Inspiration and tragedy

Van Gogh

I had the privilege of visiting the ‘Van Gogh’ Alive experience in Edinburgh with a friend today. It was an immersive experience of the artistic development of Van Gogh, featuring many of his most well known works on enormous screens, with some meaningful quotations from his letters, and some evocative music. I feel as if I have been to France and back in a day!

I love Van Gogh, and visited the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam a few years ago. Seeing the colour and textures of his paintings was inspiring and deeply moving. Van Gogh led such a troubled life, but had such insight and a perception of the beauty in the ordinary- in the lives of miners and peasants. The intensity of his later work- his stylised use of colour to portray nature, from sunflowers, to open fields, to his famous ‘starry night’ is unsurpassed.

A quotation from him that I resonate with goes as follows: ‘ the fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore’.

Van Gogh was brought up in a Christian family, and for a while saw himself as a missionary. Then his connection with the church loosened, but his deep spirituality remained. He saw beauty everywhere, and understood the intrinsic relationship between art and love. Even when he was in pain, he still journied on.

A projection at the exhibition

Van Gogh’ s incredible creative gifts were never recognised in his life time. Despite the efforts of his brother Theo, he had very little to live on. He battled with ill health, which from the descriptions, sounds like epilepsy. He experienced intense mood swings, from exhilaration to deep depression, and he died tragically age 37.

He is such an inspiring figure, because he battled with darkness, yet appreciated the light. He felt frustrated, but found solace in the stars. He had nothing, but was ecstatic about the colours of a flower. He was belittled, but he appreciated any act of kindness. In the midst of his struggles with depression and sorrow, he noticed the exquisite beauty of his surroundings, and was always curious and attentive.

Another quotation of his is ‘ I am always doing what I cannot do yet, in order to learn how to do it.’

In the midst of his many flaws, he experimented with form and vivid colour, and did something extraordinary – he demonstrated the ethereal dimension of ordinary days, in a way that now the world can never forget. He was a courageous pioneer, who followed his heart, even when no one else believed in him.

I think his example gives us courage to follow our dreams, even when they don’t make sense to anyone else. Jesus followed his purpose to demonstrate the love of God to the world, even though he faced opposition and sorrow. May we too walk in the light, and humbly seek to fulfil our calling, whatever that might be.

Gracious God, your world is immeasurably beautiful and varied. Forgive us when we are in too much of a rush to notice. Thankyou for artists and musicians and writers who enlarge our appreciation of our world. Lord Jesus, you remind us that nothing is impossible with God. Help us use our creative gifts and talents, even in our flawed humanity to somehow share love and inspire others. Holy spirit, take our weaknesses and brokeness, and somehow inspire us to live richer and more attentive and appreciative lives, in Jesus’ name, Amen

The power of the movies!

Downton Abbey!

Today I went back to the cinema! I hadn’t been for such a long time, and I had forgotten how much I missed it. When the world is bleak, a little healthy escapism can bring delight.

I saw ‘Downton Abbey: a new era’ which was a good story well told. The sets were elegant, the characters so charmingly familiar, and it felt quite endearing. Some of the dialogue might have been a little chunky, but it was sought to examine the theme of endings and beginnings, and was definitely a ‘feel good movie’. And Maggie Smith, was as usual, excellent!

It is a timely reminder of the power of film, story, music and dance to stimulate thought, to inspire the imagination and to feed the soul. During the pandemic, we have been more limited in our opportunities to enjoy art and drama and music. It is liberating to be able to begin to engage just a little once more, and hopefully to encourage all involved.

I remember the words from Philippians 4:8′ fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable, right and pure, lovely and admirable. Think of things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’

It is good to make space in life for things that inspire us, a wonderful song, a film that we enjoy, a book that opens our minds. There is so much that is good and enjoyable in the world- it is good to choose to appreciate and savour it.

Gracious God, there is so much which troubles us in the world just now. Help us to take time to escape when we need to, to something which can make us smile or which we can enjoy. Lord Jesus, you shared in meals with your friends, you went to weddings. Remind us that it is ok to enjoy things. Holy spirit, thank you for creativity in film, word and music. Inspire us, and replenish our spirits though the artistry of others, and though this heal and strengthen our souls, Amen

Spiritual refreshment!

A fountain of life!

I have so appreciated being on holiday with Andrew my son, visiting beautiful friends. We have been in St Augustine, where it has been warm and breezy. Gorgeous bright days.

One day I found a little courtyard in the old town, where there is a quaint fountain, with a constant stream of sparkling clear water. The sound alone was refreshing, listening to the splash of the water bouncing off the surfaces. It was mesmerising, and so peaceful.

I have been so very busy, that now just taking time to listen and to be still was such a relief, and a joy. I remembered Jesus’s words from John 7:37: ‘ whoever believes in me, streams of living water will flow from within them’.

