A vision of harmony!

Patterns of light.

I have been so blessed to have had some time out with family in a sunny place. I realise how very much I have missed opportunities just to rest and be, in a warm climate.

I have especially enjoyed the light here, the amazing variety of colours in the sunsets, and last night the moon reflecting its silver glow across the expanse of the ocean. The bright luminous path in the sea in the starry night was wondrous.

(not my picture, but this was the idea!)

The ripples of light in the water, as I have been swimming, have also been mesmerising. I have felt harmonious with the water and the air, as new patterns and ripples appear in a pool, or you become one with the rhythms of the waves in the sea.

The wonder of these experiences have been so good for my soul. For a short while I have put to one side images of conflict, poverty and distress, and I feel at peace with nature, and the Creator of all things. It has reminded me of my desire to be in harmony with God, to be at one with Christ, to just rest in God’s love.

I used to think that this was selfish, but now I understand that these moments of connection refresh my soul, for the days ahead. Finding time to refuel in the pandemic was strangely difficult, because although there was more time, at times I had to fight a sense of claustrophobia and sadness. I think for many people, the pandemic left us all more isolated, and not able to process our grief in community. So being able to travel has reminded me of that sense of freedom and space and connection.

Ultimately, one of the most beautiful Bible passages about harmony is in Revelation 22:1-3

‘The angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing 12 crops of fruit. And the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.’

I love John’s vision of the future, where people are with God, full of praise and worship. It seems no surprise that there is water, clear as crystal, at the centre of the city, bringing healing and beauty and life to all, for the leaves of the trees are to bringing healing to the nations. That spiritual refreshment offers possibilities of transformation for all. Vision such as this brings us strength and hope for the journey ahead.

Gracious God, our Creator, You have created a world of intricate patterns of light and shade, and of jaw dropping moments of revelation and connection. We worship You, grateful for possibilities of harmony, when the lion and the lamb lie down together. Lord Jesus, in You all things are held together, as the forgiveness You offer through the cross, brings an invitation to reconciliation for all. There are times in this life when pride, grief and violence seem overwhelming. But when we look to You, you remind us of the truth of who You are, and we are reassured and find peace. Through your holy spirit, inspire us to work towards healing and harmony even amongst the brokenness, and grant us a clarity of vision to energise us each day, Amen.

A wistful emptiness

Anniversaries and birthdays of those no longer with us.

Today would have been Colin’s birthday. The date is etched in my soul forever. But what happens when the person is no longer here? For most people, it is just another date in the calendar- of no special significance. Yet for the people left behind, you are marking the date with the key person missing. There is no one there to open the cards and blow out the candles, There is such a mixture of emotions, sadness, thanksgiving, guilt and a longing for things to be otherwise.

Listening to other people’s experiences of loss, the guilt of remembering a significant date, is that other people think you should have moved on by now. As the years go by, in some ways, part of you does process things differently, but I think there is still a feeling of profound sadness.

In some situations of grief, feelings are exacerbated by the circumstances of a loss. Very often people choose not to talk much about these, as they can be distressing, and as a society maybe we need to make more space for people to talk more honestly about the messiness of it all.

At the risk of repeating myself, I find it hard to come to terms with what happened with Colin, as it was so unjust, and involved so much suffering, over decades. His head injury led to a long term degeneration through poorly controlled epilepsy. It was hideously painful to witness.

My consolation comes from my faith, that even in the darkest, most bleak and challenging days, God was with us. God blessed Colin with the knowledge that he was loved, even when nothing made any sense.

In psalm 86:15 it says: ‘You, Lord are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness.’

I understand when people question where God is, when something awful is happening in their life, the illness of a child, a gradual loss of faculties, a painful treatment. Watching someone you love suffer is excruciating.

Yet in the most tearful circumstances, there can be a moment of lucidity, a glance of understanding, a loving connection, that can be transformative. And the power of prayer to help find meaning and hope can never be underestimated.

I just want to write to encourage people to know no-one is alone, even when we have bad days, or when we question, or when it all seems too much. We need to find people we can trust to talk to, even if it is to say the same thing for 100 times. There are some days on which that is just what it takes.

Gracious God, on the outside all looks well, but You see into our hearts- the painful memories, the regrets, the lament- why did it have to happen that way, why did that loved one suffer so much? Lord Jesus, you understand us, for You suffered at the hands of others, when it didn’t need to be like that, and You come alongside us with compassionate eyes and cascades of grace. Holy spirit, lift from us our pain and grief, and help us remember the moments of beauty and trust and love, that transformed even the hardest times. And on days like today, bring healing and a sense of peace, Amen.

