Archive for the ‘God Related Stuff’ Category

Tomorrow’s “reflection” – Assumptions

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Just in case anyone might be interested, here is the text of my sermon for tomorrow.
The readings are: Ephesians:3:1-12 & Matthew 2:1-12

In the interests of honesty, (& so he doesn’t get cross with me!)  I must admit that I have rather over egged Mr D’s use of GPS. He’s not really like this, but I thought it good to give a more “personal” tone to the anecdote.



I’m sure that many of you know the story of the devout Christian who was caught up in a terrible flood. As the flood waters rose, & edged over his front step, he sat in his living room prayed that God would save him. Shortly after, his friends came past in a 4×4 car

“Do you need a hand?” they called

“No, it’s fine! God will save me,” he replied.

The flood waters continued to rise, and the Christian retreated to his bed room on the first floor, where he doubled his prayers. The rescue services came past in their boat

“Come on, sir!” they entreated.

“No, it’s fine. God will save me,” came the reply.

As the flood got higher, the Christian was forced to climb onto his roof, still praying, still trusting that God would save him. A helicopter hovered above, a rope ladder dangling.

“Sir! Climb the ladder!”

“No, it’s fine. God will save me.”

Soon after, the man was engulfed by the flood, and drowned. Standing before God, he asked:

“Lord: I trusted you. I prayed and yet you did not save me from the flood – why ever not?”

And God sighed deeply, and said: “My child, I sent you a 4×4, a boat and a helicopter. What more did you want?!”


The problem was that the Christian had made an assumption about how God was going to save him, and when things didn’t pan out the way he expected he didn’t recognise that it was still God’s work. God’s hand was there in the 4×4, in the boat, in the helicopter, but the man did not see it. He wanted to limit God to saving him in one particular way.I’m sure we all do this: we assume that God will work in the way we expect, and in so doing our eyes are closed to all other possibilities.


Early Christians unfortunately fell into this trap: they firmly believed that the saving power of the Messiah, the Christ, was for the Jewish people only. All through their history, the Jews had lived, sure that they were God’s chosen people, and as Jewish people accepted Jesus as the Messiah, they had developed this conviction into the belief that to be a part of the early church meant that one had to be circumcised and follow the Jewish Law.


They tried to keep God’s love and grace in a box, tied up firmly with the label “Just for Us”. And on the other side “Not for You”. They wanted to limit God, because they were sure that God would only work in the way that they expected Him to work… Early Jewish Christians took it for granted that God-become-man would be the fulfilment of God’s promise to the Chosen People – and no-one else.


Paul however was convinced that this was incorrect: he was sure that God’s saving grace was open to all, Jew, Gentile, man, woman, slave and free. Paul was open to the limitless possibilities of God’s love. As verse 6 of the reading from Ephesians says: “The mystery (made known to me) is that through the Gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together with one body and sharers together in the promise of Christ Jesus”


Unfortunately, if we make assumptions about God and about what he wants there are usually consequences: for our Christian in the flood, the consequence was drowning. For the early church, the consequence was a rather ugly and unedifying dispute between Paul and Peter, with the early Christians taking sides and possibly not showing themselves in a particularly good light.


For the Magi, making their way to welcome the newborn King of the Jews, their assumption meant that they almost lost their way, and that the terror of a powerful despot led to the needless death of many children.


The Magi had started on their journey probably many months previously, having seen a strange star, or some mysterious activity in the heavens above. We know little about these men, save that they came from the East, that they brought three gifts and that they were Magi – though exactly what this means is a mystery. Possibly they were magicians; possibly they were astrologers who made their living through studying the stars. But whoever and whatever they were, they knew that they had seen something important, and they followed the star to find this King of the Jews.


So far, so good. But it appears that, wise as they were, they started to make assumptions about this King, and this led them into trouble. I can’t help feeling that if they had kept their eye on the star, and believed what they were seeing then they would not have got lost, but instead they decided that they knew better, and so they veered off track.


It sounds rather like my husband and the sat-nav system in the car. He types in the destination, and begins to follow the instructions; however, the GPS gives him a direction that seems to defy all logic, and so Andrew decides that it must be wrong, and he starts to go off on his own plan of action. Of course, within minutes he is either hopelessly lost, or caught up in a traffic jam that the sat-nav system, with all its technological wizardry and access to up-to-date traffic news knew all about and was trying to avoid.