This was a powerful reminder, that God places these streams of living water within us his followers. But sometimes we disconnect ourselves from our Source. Or we allow barriers to get in the way- guilt, fear, shame, worry, doubt, grief – and they stop the flow. We lose our vibrancy and sparkle, and love becomes a trickle in a muddy pool.

It has been a helpful reminder, to seek to lessen the things that separate me from God, my sin, my forgetfulness, my perpetual rushing about. I ask that together with God, and guided by His spirit, that the streams might flow more abundantly once more.

Gracious God, thankyou for that gift of streams of living water flowing through the lives of those who place their trust in Jesus, so these streams of love might touch the lives of many. Forgive me when I block your love by my selfishness and closed heart and mind- dissolve these away i pray. By the power of your holy spirit, open up my life to receive your living giving spirit, and then to enable that stream of water to flow into the lives of those around me. May we all be channels of that sparkling and refreshing stream of grace and love, for Jesus sake, Amen

Space to be- even at the airport!

Making space in the crowd!

I recently have had the privilege to travel. It has been so good to visit wonderful friends, and I am so blessed.

However the journeying process was challenging, especially some of the baggage checks. The queue was busy, and you had to put your stuff in plastic trays to go through the scanner. But to get the plastic tray on the conveyor belt, you had to make a space, and basically that meant pushing some one else’s stuff out the way. For a while, I chose not to do this, but as time went by, all that happened was that everyone else pushed passed. I would have been there for the whole day, if I didn’t choose, very reluctantly, to push away a tray on the conveyor belt to make space for my tray.

This sounds like such a trivial thing, but it became enormously symbolic. In order to live well, we all need to have space to be. It didn’t harm anyone to put my tray up, but what it did, was release me to get on with my journey.

In the Christian life, we desire to love and serve others, and this is such a privilege. We take up our cross, as Jesus says in Luke 9:23. It is a great choice to make, but sometimes the danger can be that we burn out. We are so busy making space for others, we do not have space to be, to pray, to receive from God, to play, to enjoy. We need good boundaries, in order to be well enough to love and serve others.

Our holiday with our amazing friends is such a blessing, and it is a wonderful time to reflect, and to rediscover the importance of space and beauty, prayer and connection. God reminds me that he calls His children to enjoy Him and His stunning creation, and to know the comfort, healing and guidance of His spirit.

Sunrise!

May we all find space to be, to take time to heal, to rest, to find perspective, to start again.

Risen Lord, we desire to take up our cross and follow you. Sometimes the load is heavy, and we are worn down. Holy spirit, whisper your words to us, that Word from God in season, that we need to hear. Creator God, help us find space in our lives to come and rest with You, to receive Your love. May the things of this world not crowd You out, or diminish Your voice. Teach us to prioritise, to have space to listen, to heal and to find restoration and peace. In your Son’s precious name, Amen.

From chrysalis to butterfly!

Learning to fly!

Today is the 4th anniversary of Colin’s death. I relive old memories, poignant memories of suffering and sadness, mixed with moments of humour and even peace.

In many ways, the last four years feel like chrysalis years, a time of darkness and questioning and lamenting. God has granted me time in His presence, to tend my woundedness with His balm, to speak His words of love, to remind me of my identity in Him. By grace, I have lived a beautiful and rich interior life, but have also had to engage with outward reality too, which has often been deeply challenging.

I know that I cannot live in the chrysalis forever, for one day I need to emerge more fully. There are cracks emerging, and cold air is coming in, and it feels uncomfortable. In some ways, I want to emerge into being a more healed, congruent self, but a little while longer in the safety and familiarity of the chrysalis is tempting.

I love the vision of flying, of drying off my wings, and learning to soar. To do so, I need to get go of some of my burdens and sorrows, and to find new ways of thinking and being. This is such hard work. I rely on the Holy spirit to change me, so I don’t keep returning to a default position, especially when I am under pressure.

I remember the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:17 ‘ if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come.’

For all struggling to find a path through loss and bereavement, we don’t want to get stuck in our suffering and bleakness ( although at times, that feels like what is happening). There are many times, when it feels interminable, and that the pain is unending. Yet when we stop, and take stock, often something has shifted, or there had been a recognition of a negative pattern of thinking, or a new insight. A new way of being is coming, but it cannot be hurried, we have to wait patiently, but attentively before God, waiting for His healing. May we have patience, and a deeper trust as we wait.

Gracious God, in this Holy week, we thank you that You bring forgiveness out of a wooden cross, a morning of hope after a time of depair and mourning. At times, the darkness becomes so familiar, it seems comforting. Lord Jesus, you know when we are ready to start emerging from the shadows, into the warmth of your light, to explore the world beyond. May we be patient, until the healing process allows us to let go of the burdens and sorrows of the past, and to learn to fly, with beautiful coloured wings. Holy spirit, in your perfect timing, enable us to have the courage to explore our freedom and to learn to fly, Amen

Spiritual refuelling!

