Remembering my grandfather Herbert Down

Remembrance Sunday 2018 and remembering my grandfather Herbert Down:

 

I found a thin sacred space on Remembrance Sunday last year. As you know it was the 100-year Anniversary of the end of the First World War. It was the last time for me to walk on the parade as one of the local Town Councillors. I wanted to wear a white poppy symbolizing peace in addition to a red one. Some of the trappings of Remembrance trouble me. Can they sometimes be used to glorify war and heighten nationalistic tensions? And yet the white poppy is controversial in Todmorden. A previous Town Councillor had a horrible time when he tried to lay down a wreath of white poppies.

We have a new deacon in our church and community and I spoke to him about it. I discovered that he used to work in the Royal Air Force and was part of various wars. He told me that he had decided to wear both a red poppy and a white one.

I wanted to carry a picture of my maternal grandfather in his uniform. He was a conscientious objector in the First World War, not wanting to fight he became a stretcher-bearer on the front line. The white poppy was for him. I had a large black and white photograph size of A4 that I laminated. I could not find a white poppy. However I had some silk and plastic white roses, so I decided to carry the white rose and my grandfather’s photograph. Grandpa didn’t die in the First World War. He was there throughout, seeing the loss of all the other soldiers first hand. He was attached to the Lancashire Fusiliers. Men from Todmorden were part of the Pals Regiments who were also part of the Lancashire Fusiliers. After a long life, Grandpa’s ashes were scattered here on the hillside with Granny’s near our old family home. These were my thoughts and why I wanted to honour him on the parade.

At the time I was full of internal conflict. I had had an altercation with a fellow Town Councillor. The new Chair of the Resident’s Association was walking in the parade. I was still smarting from giving up the Chairmanship, despite my need to let go. I had written out a few prayer stations, which were being used, in our church service that day. One was a prayer asking God to help soften our hearts towards people with whom we are in conflict. I needed to soften my heart.

It was raining solidly, appropriate weather for mourning. We started to march. I held my photograph and white rose, the red poppy on my lapel. More people than usual lined the side of the road along the route. Just as we went into the park I looked directly into the eyes of a woman of about my age in tears at the roadside. My gaze met hers as I tried to convey a sense of comradeship and compassion for whatever was upsetting her.

We came to the garden of Remembrance. An older couple looked at my photograph and urged me forward. I stood beside a woman in a wheelchair as she had a programme with the hymns. Our voices blended in tune and we encouraged each other to sing louder. When it came to laying the wreaths I was pushed forward again. I found myself standing beside a soldier from the Medical Corps.  Even the sergeant, who barked out the orders, a  hardened military man, said that I had more right to be there than anyone. The stretcher bearers were very brave men. They allowed me to lay down my photograph and flower among the other wreaths that day.

I closed my eyes to a beautiful rendition of Amazing Grace and stood with eyes closed for the two-minute silence. I felt I could touch the poignancy in the atmosphere. It continued to rain. So many of us were completely drenched by now. I walked back behind the band. The rain stopped.

The following day, I decided to go and look at the wreaths and perhaps collect Grandpa’s photograph and flower. I hoped it would still be there. As I walked along the path, I glanced up across the valley where trees and the curve of the opposite hill hid our old family home from sight. I could just see a glimpse of the roof and chimneys of the house and the hillside above it. I was thinking of Granny and Grandpa.

Grandpa’s photograph with white rose was there wedged in between two wreaths. I was so glad it hadn’t been disturbed. I walked a little further on reading the cards with each wreath. A gentle breeze stirred. The photograph was lifted by it and straight into the water of the pond at the foot of monument. Grandpa’s photo was face up, his deep and sincere gaze looking out. It was too far for me to reach

I hunted for a stick in order to reach for it. With the stick I still tried in vain to bring it nearer the edge. A woman came to look at the wreaths and empathized with my plight.

“ The gardeners are just around the corner. They are bound to have a rake or something and will be able to retrieve it. I will go and fetch one of them”

Sure enough she returned with a gardener and a long leaf-collecting shovel. He stood on the small stone wall surrounding the pond and soon easily retrieved my photograph. When he saw that Grandpa was a stretcher-bearer, he exclaimed.

