your crying and fever and reaching out of
hands will make no difference.
Therefore do not begin that game at all.
Do not recklessly spill the waters of your mind
in this direction and in that,
lest you become like a spring lost and
dissipated in the desert.

But draw them together into a little compass, and hold them
still, so still;
And let them become clear, so clear – so limpid, so mirror-like;
at last the mountains and the sky shall glass themselves in
peaceful beauty,
and the antelope shall descend to drink and to gaze at her
reflected image, and the lion to quench his thirst,
and Love himself shall come and bend over and catch his
own likeness in you.

***

Lucy AitkenRead – Lulastic.co.uk

 

Feeling it all

I carry your pain with me
the weight of it
in my womb
like pregnancy
without the kicks.

I find myself
staring
at the wall
a leaf
at the bowl filled with eggs,
the whisk in my hand
fixed.

Thinking about everything
and nothing.

I’m two people away
two seas removed
and still choked
brittle throat
dry mouth
wet face
aching gulps.

Each day
vignetted
with death…

terror.

As mysterious as the coral
and anenomes
and clownfish
on the reef
alive and growing
because of each other.

In vivid hope
and unbreathable grief
we are together.

togethernessLucy

 

A Prayer for Peace in the Storm

I was inspired to write the following prayer after reading Mark 4:36-39

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him.  A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.  But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.

I invite you to think of a friend of yours who is struggling with anxiety, and to pray this for them too:

Dear loving and gracious God,

Turn your eyes to my friend,
See how the wind of life’s hurts, swirls around her, ruffling her, her calm taken and blown away.

See how the wind gathers force, stormy and bleak. It howls into her mind, and she rages at the pain of it all. The persistent gale follows her on her path, she is caught up in it’s currents, caught up in the struggle to survive the pain. See God how it has turned into a cyclone, coming up from inside her, forcing itself out, in the sweat on her palms, the fast thumping of her heart, the weight on her chest that makes her breath struggle. See her sinking in her thoughts, inundated with anxiety. Her mind will not settle, will not let her be, she is turbulent, she is thrown off balance.

To her knees.

She is searching for you Jesus. She wonders do you have your head on a pillow? Are your eyes closed? Do you rest as she suffers?

Help her to see that you Jesus, are in the boat right beside her, that as she navigates the winds you are there with her. Help her to see and release the strength that you can see in her.

Jesus say PEACE to the wind that swirls around her.
Jesus say PEACE to the gale that follows her.
Jesus say BE STILL to the cyclone of her thoughts.

Jesus leave your peace with her, Jesus give her your peace, Do not let her heart be troubled, do not let her be afraid.
Amen

Rembrandt’s Painting of Jesus Calming the Storm

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

John 14:27

 

Christina Baird lives in Auckland, NZ and causes disruption by blogging and providing Professional Supervision bread and pomegranates

Lent as a practice for social change

Growing up in the Catholic tradition normally meant I at least knew when Lent was, even if I didn’t always observe it any particular way. I do remember we got to order fish and chips on Fridays at school, since pies were not available at the tuck shop. But beyond that, I never really appreciated the rhythm and flow of the church calendar until I became more involved in protestant churches that tended to ignore it. This year, however, our family has mostly given up meat in support of my ten-year old who decided to give up meat completely for Lent.

What I have found is that once we got into it, it has been relatively easy. We simply began serving mostly vegetarian food for dinner (well, almost vegan considering we have dairy allergies in the family) in support of her decision and to ensure she would eat well. In the end, it was just easier to plan for vegetarian meals for all of us. We did do a couple of years vegetarian about 4 years ago when I had some health problems, so we just pulled out the vegetarian cook books and added beans and tofu to the shopping list. I am really enjoying the feeling of lightness that comes with vegetarian eating, and also considering out lighter footprint on the planet.

I then went to a talk today by Nobel Prize winning writer Karen O’Brien. She spoke about the challenge of responding to climate change with individual actions, which, although important, we rarely see as world-changing. She offers her students the chance to do ’30 days of change’ as a taster to what it would be like to make significant life changes that affect their carbon footprint, or contribute to collective activism. Students might take public transport only for the month, or eat vegetarian, or give up plastic bottles, or commit to some other form of direct activism. The idea is, much like Lent, that we get a chance to experience life without our normal habits and to think more deeply about what is important to us.