So it was with the Magi: the star was taking them to some small, nondescript town called Bethlehem, but “Oh, no, that can’t be right. This is a King’s star we’re following; we must be meant to go to Jerusalem.” They didn’t believe what they had seen, they took their eye off what was leading them in the right direction and they ended up being duped and almost giving Herod the opportunity to kill the newborn child who he feared so much. And he feared the child because he presumed that anyone with the label “King of the Jews” must be a threat to his throne.


Herod, and the Jewish people, and the Magi and so many other people had all made assumptions and they had all got it wrong. Suetonius, a Roman historian wrote of the time “Throughout the whole of the east there spread the old and persistent belief that destiny had decreed that at that time men coming forth from Judea would seize power and rule the earth”


They all took it for granted that anyone born King of the Jews would be all- powerful, and for Herod this meant his reign was threatened. No wonder he was terrified when he heard the news that the Magi brought. No wonder he wanted to find out more about this child, and called all his advisors together to consult their knowledge. Herod made the assumption that this baby, foretold by prophets throughout history, was going to usurp him – and he was sure he was going to stop that from happening! So, he showed the Magi that they were mistaken, and set them on their journey once more. And, miraculously it seems, as soon as they left the palace, as soon as they accepted that they had made an error, there was the star again, the sign from God, showing them the way they should be going


And when they arrived where God wanted them to be, they found that all their beliefs and speculations about this child, born to be King of the Jews, were turned on their heads. Instead of a rich palace, hung about with silks and velvets, they found a poor house; instead of a prince, waited on by servants and nursemaids, and clothed in beautiful fabrics, they met a mother and her child, wrapped in nothing more than any other ordinary baby; but instead of turning away in disgust and saying “That’s no King” they fell to their knees and worshipped him. Once brought face-to-face with the Truth all their assumptions meant nothing, everything they thought they knew was turned upside down, and they recognised that being King of the Jews didn’t mean seizing power and ruling the earth, as Suetonius had imagined, but rather it meant something much more incredible: it meant God becoming human and living among us.


And this is what God does: he takes our assumptions and he challenges them. For the early church, so fixed on the idea that all who followed Jesus should also follow the Levitical Laws, God sent Paul to preach and to teach that God’s love was not limited to one particular group of people; for the Magi, believing that the King of the Jews could only be born in a palace, God led them to a mean house, and a baby by whom not just the Jews, but the entire world could be made whole – and on seeing this child, they fell to their knees in wonder and in reverence.


And you? And me? What assumptions do we make about God and his plan for the world? Do we look at other people and think that they don’t deserve our concern because they are poor, or drunk, or drug addicted? Do we imagine that because oppression, and violence and injustice are happening in another country then it is no concern of ours?


And what assumptions do we make about God and his plan for us? Do we try to limit God because we are scared, or because we don’t like the direction we are being taken in? Do we think that words from the Gospel that make us feel uncomfortable are not directed at us? Do we take our eyes off God, and imagine that we know what he wants of us – only to find that we have gone in the wrong direction?


If our flooded Christian had not been so sure he knew how God would save him, he would have been rescued. When Andrew finally accepts that his GPS is guiding him in the correct way, and trusts in its technology, we quickly find our way through the countryside to our destination. When Peter and the early Jewish Christians stopped trying to limit God, listened to Paul’s words and opened themselves to the truth of God, they understood that God’s love was not confined to one group of people, but instead was open to all. When the Magi followed the star to its resting place, without thinking that they knew better, they discovered the son of God in human form. When we keep our eyes on God, and listen to him, instead of assuming that we know what he desires of us, then that is when he can finally start using us to bring his Kingdom to earth. Let God challenge you, instead of you trying to limit God.


Thursday, December 6th, 2012

I had a bit of an “eeep” moment last week – as in “I don’t really know what to say to this”.

I haven’t been to church for over a year: I have been a bit “off” Church, though I couldn’t really put my finger on why. Partly, I couldn’t understand much of what was being said in the sermon, partly I’ve been a bit meh about the journey (okay, I know 30 minutes isn’t too horrible, but it takes a big chunk from the day), partly because I’ve been enjoying having Sunday mornings to myself. I’ve not been “off” God, exactly, as I’ve kept in vague contact with Him, but I’ve not been going to church, and I’ve not missed it.