“My grandfather was a stretcher bearer too. He did not want to kill anyone. So that’s what he did to serve in the war. It haunted him forever afterwards. He woke up at night having nightmares about rats.”

I was in awe. It was only a small exchange. And yet, how was it that it was this particular man who came to rescue Grandpa’s photograph?  I was so grateful for the kind woman who had helped me find him. I reflected on all the moments of poignancy the previous day.

It seemed as if Someone was there, helping us to meet and exchange understanding beyond words. In each exchange there were moments of comradeship and compassion.

I was left with the following thought. Perhaps there are saints and angels nearer to us than we think, especially when we are drawn to reflect and honour one another.

 

 

Soften Our Hearts.

 

Our hearts are hardened Lord.

 

Spend a few minutes thinking about the relationships in your life- relationships with family, friends, work colleagues and people within the church community.

 

Are you struggling with any of these relationships as a result of elements of conflict whether openly expressed or not?

 

Lift those relationships to God, asking for Him to help you with them, for Him to re-create your heart and fill it with His compassion.

 

Pray that He will renew your heart with a right spirit towards those involved.

 

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).

 

Make a heart shape out of the tough modeling clay; praying as you do that God will soften your heart towards Him, towards those around you and those caught in conflict around the world.

 

Pray to carry this soft heart with you.

 

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Altered Perspectives (Revised) (first written 14 April 2014 as part of reflections during Lent.)

Do you know what you are looking for? When you think of your life’s ambitions what do you dream of doing?

Do you want to be that one person who can make all the difference- that fantastic cricket player that saves the Ashes; the brilliant singer who has been on top with his music sales for several years; or that charismatic politician who wins the day in the Brexit talks?

In contrast, when Jesus talks about seeking the kingdom of heaven, what is he talking about?

His meanings are hidden in parables.

The Parable of the Hidden Treasure 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

The Parable of the Pearl of Great Value 45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, 46 who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 13:44-46 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

Is it crazy to sell everything we have for just one “pearl” of great value? Alternatively why sell everything to buy one field for the treasure hidden within it? Will we spend a lifetime digging up that same field to find it again? Surely that could be a lifetime of effort ending up in frustration and futility?

I don’t understand.

Bob Stoner in his blog “ where do you store your treasure?”  writes more about this.

He suggests that the treasure is not what is important; it is where it is stored that is of importance.

I still don’t understand.

Some parables I do understand and identify with easily. For example, I identify with the parables Jesus gives about losing and finding things.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep: Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbours, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Luke 15:1-7 English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK)

Time and motion studies would not commend the shepherd for deserting his ninety-nine obedient sheep, and go off looking for that one sheep that has got itself into trouble. What a complete waste of time and resources in this age where time is money and efficiency and effectiveness is everything.

I lose things, probably nearly every day, especially when I am rushing. I waste eons of time as I hunt high and low retracing my steps searching for keys, purses, books, and my mobile phone. And this is before I can leave the house.

Late one October, 28 years ago, I went with my extended family on a walking holiday in Coniston.

In high spirits on the first evening, after our arrival and receiving the keys for our rooms, my eldest sister Cassie, her two daughters and I ran down a field to the edge of Lake Coniston. It was a beautiful autumn evening.

After gazing out over the lake for a few minutes we walked back up the field to the Holiday Fellowship boarding house. To our dismay we discovered that we had lost one of our room keys. It had fallen from a pocket as we ran. We returned to search. Between us we walked every inch of the field. We returned empty handed. We could not find the key.

Later that evening, when the whole group was gathered, we were given  the evening talk about the walks for the following day. We were also instructed that the rule of the House was not to take keys outside. We felt suitably ashamed. The key was lost and not to be found. Fortunately they had a spare.

A few days later, after returning from a day’s walk I glanced again at the field. It was a lovely evening and just before sunset and I was inspired to go back and search again. Head down, eyes glued to the grass, I crisscrossed the field down to the lake. Nothing. There was no key.

I gazed out across the lake for a short while, before returning in the same manner, crisscrossing the field and scouring the grass with my eyes.

At one point I stopped. I realised I was missing the sight of a magnificent sunset behind me. I lifted my head to turn back to look. As I turned, my eyes alighted on something shining in the grass behind me.

It was the lost key.