A ‘wheelie up a hill’!

Exhilaration!

In the traffic the other day, I saw a teenager riding his bike, doing a wheelie up a hill. I have to say it wasn’t what he was meant to be doing I am sure, and it didn’t look that safe. But what I noticed was the sheer joy and exhilaration on his face. He was so loving it!

In these days of pandemic, sometimes it feels as if everything is grey. It is round after round of changing regulations, new interpretations and constant adaptions. It is necessary but so wearisome.

God wants to bring us seasons of joy. The sheer excitement and enjoyment of that boy on the bike,  reminded me of the enjoyment we seem to have lost as a society, and as a church. We are so worn down by uncertainty, fear and suffering and isolation.

A passage I keep going back to just now is Revelation chapter 2, where John writes to the church in Ephesus. He says they have worked hard and persevered, but he says in verse 4 that the one thing that he holds against them, is that they have forsaken their first love.

Maybe we remember how we felt when we first came to faith, our amazement at being loved by God, at being forgiven because of the cross, being accepted into God’s family. It is the kind of good news that you think will make you smile for a life time.

Yet over time that joy and thankfulness gets eroded by sadness, disappointment, suffering, conflict. At times, we just seem to be going through the motions, surviving each day, rather than living.

I think that God has something better for us. He wants us to come and sit with Him, to have our empty cups filled to overflowing with his healing love and grace, so that we are brought back to life, in all its richness and fullness, so we can have moments of rejoicing and joy. I think it can be a slow process, a time of questioning, of erratic moods and much processing. Yet we pray for God to bless His people once more, with that enthusiastic joy in the gospel, and that He would once more breathe new life into us. If only we could know a fraction of the exuberance of a boy on a bike!

Gracious God, forgive us that we become so burden and worn down by cares, that we can be in danger of becoming grey people, worried about many things. Lord Jesus, remind us of your life giving presence, lift our burdens from us, and put them at the foot of the cross. And then having relinquished all that holds us back, may we know the freedom of your spirit, so we might smile once again, so others might see Your life in us Amen.

‘The silence between the notes’

It could have been the composer Debussy or Mozart that said that ‘music is the space between the notes’. This quotation often recurrs in my thoughts, on the midst of busy and pressured days, full of conversations, things to do, places to be.

Life seems a little bewildering just now, full of adjustments to the latest information and recommendations re the covid pandemic. We also are trying to come to terms with losses of so many kinds, during lockdown, in our society, in our life stories. And so our thoughts swirl with regrets, sadnesses, information and possibilities. Often we seem to speak fast to convey the vast amount going on in our heads.

And so this quotation really helps me, that the music can somehow be the space between the notes- what is of significance, can be the timing of the silence. I like the fact that the intervals in pieces of music are called ‘rests’. That makes perfect sense to me!

Especially as we move through this time of pandemic, there are many profound questions as to how we should live. And there is a movement towards less frenetic activity, more reflection and quiet appreciation. Often we discover meaning not just in the moment, but in the time to reflect afterwards. That is when significance deepens, and the experience can be processed and absorbed.

In music, literature and art, so much seems discordant and noisy, exploring extremes, rather than the exquisite tapestry of light and shade in tone and subtlety.

I love the words from psalm 55 verse 6: ‘ Oh that I had the wings of a dove. I would fly away and be at rest.’

It would be such a blessing to have these moment of rest and reflection in every day, and in the rhythm of our week. When we live in a hurry, we might seem to get more done, but we lose part of ourselves. We need moments to breathe, to appreciate, to find space.

As we go into a new session of school and church, may we not go back to old ways of haste and hustle, a scramble to fit everything in. Instead, may we be more selective, asking God for His leading. May we have times to reflect and to pray, to receive the meaning and inspiration of experiences and encounters, and to savour them, and to let them shape our understanding and our being.

Gracious God, Creator of all things, we are told when You created the universe, that the seventh day was a day of rest, when You saw that what was done, was good. However we understand this, we know that times of rest need to be built into the fabric of our lives, times of quiet, of insight of appreciation. Lord Jesus, you often left your disciples and friends, to go to a quiet place to pray. Holy spirit teach us to ensure that in the regular rhythm of our lives, there are times to rest, to pray, to reflect and to be creative. May times of silence enrich and bless our souls, to deepen our understanding, and to strengthen and energise us for the the rest of life. Grant us that quiet wisdom, which illuminates all things, Amen.

Anger and advocacy!