In traditional Chinese medicine, autumn is a time of letting go, of grief, of breath and lungs. It is a time for paring back, setting boundaries, and rethinking our lives. Next week I lead my students through an exercise in autumn wellbeing for my class Understanding China, making space in our tutorial time for these thoughts and committments for change.

As these three life events coincide in this second week of Lent, it became obvious to me how the wisdom of seasonal experimentation for personal and social change has actually filtered through into a number of different traditions. In meeting these traditions in this season of autumnal Lent, I have appreciated the chance to cut back, rethink my priorities, try something different. I love it how the God of social change speaks to me through these traditions, that others in this world have heard the same voice, and that change for a different kind of world *is* possible.

________________________________

Kelly Dombroski is a writer, blogger, geographer, academic, mother and a some-time activist for social change. You can learn more at www.throwntogetherness.wordpress.com

Who do you say I am, God?

When I was at school an ‘A’ was the most important grade. These days, it seems a ‘like’ on Facebook is the most meaningful grade to many of us.

A while back I reflected on the pros and cons of Facebook—especially the tendency some of us have to measure ourselves against how well we think we’re doing online. How cool are our status updates?  How insightful are our comments? Most importantly, what do other people think of us?

Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking the only way of being known is through our Facebook statuses, which when we’re honest are at best heavily edited and at worst a work of fiction. But God knows us more deeply and accepts us more fully than any other person.

Read Psalm 139Relax into the truth that God knew you before you were born and that you are ‘wonderfully made’. How does that make you feel? Talk with God about this.

Re-read the two verses below. Ask God to help you weed out any thoughts that have taken root in your psyche and that would lie to you and say you are not good enough for God or others. 

Look deep into my heart, God,
    and find out everything
    I am thinking.
 Don’t let me follow evil ways,
    but lead me in the way
    that time has proven true. (vs 23-24)

Reflect on these great words from Frederick Buechner … and be glad in the love of God FOR YOU today!

‘Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is better than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all.’
― Frederick Buechner, ‘The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction’


Christina Tyson is a Salvation Army officer, editor of War Cry magazine, Mum of three, wife of one, and proficient in ironing and other sundry domestics.

 

Fruit, root, or fallow?

On Friday I sent an email to a colleague: "I hope your week was fruitful" I said. The phrase somehow got stuck in my thoughts as I reviewed my own week later that day.

Fruitful? Had my week born fruit?

Planning coursework? Tweaking a powerpoint for next week's class? Admin paperwork? What about the afternoons I spent on the lawn, in the sun, with my children? The conversations with friends? The laundry?

"I hope your week was fruitful". Smiley face. I had intended the phrase amicably, but turned back on myself it became accusatory... and somewhat antithetical to the lessons about seasons that have been hard-won for me, and yet are a cherished part of the grace I have found in God.

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
- Eccelesiastes 3:1 (... and *Turn, turn, turn* Bob Dylan).

The season of fruit is only one of nature's seasons, and yet the other seasons are just as necessarily for the natural cycle. Even winter, when the ground lies fallow while restoring itself, is essential (and inevitable!) for the eventual harvest.

I have wrestled with and clung to this when the concrete limitations of my human heart, human body, have pushed up hard against the relentless pressures for productivity that the contemporary world provides.

Fruitful? No I couldn't wish this of every week. I found myself wondering laughingly if I could wish someone's week to be 'bud-ful' or 'seed-ful' or 'root-ful' instead:

Weeks to rest and gather strength..... weeks to consider carefully, plan and prepare for a job done well... weeks to invest in something, with hope, for the further-off future...... weeks to dig deeper down to the good stuff that nourishes... weeks to enjoy noticing and nurturing small things that are full of promise... weeks add slowly and graciously, step-by-step, to the growing whole...

...  these I wish for my colleagues, my friends, and for you. Surely they are just as important as the weeks we taste the tangible, finished products of our work.

Not every week is a fruit-ful one.

Nor is every type of fruit the visible, quantifiable, auditable sort that this contemporary ideological moment favours.  What about the 'fruit of the spirit?'

Did my week grow love? Reap joy? Sow peace? Did patience bud, gentleness take root, and faithfulness flower? Did self-control seed? Did I taste goodness and prepare the ground for kindness?

A different harvest altogether.