In stopping to appreciate the world of beauty around me,  I found what I was looking for.

Is that the meaning of the parable about treasure hidden in the field?

The joy I felt that evening was more than just admiring a lovely sunset and finding a lost key. To me it was a miracle.

I remember talking to my nieces about it later. I told them if God knows us so intimately with such a little thing like a lost key, how much more will our Loving Holy One be with us when searching for the bigger things in life.

I trusted that evening that I could find the key. Yet the way that I found it was so unexpected. The second I had stopped searching, there it was at my feet as I gazed outwards to God’s beautiful creation.

In that moment I felt I glimpsed the kingdom of  heaven. I also glimpsed God’s love for me.

God has met me many times through nature.

When I reflect back I also appreciate God’s compassion for me. I needed the affirmation that I was loved because of what followed afterwards on that holiday. Often a mountain top experience can be followed by a difficult time.

The holiday ended in sadness. We had a blazing family row. I can’t remember what it was about now. All I remember was sadly walking around the grounds at Coniston with my Mum. We were waiting to leave. We had come on the holiday with hopes and high expectation and it had ended up with bitter recriminations.

And yet, twenty eight years later the memory that survives most clearly was the previous moment, standing in the field, the lost key at my feet, and gazing at a spectacular sunset.

 

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Where do you store your treasure? — dbobstoner

It’s been a year now that Mandy & I have been serving in this community. It certainly has been interesting – in a good way I’ll quickly add. My profile, my contract with the church, was to ‘bring presence’ to this town, this community. There wasn’t much extra detail other than our members are reticent […]

via Where do you store your treasure? — dbobstoner

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My Beloved sister Cassie

Tenth anniversary of my sister’s death.

Ten years ago today my eldest sister Cassie took her own life in front of a high speed train, stepping off the platform at her local station.

This was one of her poems that I read at her funeral:

Midwinter
Two deer,
In the frosty half light
At the start of the year.
You turn towards me
Shyly.
Startled, you bound away.
Not together but apart.
Make not a bond of love.
I alone,
Yet not lonely
In the soft winter darkness,
Waiting for the dawn light.
Carolyn Zachary

My poems of reply after her funeral:

The Butterfly

As we stepped out of the Church,
At the end of your funeral,
We breathed in the fresh scent of pine.

That endless torrent of grey rain
Had stopped.

A butterfly circling
Above the altar;

Tears crowded my eyes
So I failed to see
The freed spirit of you
Our sister Cassie
Making your journey
Heavenward.

Beloved by God
(And us)
You had stated
An act of Love is never wasted.

Yet make not a bond of Love
You said,
Which boldly I read out
From your poem, Midwinter.

Can we listen?
Can we still hear your voice?
And feel your passionate care
For all of us here,
Still living?

We would be so wise
To continue to heed those words
Written by you
In former times

And respectfully
Take our cue from them;
Than to dwell eternally
On our sudden and aching loss.

By Julia Coughlan (September 2009)

Look very carefully and you might see a butterfly

Autumnal Breezes

I glanced up at my favourite hillside
Behind my parent’s home.
Fine golden grasses
Are rippled with sunlight
Like the sleek ginger fur
On the nape of Sheena’s neck
Are ruffled by a giant hand.

Our dog Sheena

 

The grasses are softly caressed
By that buffeting brute
Standing all on end in swift succession
Then flattening against the green/brown bank.
Autumn sun gleams on their silken tresses
As it speeds by on the violent gusts.

Shade and light
Both there in alternate seconds
At the winds violent passing.
Watch how it rages up the hill
As it raises us up
Then flattens us down against the hard ground
And we vanish without a trace.

Just as a life
There one minute
And lost in the next.
Yet beauty remains
As a butterfly stretches out its wings
Poised and sheltered
Basking in the late summer sun.

By Julia Coughlan (September 2009)


Forever close to us in our thoughts and love and your care too for us.

Deep Peace of the flowing air to you

Deep Peace of the quiet earth to you

Deep Peace of the shining stars to you

Deep peace of the Son of Peace to you

Amen

 

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Martha and Mary

Martha and Mary

If I decide to come to your Church

Will you expect me to be?