Let’s be angry!

At times in today’s world, the danger is that we can feel a little numb, a little detached. Sometimes however, we can allow ourselves to feel- to hear another person’s story, and in our imagination to feel we are going through it with them, and to identify with their emotions. It could be listening to the person on the train, or a magazine article, some words from the family next door, or a person on the other side of the globe.

Some stories are about people who have overcome, who are settled and at peace, and we are thankful for these. Other people are in such pain and weariness, that it can be hard to listen. Just now, there seem to be so many stories of terror and loss-

The family in which some one has a disability, and whose support services have been cut because of the pandemic, people who have become more isolated and lost skills and confidence.

The prisoners, languishing in prison, although they have done nothing wrong – people like the Chinese Christian Gao Zhisheng, whose work as a human rights lawyer has resulted in him disappearing in 2017, and he has not been seen since.

And we think of the terrified in Afghanistan, as the Taliban reassert control, the cries of the vulnerable, of women and children fleeing from.rhe brutality and lawlessness of their rule.

How do we respond to these heartbreaking situations. Well maybe, just maybe, we should be angry! We should be angry that people with disabilities and mental health issues seem to be at the bottom of the pile in our society. We should be indignant that human rights lawyers, who courageously speak out for others, can disappear with so many people turning a blind eye. We should be furious that in so many lands, the rights of women and children are non existent.

To be healthy, we cannot focus on all these issues all the time. However to pretend they are not happening, is not the answer either.

As we listen to the cries of these individuals, we should be angry that they suffer so much, and so many do so little. But hopefully it is not the kind of anger that breaks dishes, but rather the kind of anger that we ask God to channel into a constructive energy for advocacy and action.

In Ephesians chapter 4 verse 26, it says: ” in your anger, do not sin.” We are allowed to be angry- it is what we do with it that matters. Jesus Himself was angry- about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, or the greed of the money changers in the temple. So he spoke out against that which was wrong.

In Proverbs 31:8-9 it says: ‘ Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute’. Part of our calling as Christians, as human beings, is to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves, or those who are not being listened to.

When we are touched by what has happened to some one, and have become indignant, whether it is the plight of the homeless, the story of the woman who has been human trafficked, or the lonely person in a hospital bed, may we channel these feelings of sadness and frustration into something good, to lobby for funding, for advocacy, for change. It might only be the words of a prayer, or writing to our MP, or giving to a charity, but every little helps.

Gracious God, we remember the roar of Aslan in C S Lewis’s novels, conveying the power and majesty of God. You are the God of justice, and You long for justice and fairness. Yet on this earth so many suffer- trauma, ill treatment, sexual exploitation and brutality. Forgive us for the times we turn away. Lord Jesus, help us be angry when another human being is treated without dignity or respect. And may your holy spirit helps us channel that anger wisely, to pray, to give, to be advocates for those on trouble. Give us energy to do this, and to be courageous in seeking to make this a more just world, Amen.

Poignant celebrations.

Joy intermingled with sadness round the edges.

I feel so very privileged to celebrate my son’s birthday at the weekend. It was a lovely day, of being able to meet up with some family and friends. After so many days of not being able to meet because of all the covid restrictions, it is so appreciated to see real people again, and to talk and catch up.

The things that is tough though, is all the empty spaces. There are so many people missing for one reason or another, it was a little sad around the edges. It is such a mixed feeling of thanksgiving, but also of a realisation that things have changed, and they are not going to go back to where they were.

When you are grieving, this realisation seems to come back a thousand times. You think you know, that you understand, but then the loss of your loved ones take you unawares yet again. Your heart becomes immersed in old memories, the way it used to be, and for better or worse, it all feels so different and disorientating. The meaning is deeper, but somehow also more remote.

In Matthew chapter 5 verse 4, Jesus said ‘ blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’

At times however, I don’t think those who mourn feel very blessed, rather just tearful, confused and exhausted! Yet the thing is, when we are at the end of ourselves, then that is when we rely more heavily on God, when we cry to Him for help, every moment of the day, and truly learn to shelter under the shadow of His wing. It takes all our energy just to rest in His love, and pray for healing. And we know that God never forsakes us. God us so patient and so merciful.

For anyone whose heart is sore and hurting, may you know the love of God enfolding you, and His healing grace, and the hope of things one day getting better. And may we all persevere meantime.