However illogical it is, because of the increase in fuel prices, I seem to think it will be cheaper if I run my car on a half tank of fuel. Somehow it feels as if it is costing me less!

There is a problem with this, as you might guess, because I seem to get to the bottom of the tank very quickly. The wee amber light on the dashboard comes on, to let me know how many miles I might have left. This is good too, except the last time I was out, I didn’t have my purse with me, just some coins in the car. And so I could only buy £6 of petrol. I have to say though, it got me where I was trying to go.

This has been meaningful to me, because it reminds me that even a little fuel can make a difference.

In my spiritual life, I often try to spend time with God to pray, and read the bible and to sing praises. But there are some days, when I feel spiritually dry, as the energy that I started the day with has gone. It is easy to feel depleted and empty.

Yet even just a short time with God can make a difference, where it is an arrow prayer, or going back to a relevant verse, or singing a meaningful song, can revitalise my soul. Even though it is just a wee refill, it can help reconnect with God, and sustain me through my day.

In Ephesians 5:18 Paul writes that we should ‘be filled with the spirit’ and it seems healthy, especially when we feel a bit run down, to just pause and spend some time with God, so we can find our spiritual fuel. Even just a short time, can give us the guidance and energy to complete our journey.

Gracious and Loving God, You give us an abundance of spiritual resources, Your love and truth and grace revealed in Jesus Christ. Yet sometimes we confess that we think we are too busy to stop, and we try to live in our own strength. And then we wonder why we struggle and feel disconnected. Lord Jesus, help us always to make time for you, even if sometimes that is just a spiritual top up. Holy spirit, we welcome you, and ask that we might slow down, so you can fill us, and help us to do Your will, and to fulfil Your living purpose in the world, Amen

The cost of individuality!

A gorgeous dog!

Our dog Gabriel has featured in a few of my posts. He is a lively bundle of energy and affection ( when he is not sleeping).He has also been rehomed, and we have to be careful with him, to keep him safe.

At the moment, we are looking for kennels to take him for a few days, and it has been tough. We have been told he is too nervous and unsettled, and we are still looking for the best place for him, so he can have a wee holiday too.

This has reminded me of the cost of individuality for people, as well as dogs. We like to think that we are welcoming, caring people, but when some- one thinks differently, or behaves in ways we don’t understand, we are often judgemental or dismissive. We justify our own position, by caricaturing another.

My late husband was a war veteran, and because of his epilepsy had some brain disfunction. He could behave strangely or act unexpectedly. He didn’t choose this- it was part of a neurological condition. There were very few who understood this, snd were willing to interact with him, because it was difficult, maybe even scary at times.

I think of all the people who feel that they don’t fit in- the person with a disability, the person whose trust was broken, the one who struggles to connect. It feels like there are many who feel rejected, misunderstood or belittled. As a society, we need to ponder on how to be. How can we include and affirm those who feel broken or different?

I think of Jesus, and his way of including and valuing everyone. ” while Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him.’ Mark 2:15

I pray for a community where all are valued, a church where all are welcomed, a world where love and healing are valued more than power and greed. It is just a dream, but the more rejection and hurt I see, the more urgent the dream becomes. Thy kingdom come indeed…..

Father God, you have made every human being in Your image. We have rebelled against You, and we let You down, and hurt one another. Forgive us. Lord Jesus, you know what it is like to be rejected, even though you did not deserve this. Teach us, by your holy spirit, to see people through your eyes, and to show love and compassion, even when it is hard. Lord Jesus, You invited everyone to come to your table, and there was a place for all. May we in turn, make space in our hearts and lives for others, to they can find grace and acceptance and hope, Amen.

Dustbin lorries bring hope!

Letting go

My bins are all full, but my house is full too. Despite my best efforts, there seems to be ‘stuff’ everywhere. And worse than this, the stuff symbolises memories, events and people. Many of these are good, but some are sad or poignant.

I have a number of black bags in the house, which I am categorising as being ‘ in transit’. They are no longer meant to be in the house, but the bin is full, so I wait for the bin lorry to come soon. ( even though I recycle what I can!)

This might all sound very trivial, but the decluttering symbolises my cry to God to cleanse my soul too. We have so many memories, sometimes that haunt us, and that we try to bury. But actually we need to take them out into the light, and to look at them, and ask God to heal us. Sometimes we need to forgive, or sometimes to ask forgiveness. And then to let them go. And it has to happen one memory at a time- such a painstaking process, but it is the only way to make space, and to find peace.

Readings from Ecclesiastes 3 figure largely in my life just now- there is a time for everything, amongst others, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to be silent, and a time to speak.