I contemplate another week now, and in this new sense I'm happy to write to you dear readers: "I hope your week will be fruitful" ... full of spiritual fruit, of seeds and buds, of rejuvenating soil and deepening roots. May you trust to God, the great gardener, to tend well to your life, in every season.
  • SUSAN WARDELL is a Social Anthropologist, Mother, Jesus-follower, Tree-hugger, Muffin Afficionado, and Writer. She lives in Dunedin, New Zealand.

On Lent and giving up the things I crave most

 

Lent is only a few days away, which registers with no-one in my household but me (although I’ll give the 1 year old and 3 year old a free pass for now). And I have been thinking about the story of the rich young ruler.

Do you mark Lent? I spent a good few years as an Anglican in my childhood and then as a teenager threw in my lot with the Pentecostals, and they didn’t really pay attention to Lent, so it hasn’t always been part of my yearly rhythms. I probably looked down on my completely unreligious school friends who tried to give up chocolate for Lent each year, without any particular purpose. But now, in my 30s, I am drawn most years to this austere season, even while my comfort-loving body shudders at the prospect.

And so the rich young ruler. Is he the archetype for the human who can’t give up the ‘things of the world’? That man we know so little about, this rich and apparently high status individual (a ruler?), who runs to Jesus, Mark’s gospel tells us, runs to him and kneels before him, and asks him a question. A future-oriented question. Not, according to better theologians than I, a question about how one gets to heaven, but about how he participates in the kingdom that is coming. The thing that Jesus is doing. And after going through the official answers, Jesus tells him to do two things: sell all that he owns and follow Jesus.

And what do we do with that? What can he do with that?

I have so many excuses for the guy, I do, probably because of my own relative wealth and privilege. How many people depend on him to survive? – extended family, dependants, employees, slaves probably too. It’s so far out of the ballpark that how do you begin to make sense of such an extreme invitation? Is it purposefully unpalatable? Why is that the only path Jesus offers him? That’s the bit that makes me saddest – the fact the story ends with him walking away. The conversation ends.

People have ways of explaining why Jesus asks him to sell all he owns (and why we don’t need to worry that he might ask us the same thing). And mostly it’s about priorities and things we cling onto – things that aren’t bad but come to matter too much. And so I ask myself what I cling onto, what I wouldn’t let go of? And if it was hard, would Jesus stay and help me?

I don’t think Jesus tries to make life harder for us, I don’t. I don’t believe that he enjoys asking us to give up the things that are hardest. But I think I also believe that my heart and my body cling to certain things for support that aren’t good crutches; and that if I hear a whisper of an invitation to give them up, that Jesus will walk me through the loss and be altogether more to me than they could be. We can walk through a hundred little deaths when we believe in resurrection.

How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God, says Jesus. How hard it will be for me. How many things compete for my heart and my money and my time.

Lent to me is an invitation towards death, the death of some of the ways I distract, anaesthetise and pacify myself to keep my mind away from my sorrow, longing, disappointment and need. It is like a rehearsal for better choices, or a practise run. A step of faith towards Jesus, that he might meet those needs if only I dare to step closer and let go of my comfort blanket.

 

If you’d like to read the story of the rich young ruler, here it is in the version in Mark’s gospel.

Chapter 10

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!”

Music and Emotion

Heavily pregnant, I was living in a new city, with two children in tow, no house, no car and a really uncomfortable bed in a run-down motel. My husband and I walked into the meeting hall of the large Vineyard church we had started attending. A wall of sound came towards us, and the hairs on the back of my neck pricked up somehow.

“For all your goodness, I will keep on singing…
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find”, sang the congregation, the worship leaders, the instruments. It was loud, it was powerful, and I could not at that moment see ten thousand reasons to worship. I cried.

As I cried, all the little ways God had been caring for me came to mind: I had a permanent job, after years on fixed contracts; I had a huge maternity leave payout so I didn’t have to start that job for 6 months; I had years behind me of God-moments of care to draw on, including previous times moving and not having housing or cars. It was amazing, it was healing. People gathered around me and prayed for me — never asking me what was wrong, but just showing solidarity in the moment.