Martha…
Always busy, busy doing
Raising money, baking cakes
Calling door to door for
Christian Aid
Giving lifts to the young and elderly
Being part of the coffee rota
The flower rota
The counting of money
And giving of money
To keep the Church going
A few stalwarts baling water
To keep it afloat
Growing ever more
Resentful
Petty and petulant
Until exhausted with our efforts
Of doing our duty (over years)
To others
And to God
We collapse
Yet limp on…
Under the strain

If I decide to come to your Church
Please let me be…

Mary…
Seated
Quiet
Still
Listening to his voice
Wondering at his words
Marveling at his unusual wisdom
Apparently doing
Absolutely
Nothing
Except
Being
Here
Close to Jesus
Gaining courage
For a tricky week ahead

But then I hear a rustle…
Martha is
Limping in behind me
And I become restless
And guilt-stricken
Needing to move
To help
Or hinder
And sometimes retreat altogether…

How would the Church survive
If we are always Mary not Martha?

Yet on that particular occasion
Jesus said
Mary chose the better way. (Luke 10:38-42)

Perhaps if all the Martha’s
In the Church
Could be…
Like Mary

And the Mary’s
When the pace is right
Act…
Like Martha

Perhaps then
We could renew our strength.
And soar on wings like eagles
Run and not grow weary
Walk and not be faint?

(Isaiah 40: 31)

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Family Wisdom: Part Seven (Final songs and blessings)

People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centred

Forgive them anyway

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway

If you are successful you will win some false friends and some true enemies.

be successful anyway

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you

Be honest and frank anyway

What you spend years building, someone may destroy overnight

Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, people may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow.

Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. But give the world the best you have anyway.

You see in the final analysis, it is all between you and God: it was never between you and them anyway.

(attributed to Mother Teresa)

Blessing:

Deep peace of the running wave to you.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you

Deep peace of the shining stars to you

Deep peace of the Son of peace to you

Amen

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Family Wisdom: Part Six (Prayers of Intercession)

I led this service at the beginning of July, the start of the Summer holidays. Now it is November and we have just finished the Autumn half term holiday for schools in this area.  I had thought I might change the prayers to make them more relevant to my life now, a few months later. And then I read them again before posting them, Yes some things have moved on slightly. Yet, on the whole, the same issues and the same people need prayer. Therefore I will keep the prayers I wrote at the time. I think it is worth saying them again. 

 

As this is as service about wise sayings; once again, my Prayer of Intercession is based on the words of wisdom of Mother Julian of Norwich.

In you Father Almighty, we have our preservation and our bliss;

In you Christ, we have our restoring and our saving

You are our Mother, Brother and our Saviour.

In you, our Lord the Holy Spirit is marvelous and plenteous Grace.

You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us.

You are our Maker, our Lover and our keeper.

Teach us to believe that by your Grace

All shall be well;

And all shall be well;

And all manner of things shall be well.

Amen.

 

Heavenly Father (and everyone) 

 

Work is still an issue for others and for myself. At last I am receiving outside support. Yet as I finish my phased return I am conscious that I am still stepping into a minefield with my managers and my own fear fuelled perceptions. I need to tread carefully. I know there are others too who continue to be challenged in the workplace. Protect each one of us in our work situation. May we know that we have your shield of protection.

 

All shall be well; and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

 

Last time I mentioned attending physiotherapy. Yesterday our local town council held the disability focus group. We invited wheelchair users, and other people with longterm medical problems or disabilities to discuss barriers, issues and doing things differently in regards our Neighbourhood plan.

There were seventeen of us in total and the consultants led a lively discussion. Let it not just be a talking shop. Let it build momentum and make a difference to our small town and to change attitudes and the town environment and make our town accessible and inclusive to all.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

 

In the meeting yesterday, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t just focus on mobility problems, but also talking about other issues such as visual loss and hearing impairments. Difficulty with hearing especially can isolate you and can be largely unseen and unrecognized. I was grateful that when I spoke about it, it produced echoes of recognition and the attention it deserved. Thank you for that.  Let us educate ourselves about how noisy environments can be altered to make it easier and less stressful for all.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well

 