I was a little disappointed that nobody from church, including the Pastor, had contacted me to see if things were okay. Not that I would have known what to say, particularly as neither I, nor Matthias (the pastor) are hot on the social chit-chat skills. I complained to Danièle about this, and was rather embarrassed to hear that Matthias had been having huge family problems, and here I was having a little whinge about not being contacted…Particularly when, in all honesty, I hadn’t really wanted to be contacted! (Yes, I know! Just call me Contrary!) So that was the situation…

Until last week, when, out of the blue, Matthias phoned me up, and (rather diffidently, it must be admitted!) asked if I would like a pastoral visit from him. Ooo-er and Eeeep. I didn’t know what to say! My French, what little there is, totally deserted me and I wittered away in Franglais for a while, before saying “Thanks but no thanks”. I struggle to explain to myself how I feel about Church/ God/ Faith so there’s no way I could explain in French to Matthias.

However, I think that in the new year I will start going to church again – partly because it is one way to improve my French, although I am aware that spiritual reasons possibly should come first! If I try to go once every two weeks, I won’t feel so “pressurised”…and I’ll see how it goes. Even if I don’t understand exactly what’s being said, I know that I do understand the Eucharistic section – I know what it’s about, I know the gist of the words, I know that that is where I meet with Christ at the very heart of What It Is About.

A new year. A new commitment. I suppose there’s no better resolution than that.

Still Life No 5

Monday, May 28th, 2012


My “Still Life: A Book of Days” only has one quotation for this week. It is by Catherine de Hueck Doherty. The link is to the Wikipedia article about Catherine – she seems to have had a very turbulent life, but is now being considered for canonization by the Roman Catholic church, for her work with the poor, and for founding Madonna House Apostolate. This is a group of lay people who work with the poor and dispossessed mostly in the US and in Canada.

This shows the Pax Caritas cross, worn by all members of the Madonna House Apostolate.

She said:

If we are to witness to Christ in today’s market places, where there are constant demands on our whole person, we need silence. If we are to be always available, not only physically, but by empathy, sympathy, friendship, understanding…,we need silence. To be able to give joyous, unflagging hospitality, not only of house and food, but of mind, heart, body and soul, we need silence.


Still Life No. 4

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

My “Still Life” book has several quotations and snippets for this week.

  • There was once in man a true happiness, of which there now remains to him only an empty trace which he vainly tries to fill out of his environment. He seeks from things absent the help he cannot obtain from things present. Yet all these efforts are inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is, by God himself (Blaise Pascal)

I’m not sure I fully grasp the sense of this – but I think it is saying that humankind has lost its ability to be satisfied with simple things, and that we have lost too an understanding of the spiritual world. We try to fill this “gap” with more and more stuff, but in fact it is only God who can fulfill our needs.

Which, to be honest, is what is preached in churches the world over. And it is what I believe. But even in believing it, I recognise that, often, I still try to fill my “God shaped hole” with things that aren’t God shaped at all. It reminds me of when I was teaching Reception aged children, and they would play with puzzles like this:

Even though I could see that the star shaped piece wasn’t going to fit in the square shaped hole, the child would keep trying to ram it into place! So many of us are like that: we try to ram stuff – be it the latest technological gadget, or the latest New Age fandango, or family, or “the perfect partner”, or our own selfish desires – into the God shaped hole, in order to make ourselves feel better. And, of course, these things don’t fit. But, if we let go of these things, and be still, and stop trying so hard to find the right piece, I am sure that God will lead us to finding what we need to fit perfectly into that empty space of longing…

  • For solitude sometimes is best society/And short retirement urges sweet return (John Milton)

Two quotations that I have written obviously caught my eye, and caused me to stop and think. One written in 1999:

  • (Jesus) did tell us to live and work in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right to do so… (Bill Hybels)

This is something that is often on my mind: I am so manky and irritable sometimes that I do not reflect Jesus’ love in any way. I am no advert for the Christian faith, and if I did preach it “Jesus makes you happy!” I’m sure I could be laughed out of town. Jesus may have told me to live and work in such a way…but I’m afraid I’m still struggling to do that.