***

Several times in the last year, I have heard people in contemplative and intellectual traditions or circles of the church refer to pentecostal worship services as ‘psychological manipulation’. The grounds for this is that a style of worship with lots of planned atmosphere and high quality music works on the mind in a ‘false’ way, perhaps leading people to experience emotions of the group and believe they are feeling the Holy Spirit. As someone who had spent the two years before worshipping in a pentecostal church, I found this quite shocking. I found this shocking not because I didn’t know about group dynamics and emotional contagion, but because these commentators assumed that these were necessarily manipulation. It was new to me that mature and reflective Christians of a progressive slant could be blinded by what seemed to be fear.

I don’t know much about where those fears come from and how to make people feel more comfortable. But here’s what I know: great music is uplifting for the soul, and participating in great worship music is uplifting for our own souls and others. Music communicates far more than mere words — it does communicate emotion, and even inspire emotion. But our emotions are part of our full selves, and can be used in worship too. Even allowing ourselves to connect with the emotions of others could be a form of worship.

Think of the classic hymn, How Great Thou Art. The chorus begins after reflecting on the beauty of creation: “Then sings my soul…”, where the “soul” in that line soars above, as many voices gather together to affirm God’s creation. “…my saviour, God to Thee…” holds us up there, while “How great Thou art…” takes us down on the “art” as God reaches down to meet us. We couldn’t communicate that with a rational sermon. We could rarely sing that en masse without being moved, even if we lived in the middle of a concrete jungle, in the rain, with no forest for a hundred kilometres. We might sing the song with grief, then, or hope for change.

Maybe it could be called psychological manipulation, but God is God of psychology and the body, and appears to have made us responsive to music and emotion. Is it dangerous? Maybe, sometimes. But I am guessing for the average New Zealander, emotional over-the-topness is not our primary danger. We are much more in danger of privileging the mind, the rational, the individual, and to pull away from participation and emotion in groups.

Reflection

What would your worship look like, this week, if you allowed your emotions to come to the surface in music — either in celebration, or in need of healing? What would your fellowship group look like, if this were encouraged and space was made for this to happen? What resistances do you have to letting God use music to speak to your emotional needs?

Jesus of the Feast

I wonder, which Jesus are you most comfortable with?

I’ve spent time searching for a Jesus who understood my pain. I found a Jesus who came to be broken, and had a full experience of bodily and psychological pain, who could meet me in the depths where I was at. I’ve spent time searching for the Jesus of the liberation theologians. I found a Jesus who came to fight for justice and stands with the oppressed. I’ve spent time searching for a Jesus who although a man during his earthly life could relate to women. I found, in the Bible book of Luke particularly, a Jesus who cares for women, who challenged societies views of gender roles, who had the ability to make women feel fully seen and valued in a society in which they were often overlooked.

Those facets of Jesus are familiar to me, when I am in pain they comfort me, when I am comfortable they challenge me.

But what about Jesus of the feast?

How much time have I spent with the Jesus who attended a wedding, and while there in the village, celebrating love and faithfulness turned water into wine. Not just any wine, but the very BEST wine. How much time have I spent with the Jesus who gathered the people into groups and presented them with bread and fish until they had all eaten until they were full, and then had 12 baskets of leftovers. How much time have I spent with the Jesus who let a woman bathe him in perfume, while he was feasting with friends.

A  painting of the Wedding Feast at Cana, by Sarrabat

This Jesus seems a bit extravagant, a bit wasteful perhaps. I am not sure what to do with this Jesus. The Jesus who celebrates fully and with feasting and joy. This Jesus sips wine, and shows pleasure at the delicious taste. This Jesus smiles with joy at the conviviality of company around the table, this Jesus’ face lights up at the smell of the roast lamb as it is carried from the kitchen.

This Jesus challenges me to live with hope and joy.

Jesus came to show us how to be fully human just as we were created to be, this includes experiencing great pleasure. Jesus of the feast challenges me to appreciate and enjoy God’s handiwork in creating our senses, in creating a world which is good, in creating us with the ability to be delighted and joyful. Jesus of the feast also prompts us to think forward to the future in which the great celebration banquet of restoration between God and people will be held. Jesus of the feast holds out hope to you and me that God is at work in our broken world and that we can be sure that restoration is coming.

We too can celebrate, we too can feast and it is not something that is separate from our spirituality, rather it is a way of incarnating the hope we have, and delighting in the created goodness that we are and that we have.

What will you celebrate this weekend?

How can it be an act of hope for you?

Christina Baird lives in Auckland, NZ and causes disruption by blogging and providing Professional Supervision bread and pomegranates