Building bridges not walls.

A beautiful bridge.

I have so enjoyed walking in the snow this week, noticing birds and squirrels and foxes. The park has been an extraordinary place of crisp snow, exquisite swirly patterns on bark, soft sunrises and a frozen pond. And every time I walk round, I pass a gorgeous wrought iron bridge, joining the land with a small island in the middle.

It has caused me to reflect on the importance of bridges in our society today. People seem to be so polarised in their opinions, whether about independence, the effects of Brexit, or about the best choices in a pandemic. Everyone seems to have a view, and they often seem to be strongly held, and loudly articulated. And people are so busy speaking, there seems little room to listen.

Listening is underrated however. Listening attentively to another human being can lead to new understanding and a fresh perspective. At the end of the time, people might still have different views, but someone perceived as an enemy could have become a friend. Listening, helps to remove walls of division and hatred, brick by brick, and allow bridges to be built in their place.

In the book of James chapter one verse 19b it says: ” everyone should be quick to listen, and slow to speak” and the transformative power of this teaching, if applied in our world, would be powerful. Before we spout forth, we should check our sources, listen carefully, and ask God what we should say. The checklist, is it true, is it necessary, is it kind?, is a wise one to consult, before we even consider speaking. We all regret saying hasty words that have given offense to others.

In the New Testament, one of the great listeners is Barnabas- Son of Encouragement. He was one of those people who listened to God, who saw beyond the superficial, and brought people together. An example of this is in Acts chapter 9, where Saul has had his conversion experience on the Damascus road, but when he got to Jerusalem, the Christian community were suspicious about the genuineness of his conversion, and wondered if he was trying to trick them. It was Barnabas who spoke for Saul, and told of his story, so bonds of trust could be built, and Saul, or Paul as he became known, was welcomed into the Christian community, and went on to become one of their most feverent leaders and letter writers. If Barnabas had not intervened, then we might never have heard of Paul!

And so in today’s age, let’s not be part of the vitriolic rage and criticism of others, but rather be reasonable and fair in debate, looking for the best in people, weighing things carefully. Let us see behind empty and critical rhetoric, and have courage to listen to God, to discern the wisest course of speech and action, so that bridges of insight and understanding can be built, and a shared way ahead found.

Let us pray. Gracious God, You are perfect, holy, good, yet because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the one who sacrificed His life for us, You look upon us with grace and mercy. You have reconciled us to yourself in Christ, and then give to us the ministry of reconciliation. Forgive us when we look for the speck in another’s eye, whilst there is a log in ours. Give us calm hearts, that we might listen attentively to others, to appreciate their views, even when we differ. May your Holy spirit inspire a ministry of reconciliation through Your people, and in this world, so we might work together for peace and justice, so we might value and honour one another. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

It’s ok to slow down!

Appreciating slowness!

We seem to be pre programmed to rush and be busy. We accept it as the norm, and if you ask someone how they are, and they say they are not doing much, you tend to wonder what that might mean.

Well that was true before the pandemic! For key workers, their lives are still as busy as ever. For others, people are so restricted in not meeting people or going any where, that response ‘I’m not doing anything much’ has become more common. It is often said with a mournful face, for after living under so many restrictions for so long, there is a feeling of claustrophobia at the moment. As some one said on the phone the other day ‘ the days can be monotonous’.

A few years ago, I encountered a book ‘In praise of slow’ by Carl Honore. The author is pleading with people not to live such hectic, busy lives, and instead to slow down, to take your time and appreciate things more. He talks of things like slow eating, working less hard, and generally appreciating ‘ the wisdom of slowness’ a phrase from Miles Kundera.

This line of thinking is really very liberating, for it reminds us that actually slowing down for a while can be beneficial for body and soul. If we reframe lockdown, so instead of feeling like being in prison, it is a time to reflect, and to appreciate life more, then that would be a blessing. Then it can become a sacred time, to learn to enjoy nature, to re engage with art and literature, to be more creative, and to be content in our own company. This will give us a new outlook too, when the restrictions will begin to lift, and encourage a new balance between quiet and busy.

It is never as easy as that, of course, for we are experiencing a collective mourning, which can feel crushing -so many deaths, so much illness and trauma. We pray to use the quiet spaces to pray, and to give others a safe place to process and heal. It looks like this could take generations.

We remember the words from Ecclesiastices chapter 3 ‘ there is a time for everything under the sun.’ Instead of the temptation to rush into things, may we learn to be more contemplative, to take our time, to listen to God, before we take action. Even when restrictions lessen, we might well choose to live more gratitude filled lives, with more quiet moments. This could be a pivotal decision, to help us find a healthier rhythm for our lives.

Let us pray, Gracious Father, we are so grateful for this extraordinary planet to live on, for the beauty and inspiration all around us. Forgive us that at times we move so quickly, that we are oblivious to the breathtaking wonder of creation, art, music and literature. Forgive us that we don’t see the forgiveness and mercy of Jesus Christ, or take time to experience what it means to follow your teaching, and live in your love. Holy spirit, help us to take this opportunity to appreciate going more slowly, and learning to notice and cherish what is truly of value in life, to love and be loved and be a blessing to others, for Jesus’s sake, Amen