Last week I was thrown because the faithful elderly person who organises Bible readers wasn’t here in Church. That is why it has mainly been my voice today. Let us pray for people known to us who are unwell. …. let us also give thanks that a loyal husband is  healing from hospital admission, and also pray for his wife; and that

 our Minister Christine, has a date for her operation. And also pray for … Please hold them close to your heart in the palm of your hand.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

 

We are at the start of the school summer holidays. Sometimes we hear of accidents and tragedies that occur on holiday. It somehow seems worse when people are relaxing and are far from home. Already there has been disruption and death in Cos due to the earthquake. In this hectic world we all need a break from the everyday tasks. Please pray for those just starting their holidays; and let us pray for a peaceful summer for all of us and some breathing space until September when it all starts again.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

 

I have already mentioned our local town council and our attempts to plan for and design an inclusive neighbourhood plan. I was grateful yesterday for the support of two fellow councillors at the focus group. They did most of the catering, serving coffee and tea and washing up afterwards. I was too busy greeting people and making sure everyone was alright. Thank you for their support and our working together to make it all go smoothly.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

 

A few weeks ago I had an unexpected answer to prayer. I was elected onto the Development Board sub group to discuss our town centre. After a difficult email exchange last week, I am making my voice heard and attempting to disagree well. To disagree well, I need to listen carefully and speak slowly. Please Lord, nudge us into positive action and an excellent solution to bring back the vitality of a vibrant, safe and relaxing town centre. Please help us bring back some civic pride.

 

All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.

In you Father Almighty, we have our preservation and our bliss. In you Christ we have our restoring and our saving; you are our mother, brother and saviour. In you, our Lord the holy spirit is marvelous and plenteous grace. You are our clothing; for love you wrap us and embrace us. You are our maker, our lover and our keeper. Teach us to believe that by your grace, all shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well. Amen.

 

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Family Wisdom: Part Five (My personal reflections)

O storyteller

you sit me down

you fill me with tears

and love

and laughter.

 

come into my life,

and tell your story

through me.

Amen

 

My reflections on the theme of family wisdom:

What have our readings got in common and today?

Proverbs is about listening to wisdom. I made a mistake to use Proverbs, as that was not intended as the lectionary reading. And yet, it seemed to fit. I remember someone telling me, God uses our mistakes. She said –it is a good thing when a service is not perfect. It shows how gracious God is in wanting to work with us humans and our many mistakes.

It states in Proverbs; wise people take advice; the wise watch what they say; the wise shrug off insults; the wise are truthful, the wise use words that heal and the wise have words that last. Wise people can tell the difference between gossip about people, and genuine kindness.

How often do I need to hear those messages!

Psalm 86 mentions thugs and bullies out to get us; our enemies. When we are not at war, do we have enemies? Who might our enemies be? Are enemies the people we don’t get on with? People who don’t see things in the same way that we do? For me, in local politics for the first time, are my enemies people in a different political party?

Perhaps they are unseen enemies in the invisible spiritual world; in and around us.

Sometimes it seems there are lots of little gremlins in the system, determined to stop us, tripping us up, getting in the way, discouraging us. During my preparation for this service had lots of ideas. I wanted to use the technology and music. It became a major personal battle with technology. Nothing worked. I tried to brush it off, think of something else. Yet it did cause its mark and delayed my thinking and reflections about the essence of the service. It also caused hassle to those trying to help me.

 

The reading in Romans talks about as being part of God’s family. We are children of God the Father and brothers and sisters of Jesus. We share in his suffering now. Yet it is not a futile suffering. It is like birth pangs. There is hope of something better. Not just for us; for the whole of creation.

I used to hate being told that we might need to suffer as Christ’s followers. I remember talking to Mum about the Methodist Covenant service always held at the beginning of January. We both felt the same; especially if we were suffering anyway and when going through difficult year. In the Covenant Service, there is one phrase where it says: Put me to suffering.

Why on earth would I ask for that?

(NB: Explanation for non-Methodists. The Covenant Service is where you re-new your Covenant with God, and say that I will do what God wants of me in the coming year and that might include suffering)

When I tripped up on holiday in March and broke my finger, there were points in that experience where I was saying to God with a whine: Why me? What is all this about? Where are you, Heavenly One, in this frustrating experience?