This seems to be a time of cleansing, of letting go, of making space. But it is painful. To make space means to let go of old ways and assumptions, and to embrace new ways forward. And the new way is not always clear, and it is easy to take a wrong turn. And then I have to forgive myself, and seek God’s strength to find the right path.

Every now and again, I catch a glimpse of what space and freedom feels like. It could be receiving an act of kindness or being understood, or a moment of peace. And it is such a revelation, a moment of integration, and of communion with God. Breathtaking and inspirational momentary solace. And then it is back to looking at the black bags again. They are on their way out- honest…….

Gracious God, in this season of Lent, we are more aware of our shortcomings, and of the darkness within. We confess our struggles once more, our desire to hang on to stuff from the past, because its familiarity brings comfort. Lord Jesus, show us what you desire of us this day. We trust that You still have a good purpose for our lives. Holy spirit, reveal to us the truth about ourselves, cleanse us from all that weighs us down, and heal our sorrow. Thankyou that You understand our frustration, for letting go is such slow and painful work. May we have a loving community around us, to support us in our healing process, Amen

So fed up feeling helpless!

Sorting things out?

It has been raining much of the day. It feels like it has been raining in my soul too. It is easy to feel downcast- the news from the Ukraine is searingly awful, along with news from Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and so many other places. I feel pretty helpless.

It seems a common theme. Today I went through some old papers of my late husband’s, and it just felt overwhelmingly sad. Rereading diaries, reawakening old memories and wounds. It was depressing.

There are so many times in life when we feel helpless. I remember when I had broken a bone in my foot, and I had made a doctor’s appointment asking for a ground floor appointment. Of course when I got there, it was an upstairs room that was allocated. I sat on the bottom stair,so frustrated, and thinking I am going to have to crawl, which is going to be just a bit undignified, but there was nothing else to be done.

Maybe this is a season of helplessness. Lent is the time when we think of Jesus alone in the desert, resisting temptation. It feels like a time of confronting reality, and it is so stark.

And yet, when we feel helpless, we know that Jesus is walking with us. Just as he came alongside Cleopas and his dejected friend on the road from Jerusalem, Jesus comes alongside us, and somehow we find strength.

We might feel helpless, but it is not the truth. When faced with the violent darkness of war, we keep praying for peace and doing what we can. When I reread old journals, there are some lighter memories also. When I was stuck at the bottom of the stairs, some one switched rooms, so I could have a downstairs appointment. It was just a struggle, but these moments of despair passed.

When we feel under pressure, or unable to do much, we remember God’s words to us: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you. I will strengthen you, I will help you. I will hold you with my right hand.” Isaiah 41:10

Gracious God, these feel like dark days, where we feel helpless to combat all the sadness and suffering in the world, whether personally or internationally. Lord Jesus, please come along side us, and through your loving presence may we find strength. May your holy spirit remind us that we are not powerless, for with You nothing is impossible. Help us to wait upon you, and to pray and to trust, and to know that help is on the way, Amen

Why are the birds singing?

Perhaps like many people, I have had some difficulty sleeping in the last few weeks. I have often heard bird song about 5am- I think maybe a persistent blackbird singing enthusiastically away!

Recent weeks have been tough. In our local community there has been so much heartbreak and sadness. There have been many tears.

Internationally, the invasion of the Ukraine, under the orders of President Putin has caused so much heartache that I can only watch in small doses. The fighting and casualties, the suffering of students abandoning their studies and taking up arms, the shelling of civilians, bewildered, crying children, families separated and so many refugees on the move with only the clothes they stand in. We pray and do what we can, but feel so very helpless and despairing.

So at 5am, my question is often, why are the birds still singing? Do they not know what is happening, that so much sorrow and sadness has engulfed the earth?

And yet, maybe they sing at dawn, because they trust that after the darkness of night, the sun will still rise. After the cold and the dampness, the warmth of the sun will still transform the landscape. After the long hours of sleeplessness, there is still possibilities of rest.

The verse from psalm 126 is true: ‘ Those who reap in tears, will reap with songs of joy’.

It is true, but not always our experience right now. The faces of the sick, the stressed, the traumatised, the terrified are right in front of us. We cannot forget. We should not forget. Our feelings of anger and disgust at the pain of unjust conflict and injustice is lasting. But we hope that eventually one day it might be different. It might be in heaven itself, but one day there will be peace. And meantime there is hope, and that is why the birds sing.

Gracious God, sometimes the suffering and evil in this world weighs heavily upon us, and we despair. Yet we remember that You, Lord Jesus, faced the powers of darkness on the cross, and that forgiveness and love overcame. When the world seems so dark, please send your holy spirit, to remind us that the light still shines. And when we hear the song of the birds, may this bring hope to this broken and weary world, and make we stubbornly resolve each day to pray and work for peace, Amen.