Then, in 2003, linked to Psalm 51

  • The Holy Spirit is our advocate against the rationalism of desire

The Psalm itself reads:

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, isa broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.

 May it please you to prosper Zion,
to build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will delight in the sacrifices of the righteous,
in burnt offerings offered whole;
then bulls will be offered on your altar.

As I read this, and think about what I wrote at the beginning, I think I am back to where I started – by pure chance!

When we truly come before God, confessing our desires and our perceived need for “stuff”, the Holy Sprit helps us to see that these things are not necessary for life, or for joy or for contentment. I think, so often, we justify our need for “stuff” – it will make me feel better, everyone else has one, I need it for whatever reason – We rationalise it. We make it “normal” to want these things, so that we can’t see that they block our view of the eternal, important things. Yes, for a short time, we love our new gadget, or the new dress, or we feel fulfilled by the new lover, or whatever it is…but if we  allow the Holy Spirit to unblock our view of eternity  and to teach us, we learn that, lovely as these things are, they are not what we need . What we need is God.

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. (T.S.Eliot)

Still Life No 3

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Yesterday was a very busy day. We were out for lunch and I spent most of the morning and most of the afternoon applying for jobs. I’m looking for work in the UK teaching English at Summer Schools or at Language Schools. Mr D did some serious sitting down and looking at our budget – something we’ve not done for a long while – and discovered that, unless

1) I earn more

2) He gets a job and/or earns more

we won’t be able to carry on living where we are for much more than 18 months. So our plans for a lazy-ish summer and a holiday over near Floss’s part of the world have morphed into Mr D doing mailshots to places that might want websites and thinking about starting a market stall, and me applying to spend 6 weeks in the hectic busy atmosphere of a Summer School. Yikes! I might have to become active!!! Of course, my age is against me – I suspect these places value youth and fitness over age and experience, but I might be pleasantly surprised. There are a couple I fancy more than others – one in Glasgow, and one in Liverpool. These are with adults and older teens, and are not residential. But, of course, don’t pay as much! We shall see.

I have spent a couple of nights lying awake worrying, which is a little foolish. It’s not a case of send-us-food-parcels, or being-thrown-out-of-the-house, (not yet, anyway!) and it won’t be for quite a while. But we do need to work harder at earning money and spending less (my 240€ a month petrol bill doesn’t help!)

So, I need to bring my worrying mind to rest and try to trust God – not that I think that it’s his job to get us out of the situation, nor to “send” me a job. Lovely though it would be, I don’t expect a parcel of anything to drop out of the sky. It’s our situation and we need to sort it. But, even though I think all that, I still need to trust that God will lead me/us to making the right decisions to move forward. I need to rest in him, to let my soul be still, and to remember that Jesus said:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

In my “Still Life” book for the first week in May there are two quotations. One printed:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you; not as the world gives do I give you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid”.

The other is something I have written on 4th May, 1994. I don’t know whether it is a snippet of a poem that I read, or something I composed myself:

There is a God, some say; a deep but dazzling darkness

Aha! When I typed that into Google I was taken to a website that tells me this is a phrase from a poem by the metaphysical poet, Henry Vaughan. The poem is too long to reproduce here, but this is a link to the poem which is called “The Night” .



My Book of Days

Sunday, April 22nd, 2012

Enya: My Book of Days

I have a book, which I received one Christmas in my “sack” from Santa…I’m not sure which year, but probably about 1992, judging by the entries. It is lovely, containing various prints of still life paintings, and quotations about peace, stillness, and quiet. In this book I too have written quotations which have caught my eye, made me stop and think. I thought that, if I remember (and I make no promises!!) I could share with you the week’s quotations, both those I’ve written and those included in the book.

A similar painting to this, by Henk Helmantel, is the still life painting for April, which I think is beautifully peaceful and serene, and on the “April” introductory page there is this quotation from Charles Borromeo:

If a tiny spark of God’s love already burns within you, do not expose it to the wind, for it may get blown out. Keep the stove tightly shut so that it will not lose its heat and grow cold. In other words, avoid distraction as well as you can. Stay quiet with God.”