I  reflected on this: Why had a simple trip over a tree root, become complicated, need surgery and end up with nails put into my hand to hold the bone straight. I wrote on my blog:

It was on Good Friday it struck me. Of course, God is here in this. Jesus knows exactly how I am feeling; and so much more. I can feel the heaviness of a nail in my left hand -a nail to promote healing. The nail in the left hand of Jesus, a hand that was pierced for me, was to promote death. Jesus, perhaps you are inviting me to imagine a tiny fraction of your physical suffering. Maybe that is all that is needed from me at present; just to feel this experience. The real aim for me is to feel things that God feels.

 

Finally, the Gospel reading;Matthew talks about wheat and weeds (chaff) growing together.

I have one or two reflections about wheat and weeds.

The weeds and the good grain look the same when immature. You can only tell the difference when fully grown. (unlike my picture)

A story: When I was 29 single and lonely living on my own in Bradford, I went on a Christian holiday and met a young man. He was of black West Indian heritage. Although born in the Caribbean, his family moved to London when he was a toddler. He was very much a Londoner. He worshipped in a Pentecostal church; and was a missionary; during the time we were together he went to America with Youth with a Mission. He was enthusiastic about faith in a straightforward and ordinary way, both talking about it and listening to others. I was deeply in love and thought this relationship would last. I was also amazed that he was interested in me. At that time, I felt inferior to charismatic Christians, people who could talk or pray in tongues and who were given words of wisdom or see pictures or visions. I thought I had a feeble faith compared to them and was second-class, not possessing these supernatural gifts. So likewise I was in awe of my boyfriend and his spirituality. He was a gifted spiritual leader. Sadly with me, in an intimate personal and emotional relationship, I thought he treated me badly. I finished the relationship when I felt he had messed me about once too often and the emotional pain was too great. It took me 5 years to get over him. What had seemed so good and right; a beautiful wholesome piece of wheat, why had it turned out so wrong? My viewpoint: How could God, support him in his spiritual leadership when he was being cruel to me? I remember reading the story about David and Bathsheba, in which David fell in love with her, slept with her and then killed her husband into the bargain. At first I was appalled by that story too. Perhaps, years later I begin to understand how God can love us all in that way.

Fortunately I met another leader from a charismatic church who gave me this illustration. He talked not about grain and grass, but sheep and goats. In the Middle-East they can look the same.  In the Bible there is reference too to the sheep and the goats and who will be separated out at a time of judgement. The sheep who behave with pure motives, the goats with more evil intent.

The minister advised me:

  • In life and in Church there are goats that behave like goats. You know who they are-they are naughty through and through and they are easy to spot.
  • Then there are sheep that behave like sheep. Again they are easy to spot. They are goodness through and through.
  • However there are also goats that sometimes behave like sheep. They appear good and to have pure motives, but in their hearts, they are wicked.
  • Finally there are sheep that are good at heart, but sometimes behave like goats and do naughty things.

Now, after time has gone by, I like to think that my former boyfriend was one of those sheep who sometimes behaved like a goat; I learnt so many good things from him, especially about faith. Also I began to realise my feeling of inferiority, as a Christian had not helped the situation.

I work as a community Occupational Therapist. Sometimes I think I learn as much from my clients as I manage to help them. As one of my clients once told me: There is no one better than me and I am no better than anyone-else. We are each a beloved child of God. 

 I feel no hatred or bitterness against my former boyfriend. I felt extreme sadness at the time. Now in hindsight I think perhaps we were just too different and it could not work out. Nothing to do with colour- just different personalities. I am something of a country yokel and an introvert; and my former boyfriend was an extreme extravert and loved city life.

Second Reflection: A piece of grass is a piece of grass and a piece of grain is a piece of grain –a piece of grass is completely different to a piece of grain. Or is good and evil so different?

When I lived in Bradford I attended a prayer group. Sometimes I felt uncomfortable. I had met my future husband to be by then. He didn’t like the group as he thought it was too insular. He felt excluded. I remember on one occasion there had been a lot of talk about one of our friends who was suffering from depression. There was a lot of talk about her, I am not sure if we were actually talking with her. Were we indulging in gossip or genuine concern? Sometimes I think there can be a fine line between the two.