Gracious God, You watch over us with your angels, Your provide for us with such tender care, and sometimes we feel guilty for questioning or being sad. Lord Jesus Christ, thank you that you know your sheep, and you love us even when we groan or grumble that our life is tough. Please lift from us that need to pretend we are ok – yes to give thanks, but to acknowledge also that the ache is still there. Holy spirit, comfort us, strengthen us, and help us to smile even through our tears, for You say that all will be well. May we trust this promise, Amen.

The gift of water…..

Reflective bliss.

In Glasgow we often don’t appreciate water. It often pours from the sky when it is least wanted, breaking your umbrella, soaking through your jacket, and making your feet cold and soggy. Only the reflection of street lights in puddles make it bearable!

Yet the gift of water is amazing, whether it is the gurgling of a stream, the stillness of a loch, or the rhythm of the waves in the ocean. There is something so profoundly cleansing about being immersed in water, experiencing the spray of a waterfall or the waves on a beach.

Swimming gives it a new dimension. To be at one with the water, for your limbs to be working in a rhythm that enables you to move forward, is quite remarkable. I travel slowly, but it is like being home, maybe a womb like experience, with a profound sense of connection to the water. Wild swimming is the most magical of all, swimming with midges and swallows, clouds and skies, rocky shorelines, and ever changing expanses of blue, black and deep green.

We are so blessed to have such wonderful opportunities to be at peace with nature. We need to be wise as to how we practise, but the freedom of swimming outside is so liberating and full of bliss.

The bible speaks about the majesty of creation, and God’s power even over the ocean. In psalm 93 it says

‘ the raging waves lift themselves over and over, high above the ocean’s depth, yet at the sound of your voice they are stilled.’ v4 Passion Translation.

When swimming through the waves, to remember the length and width and depth of God’s love for us, can also speak to us in a powerful way. God’s love reaches us like the profusion of waves, cleansing our souls and healing our hurts, restoring our perspective, as we lose ourselves in the landscape.

Gracious God, there is something so elemental in being immersed in water, experiencing all the richness of colours and sensations, being rocked by the sea, or inspired by white beaches and azure waters. Thankyou for the wonder of Your creation, the cycle of seasons, the pull of the moon, the rhythm of the tides. Lord Jesus, you taught people on the shore, you travelled by boat, and You demonstrated that you could quieten the wind and still the storm. Help us have a healthy reverence for your creation. And may your holy spirit heal our wounds, soothe our souls, and invigorate our spirits, as we experience the life giving qualities of water! Amen.

Starfish bring us hope!

God speaks to us every day!

Sometimes I question what my purpose is. I wonder if God can really use me, I am so flawed and feel so small. Can God ever use me to make any kind of difference?

Beaches are a place which encourage me to ponder and to pray. I wrestle with my dreams, and the difference between them and the reality of my situation. Sometimes I despair, because I want to help others know the reality of God’s love in Christ, but I make mistakes, say the wrong thing, and then pray for God to remake me, so I am more loving, thoughtful, considerate. I have such along way to go, as I feel a bit worn down by the experiences I have had in life.

I had the privilege of walking on Luskentyre beach on Harris this month, and when all this heavy stuff was going on in my soul, I saw this gorgeous star fish. And I remembered the star fish story. The synopsis is that some one was throwing stranded star fish into the water, and some one said why do that, there are so many on the beach. You won’t be able to help them all. And the person throwing them I to the water said ‘ it will make a difference for this one.’

We have dreams of making a difference in this world, inspiring change, supporting people on tough days. But the reality is on many days, we are grumpy and on hold, waiting to get through to an energy company, or frustrated that no one in the family seems to be able to pick their clothes up of the floor. There are so many frustrations and distractions each day.

However, God spoke to me through that starfish. If you help just one person, then that is enough. I can stop worrying about the things I can’t do, and just be thankful for small things I can do. Mother Theresa said ” we can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus famously talks about how just to give food to the hungry, or to give a thirsty person a drink, to show a stranger hospitality, to clothe the naked, or to visit some one in prison, makes a difference. ( verses 31-46).

Even just doing what might seem like an insignificant action, can cause a positive ripple effect for others. So we persevere in faith.

Gracious God, You encourage us and give us hope, when we question our purpose, and what our life is about. You remind us that even faith the grain of a size of a mustard seed can make a difference. Lord Jesus, please take our offerings, however flawed they are, and use them for Your glory. Thankyou that every starfish matters, every act of kindness and grace brings your kingdom closer. Holy spirit liberate us from worry about what we haven’t achieved, and help us to get up each morning, open to your leading, of maybe blessing just one person this day. By your mercy, hear our prayers, Amen.

A house full of feathers!