From Arthur Schopenhauer, for this week we have the quotation: “It is difficult to be quiet if you have nothing to do.”

And from me, noted in 2004, “As far as the east is from the west, He has set our sins from us.” Praise be to God!

A Pause In Lent No.5: Humility (or Donkeys)

Sunday, April 1st, 2012

I don’t feel terribly inspired today…nor do I feel like I’m anywhere near “ready” for Easter. This week is due to be quite hectic at work (good for the pay packet, but maybe not so good for my sanity!) so I won’t have much time for pausing and reflecting. I’ve decided not to go to the Good Friday service at church, as it’s a talk by a preacher who is not of my persuasion (I’m not a very evangelical type of believer, and he is, I think). I’m hoping I may be able to visit some friends of mine who can share a short time of reflection with me on Friday evening…but maybe I’ll be so tired that I’ll just try to spend a quiet time by myself. We shall see.

So, I think I will just share a picture or two with you, and a poem that seems very appropriate for today. Make of it what you will…

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil’s walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

According to this legend, Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem and to the hill at Calvary, where he was forced to carry the cross on which he would later be crucified. Being a beast of burden, the little donkey wished he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus. Upset at the tragic event that was taking place, the donkey turned his back on the sight, but because of his love for Jesus he could not leave until it was all over.

It is told that as the sun was setting on the day and on Jesus’ life, the shadow of the cross fell across the donkey’s back. Since that time, donkeys have carried the mark of the cross as a sign of love from God. The reward the humble donkey received has forevermore been shown for all to see.

Pause In Lent No. 3 – Diligence (or lack of it!)

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

I’m cheating a little with my Pause this week…I said I would follow the list in order, but I actually want to skip over to the fourth in the list, which is Diligence. Angela, over at Tracing Rainbows, and others, have already spoken very eloquently about diligence, but I was pondering this today, during the sermon that I couldn’t understand about John 2: 12-25 (the Bible reference is just for information, and to show I at least understood that!)

Diligence: constant and earnest effort to accomplish what is undertaken; persistent exertion of body or mind.

I was pondering it, because I am very aware that my Lenten disciplines have rather gone down the pan this week. I have not constantly and earnestly made any effort to accomplish what I have undertaken!! In fact, I didn’t read this week’s chapter of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” and I have written no cards/letters since last Sunday! It took me a week to post the ones I had written – I didn’t have the opportunity to get to the Post Office – and now I still have one for the USA which needs to be taken to be weighed.

My Lent disciplines were hardly onerous but even so I still didn’t manage to complete them…through nothing more than laziness. “Oh, it doesn’t matter,” I thought. “It’s only reading/writing a card. I can do it tomorrow”. But somehow, tomorrow came, and the task still didn’t get done.  It made me think a little of the scene in Gethsemane:

Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Could you men not keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. “

 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy.  So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.

  Then he returned to the disciples and said to them,” Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour is near, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

I guess that, while they started off with really good intentions – I will stay awake. Jesus needs me, and I’ve promised I will do this one thing. It’s not much. Stay awake. Watch and pray. I can do that, easy! – soon their eyes started drooping and their heads hit the ground. So when Jesus came back and chided them, they must have felt terrible! Like them, I started off with great intentions – the first week, I wrote all my letters each day. However, the second week, I found myself playing catch-up, as I missed one or two days, and this last week – nothing! I’ll have to write two a day now!! Even if it’s only letters, I feel I’ve let him down.

If Lent is a time to be closer to God, to think about our relationship with Him, and to watch and pray with Him, I am so like those disciples! I am falling asleep (or watching the TV!) while Jesus says “Could you Dormouse not keep watch with me and write one letter?!”

Still, as Jesus gave his disciples a second chance (and a third!) I will pick up my pen this evening, and start writing.  Though I may just stick to postcards until I’ve caught up! But, practically speaking, I’m running out of people to write to – would anybody like a card? Please email me with your address if you would.


On another note, I shivered a little when, searching for images to illustrate this post, I came across this one:

It’s a set of CDs you can buy from a Church Website that tell you how to prosper (in a monetary way, judging by the cover) through diligence to God!  “Prosperity will not come by desire, but by hard work, planning and acting on the Word of God” Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr! How I hate the Prosperity Gospel preachers!