Another reflection: the grain is sewn in a field. We need several pieces of grain to have a decent harvest. We need each other to become a splendid piece of bread. I could not have done this service without the invisible support and prayers surrounding me; and the words of wisdom I have received over the years.

Reflection four:It is the angels who are the harvesters, not us. We just need to keep growing. It is not our role to point the finger and judge others. Leave it the angels and to God.

This may seem contradictory, we need to be able to recognise bad behaviour both in ourselves and in others. Be wise as serpents and gentle as doves. I have been having difficulties at work. It is a recurring theme. Constantly I seem to be in trouble with those in charge of me.  I felt bullied particularly by one person. When I reported this, it made it ten times worse. It was all in my head, past history, my managers told me. I crumpled and took back my complaint. I couldn’t explain it. I thought that this person was trying to make me do things against my conscience. I thought the person was stopping me from being authentic, and criticising me for being too kind and soft. I was angry as I thought this was a slur on my professionalism. And yet so much of this was unspoken, I wasn’t sure. We had different unspoken view points and unable to discuss things openly. The power difference didn’t help.

My good friend and soul mate (alma cara), who is a close confident and follower of Jesus, advised me to take legal advice. She also said that in her mind’s eye she had a picture for me: a picture of a shield strengthened with protective and soft yet effective material. She said she thought I needed a heavy shield to protect me and defend myself; something that would make them back off. As a bystander and listening to my description of the situation she said to me that they were being unjust. (I asked her as I was too close to it and found it difficult to tell where there truth lay in the situation.)

I have just had two weeks holiday, but this week was back at work, finishing my phased return due to my broken finger.

This is when I felt amazed by several coincidences that reminded me of my friend’s words  regarding the armour of God (the shield).

First, it was on the daily service on radio 4, the subject was all about putting on the armour of God. It mentioned the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith.  Even more astonishing when I visited Mum on Monday, my day off before the start of my week back at work, it was the thought for the day on her calendar.   God ‘s help in David’s psalms was described as being like that of a shield, standing side by side with him as in a time of war.

On Tuesday, my first day back, I met my boss  for a short supervision. One to one, it felt  better. (Prior to this I had to meet two supervisors at a time.) My Manager was more circumspect in our conversation; that is how it felt. It felt easier for me to express my views within an adult conversation. I felt as if I had a shield of protection.

Would I have appreciated this without my friend’s words of wisdom at the beginning of the week?

I think perhaps the psalm was right, in my case my enemies were my own fears and lack of confidence and perhaps those supervising me whether intentionally or not, initially added to the attack.

With regards evil, the chaff perhaps, I heard on radio 4 a discussion about Hannah Arendt a Jewish practical philosopher, who reflected on the elements that caused the Holocaust. She coined the phrase the banality of evil. I think she meant not that evil is particularly common- place; but that evil is incredibly mundane. Like someone just doing their job without thought; allowing people to become economic numbers and worthless if not producing anything.

Andrent suggested that  the holocaust was a perfect storm where lots of factors came into play. One aspect was the nature of evil itself. She described evil as not deep-rooted, but more like fungi, that has shallow roots and sticks to everything. In that way it spreads. One top Nazi was Goebbels. He basically was a highly efficient civil servant, who did his job particularly well and efficiently and effectively. Her advice was live thoughtfully; don’t just do things efficiently and as an automaton.

Finally, there is part of the Gospel reading that I have not yet mentioned. It is difficult to hear, especially when you want everyone to be rescued and restored to living in harmony with our three-in-one God.

Matthew 13:36-43Good News Translation (GNT)

Jesus Explains the Parable of the Weeds

36 When Jesus had left the crowd and gone indoors, his disciples came to him and said, “Tell us what the parable about the weeds in the field means.”

37 Jesus answered, “The man who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man; 38 the field is the world; the good seed is the people who belong to the Kingdom; the weeds are the people who belong to the Evil One; 39 and the enemy who sowed the weeds is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvest workers are angels. 40 Just as the weeds are gathered up and burned in the fire, so the same thing will happen at the end of the age: 41 the Son of Man will send out his angels to gather up out of his Kingdom all those who cause people to sin and all others who do evil things, 42 and they will throw them into the fiery furnace, where they will cry and gnash their teeth. 43 [a]Then God’s people will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Listen, then, if you have ears!