Expressing loss- a dog’s way.

I was away for a few days last week, which I loved, and my son looked after our handsome dog Gabriel. I am grateful to him, and others who walked Gabriel when I was absent.

My son was telling me what a good dog he had been, until I got in the door. In the hour he had been away, Gabriel decided to say he was fed up, and ripped a pillow to shreds, leaving a mountain of feathers everywhere. He didn’t look remotely concerned about this, as you can see. I think it was just his way of saying he wanted company!

For those who have experienced loss of some kind, it can be difficult to put into words how that feels- an ache in the soul, a lethargy, a heaviness. It is the feeling that is with you first thing in the morning, and last thing at night.

Grieving can cause us to do different things- not always to rip up a pillow, but to decide not to go out, to put off replying to a letter, to want to break things! Sometimes the emotional cost of choosing to do something difficult or new, can seem overwhelming.

We all cope with these in different ways. Sometimes we talk to an understanding friend. Sometimes we binge watch net flicks, just to distract ourselves from the pain. Sometimes we just want to be walking at a beach, or just alone with God, pouring out our soul.

Where we can, it is good to choose healthier options to express anger, loss and pain. We seek to give our regrets and guilt to God, over things we might have wished to be otherwise. We ask for cleansing, and a gradual coming to terms with what happened. Sometimes we shout at God ‘ why’- because we find it all hard to understand. And we pray for peace in our souls, and strength to tackle the new day in a holistic way.

A verse that has been speaking to my heart recently is from Isaiah 26: ” you will keep in perfect peace, the one who is focused on You, because he trusts and takes refuge in You.’ Sometimes when we are hurting, the temptation is to withdraw or to question. These are a healthy part of the process, but we pray that gradually through the ebb and flow dance of grief, that we begin to find a deeper and lasting peace.

Gracious God, Creator of all, thankyou that in the beauty of this world, the shade of a tree or the refreshment of a cool breeze, we are reminded of your presence. Lord Jesus, you wept at the death of your friend Lazarus, and you know the shock and pain of bereavement. Thankyou that You weep with us. Holy spirit, in the midst of our loss, help us to find safe ways to express our heartache ( that doesn’t involve feathers!) Thankyou for our beautiful pets, and may we always treat them well. We thank you for the interconnectedness of all things, and pray for the gift of peace and a sense of belonging for all who cry to You this day, Amen.

Sunset reflections.

Sunset in Lewis.

Sometimes I forget to slow down. I try to do too many things, I am always trying to catch up.

So one evening this week, I decided just to sit and watch the sun go down. It couldn’t be hurried, so I just sat and waited and reflected. It was a gorgeous still evening, with a soft light falling over the fields. Sometimes in the past, Colin and I would watch the sunset, and it was a time of connection and wonder.

The sunset was a time of aching beauty. It was breathtakingly gorgeous, but was also about change and letting go.

It the last 18 months, there has been so much heartache, pain and loss, through the pandemic and all the implications for so many lives. Times of questioning, isolation, depression, sadness. And in the midst of this, also stories of courage, humour and self sacrifice, as people sought to support others. Key workers, neighbours and others going the extra mile.

Gazing at the setting sun, was a moment that Wordsworth might have called a ‘spot in time’ a glimpse into eternity, a realisation of just how fragile life is, how easily it can slip away. And a deep appreciation for each day that we are given.

In psalm 90 the psalmist says ‘Teach us to number our days , that we might gain a wisdom of the heart’.

There is something profound in this, that we need to treasure each new day we have, for none of us knows how long we have. Sometimes the days fly by, and we wonder what we have achieved. In the midst of all things, may we take time to slow down, to ponder and to pray. If this was our last day on earth, what would we do? What is important to us? What is holding us back?

I am coming to the end of my break in the Outer Hebrides. It has been a time of stunning beauty, outstanding journeys, amazing wildlife, and of healing and space. I have loved this time. And watching that sunset, was a time of communion with God, of recalling the past, coming to terms with the present, and seeking purpose for the days to come. Whatever our situation, may God speak to each one of us that Word of encouragement we need to hear, as we continue onward.

Creator God, thank you for moments of clarity and peace, as we gaze on the beauty of your world. Lord Jesus You know our hurts from the past, the things we struggle with, the pain we feel. Forgive us, that we are sometimes too fearful to see the possibilities ahead. Help us have times of stillness in which we find refreshment and inspiration. May we make the most of each day granted. Holy spirit, grant us courage to step out into the next phase of our lives, whatever that might look like, for we trust in You, Amen.