A Pause In Lent No 2 – Generosity

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

So, here we have a rather frustrated Dormouse (see earlier post) trying to remember what it was she said, because, actually she was quite pleased with it……..and –BREATHE!

This week, I have been (on and off) thinking about the first chapter of “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23” which I’ve chosen as my Lent reading. I’m not sure I’m keen on the author’s style – although it is a little harsh to make such a judgement after just one chapter!

In the first chapter Keller looks at the theme “The Lord is my Shepherd” – he talks about how the demeanour of the flock can demonstrate what kind of shepherd it is who owns those sheep. A well loved flock are fat, and content, and not cowed by their surroundings; a flock with a shepherd who does not care are thin, down beaten and afraid. I’m not too sure that I am very good at showing what kind of Shepherd I am owned by – perhaps I am like a sheep who has been bought from a harsher shepherd, and I haven’t quite learned that my new Master is different. If I can learn to have more confidence in him, then I would lose my fear of what He might ask me to do.

Another thing that Keller mentioned was how it is customary for shepherds to mark their sheep in some way, often by clipping their ear. This shows who is the Owner of the sheep, who has purchased the sheep. I have been purchased with the blood of Christ – he paid a great price for me – and so I’ve decided that I will wear something that declares who is my Shepherd. I will wear a cross around my neck. Now I realise that this isn’t very radical, and many people won’t even notice it, because for them it is simply a piece of jewellery. But, at the moment, it’s not for them; it’s for me. It is to remind ME  who my Shepherd is, it’s to remind ME of the price that he paid so that I  might be part of his flock.

I am lucky enough to own many crosses, all with a different meaning for me, all special for different reasons. So I thought I’d share with you some of these.

I don’t wear this cross very often, as it’s quite large – 4 cm  – but it is special, because I bought it on the day I was licensed, in ChristChurch Cathedral, Oxford, as a Licensed Lay Minister in the diocese. This was in October 1996, and the cross was a birthday/Licensing gift from Mr D. I used to wear it when I robed to preach – rather like a Bishop’s pectoral cross! – but now, when I preach at church, I certainly don’t robe. And my License in the UK has expired…but it reminds me of a very important day and a special ministry that I had for 9 years in Milton Keynes.

And now we come to the second of Floss’s Cardinal Virtues – well, not hers, you understand (!) but the list that we are using as inspiration for posts throughout Lent. And today’s theme is “Generosity – the Pursuit of Charity”. Actually, I don’t really know quite what to write, but while I was “researching” (that is, trawling the Internet to get a good idea!) I came across a variety of quotations, which actually, I think, are thought provoking enough by themselves… (all the quotations are either from Wikipedia or from the website of The Science of Generosity )

  • Generosity is not solely based on one’s economic status, but instead, includes the individual’s pure intentions of looking out for society’s common good and giving from the heart.


  • Generosity is the habit of giving freely without expecting anything in return.


  • …more liberal giving could accomplish world-transforming change…


  • Generosity always intends to enhance the true wellbeing of those to whom it gives.


  • What exactly generosity gives can be various things: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, and more.


  • The Quran states that whatever we give away generously, with the intention of pleasing God, He will replace it. God knows what is in the hearts of men. Say: “….whatsoever you spend of anything (in God’s Cause), He will replace it. And He is the Best of providers.” (Quran 34:39)


  • For Christians, to be generous is to be conformed not just to Christ but also to the loving divine Parent, whose sacrificial self-gift into the world makes possible human fellowship in the divine life; “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).


And there we are, back to the beginning: my demeanour should reflect that of my Shepherd.


Pause In Lent 1 – Valour

Sunday, February 26th, 2012

For this year’s “Pause In Lent” Floss and Ang have suggested a list of the Seven Cardinal Virtues for us to ponder. While I vaguely know about the Seven Deadly Sins (enough to recite them – I think!) I know nothing about the Cardinal virtues.

Floss gives us the list as so:

Valour: Pursuit of Knowledge
Generosity: Pursuit of Charity
Liberality: Pursuit of Will
Diligence: Pursuit of Ethics
Patience: Pursuit of Peace
Kindness: Pursuit of Love
Humility: Pursuit of Modesty

But – of course! – it seems that different commentators call these different things, and so I ended up getting rather confused by what they all meant!