 Nothing is wasted. The grass is thrown on the fire. Even the grass can be used. As a child I used to be fascinated about the expression grinding of teeth. It made me think of Gnasher, the dog belonging to Dennis the Menace who had a lot of big teeth.(From: The  Beano)

I am not sure if the expression is exaggeration for effect, Jesus’s sense of humour, or his pent-up frustration with those who refused to listen to him to understand, to think about and reflect on what he was saying.  I think, some of the highly religious people preferred to listen to him in order to build up arguments back and to refute what he said without letting his words settle and sink in.

All our weaknesses, our grass, can be thrown into a huge bonfire to light up the sky and keep us warm.

I reckon we don’t go far wrong if we keep our focus on Jesus, keep close to him, and not worry about the rest.

 

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Family Wisdom: Part Four

At this point in our morning service I took the collection and said this prayer.

let us pray:

 

Today, may I give and receive love

today, may I work for justice and peace

today may I listen and pray

today may I sing God’s praises

today may I delight in God’s beauty

Today and every day. Amen

Then came the height of the service: the reading from the Gospel:

The Gospel reading is from Matthew chapter 13.

This parable is told among other parables in Matthew about the kingdom of heaven. It is written in context of Jesus facing sad and difficult events personally, being rejected in his home town of Nazareth, the killing of John the Baptist, his need to go alone to a lonely place to pray only to be followed by crowds. Despite his own need he had compassion on the crowd and spoke to them. This led to the feeding of 5000.

The Parable of the Weeds 

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field. 25 One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. 26 When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up. 27 The man’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?’ 28 ‘It was some enemy who did this,’ he answered. ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’ they asked him. 29 ‘No,’ he answered, ‘because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them. 30 Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.’”

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Family Wisdom: Part Three

Romans 8 verses 12 to 25;

Translation by Alan T Dale

New World: the Heart of the New Testament in Plain English.

I have chosen this translation from one of the books I kept from my Dad’s library.

Alan Dale introduces Romans as follows:

This letter Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome is different from his other letters other letters; as these were Christians Paul had heard about but not yet met. He wrote to them wanting them to welcome him there on his way to Spain. He wanted them to help him in his work in the West. He knew these Christians would have heard stories about him, many of them untruthful.

In this letter, he wrote with care and honesty about what he believed and where he stood with regards important aspects of this new faith.

Jewish Christians had attacked him on three important questions:

  • What Christianity is about
  • What is important in Jewish religion in the history of mankind
  • How Christians need to behave towards one another and others not part of the faith.

To Paul, Jesus is the clue to understanding what God is like.

We pick up the letter where Paul begins to talk about life in the spirit and where he talks about us being children of God and seeing Jesus as our elder brother.

Those who, with God’s help, try to live in Gods way are true members of God’s family.

You know what it was like before you became friends with Jesus. You didn’t know what God was really like. You felt you were slaves, as you were always afraid. This will never happen again. God’s spirit does not make as slaves but members of his family. When we pray, we speak to God just as Jesus did; we say, “Father!” God himself makes us quite sure in our hearts that we are his children. Children, as you know, inherit their father’s wealth. If, then, we are God’s children, we share his wealth as his heirs along with Jesus. But note; we must remember what Jesus went through before he became what he is; we must be ready to face what he faced, as well as share in his splendor.

We look at everything differently now-the hard time we are going through and the very earth we live on. We see it all in the light of the glorious future, which God will give us.

The earth itself is being spoilt by the way we live; it is, as it were, waiting for the time when the people who live on it will live, not as they do now, but as members of God’s family, with mercy and gentleness, sharing it together.

We know that the story of the whole world has been a story of much suffering. Animals know what suffering is; men and women know what it means, too. But it is not hopeless suffering; it is like the suffering of the mother when she has her baby –something is being born. Even we, who are the friends of Jesus and who have begun the new life, also know what suffering means, all too well. But we look forward in hope to the time when we shall be fully members of God’s family and our whole personalities set free.

All this, of course, is only hope now; we don’t live, as we ought to do. But this hope has made us new people. And we are going to hold on to that hope until the day comes when we can see the glory with our own eyes.

We shall now sing the hymn:

Hymn: Hills of the North rejoice. 237

 

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