Ang, over at Tracing Rainbows, has chosen to start with Diligence. However, I think that I probably need to follow the list in order. If not, I will choose the easiest to start with and then run out of enthusiasm! So I start with Valour. Which doesn’t appear on many lists!! However, “Prudence” does appear, and as one commentator says Prudence is primarily a virtue of the mind (intellect),  I guess this may be Floss’s “Pursuit of Knowledge”

I wonder if I was the only person, who when they saw “Valour” on the list, started singing the slightly out-of-fashion hymn “He Who Would Valiant Be”. The original words to this hymn were written by John Bunyan, and appear in “Pilgrim’s Progress”

Who would true valour see,
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.

Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.  *

I remember singing the hymn that is based on this at school. To me then, it was just another boring hymn from the little blue hymnbook that we all had, although I did enjoy the mental image of “hobgoblins and foul fiends”.

But now, as we enter Lent, I do think it is a poem worth considering again…particularly for me in my present situation. You see, I’m not being very constant towards God, and quite frankly, it only takes a bit of metaphorical wind and weather and I’m off, not exactly losing my faith, but doing very little to hold onto it! My intent to be a pilgrim, so strong in the past, has dribbled away, like sand in a sack with a tiny hole in it. Little by little, almost so you don’t notice that the sack is getting lighter, until there is almost nothing left.

It hasn’t been the hobgoblins, it hasn’t been “what men say”, it hasn’t been lions or giants. Perhaps if it had been, my faith would still be the most important thing to me. What I think has been missing, what has been the tiny hole in my pilgrim’s sack, is my lack of commitment to learning more about God and my relationship to him. Because I’ve not really understood much of the sermons/Bible study groups here in France, I’ve not had the regular teaching that I used to get in the UK. Because I’m no longer preaching, I’ve not challenged myself to think about God’s will for the world and for myself. Because I’ve never ever had a strong commitment to reading the Bible, or other “spiritual” books, I’ve not had the input from that.

So, I shall try…though baby steps are required on this pilgrimage, I think! If I make grandiose gestures (I shall read a chapter of the Bible every day) I won’t do it. So, looking on my bookshelf, I spy “A Shepherd Looks At Psalm 23”, a book I bought, according to what I’ve written inside, in Winchester, on 21st February, 1984, when it was wet and windy.

It is a slim volume, and perhaps it is a good place to start. I shall read a chapter of this every week (every day is a bit too much!). The introduction to this book reads: “I ask that the reader approach the pages that follow with an open mind and an unbiased spirit. If he does, fresh truth and exciting glimpses of God’s care and concern for him will flood over his being. Then he will be brought into a bold, new appreciation of the endless effort put forth by our Saviour, for his sheep. Out of this there will then emerge a growing admiration and affection for The Great Shepherd of his soul.” As “Valour” has been tagged “the pursuit of knowledge” then this seems an appropriate way to start!

Finally, to finish, a commentator on the hymn that started these thoughts says: “Bunyan’s burly song strikes a new and welcome note in our Hymnal. The quaint sincerity of the words stirs us out of our easygoing dull Christianity to the thrill of great adventure.” I need to be stirred out of my easy going, dull Christianity. But, at the moment, please God, stirred…not shaken!


Actually, that isn’t quite my “…and finally…”, this is. I have stolen the idea of another Lenten discipline from A Left-Handed Housewife. I’m going to write a letter or card to someone I know (or don’t know!) every day of Lent. The LHH sees this as a way of making space for people I’m not obligated by family ties to make space for. I know that it’s more traditional to give up something for Lent, but I did some research, and all sorts of spiritual disciplines may practiced during the Lenten season, not just fasting. In fact, an emphasis on hospitality is one of those disciplines, so writing a card or a letter every day will be my practice of hospitality.  So, the same for me. While I can write to some people that I know twice, I still don’t have 40 people in my address book. So if anyone would like to receive a card/letter from me, please contact me with your address, and I’ll try to fit you in!

* I’ve just popped back, as I forgot to add this link for anyone who doesn’t know the hymn. It’s to a version sang by Maddy Prior with the Carnival Band. A good “folk-y” version.