Circle of prayer

Storm clouds looming.

I was out for a walk on a beautiful calm reflective day, when the water was like crystal. However in the distance storm clouds were moving, and soon were overhead bringing a deluge of rain. The contrast between the dark menacing clouds and the softness of the light on the water was dramatic.

I think this is a metaphor for our lives- where there can be so much beauty and light, but there are also threatening things on the horizon- pressures and worries about finance, health and the wellbeing of others. We always seem to be walking a line between light and darkness, good and evil.

When I was mulling on this, I remembered the old celtic form of prayer, encircling prayers, where we pray for a person or situation to be encircled in the love and care of God. It seems such a powerful way of praying in a life where there is so many disturbing and unsettling news.

There are so many verses in the bible that are prayers for protection against danger.

‘ Have mercy on me O God, for in you my soul takes refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings till danger has passed’ Psalm 57:1

‘ The Lord will fight for you- you need only be still.’ Exodus 14:4

Just knowing that on difficult days, God is protecting us, and even fighting on our behalf is such an encouragement. We need to trust, and stay close to Jesus.

Circle me Lord, when the storm clouds roll in, Lord Jesus, keep protection within, and danger afar, when life feels disturbing, keep peace within, and dissension away. Lord Jesus, encircle us in your light, and love and beauty. Holy spirit, may we find shelter in the storm, encircle us in your care and keeping till the morning light breaks, and all is calm and tranquil. Then may we give thanks, and seek to go on our path of doing your will once again, with trust and confidence, Amen.

Extraordinary peace.

A butterfly basking in the sunshine!

Over a very emotional weekend, I had the opportunity to sit in the warm sunshine for a while. And while I was there, a stunning butterfly came and landed on my knee. It was just enjoying the warmth.

It sat there for about 20 minutes, and this was so good for both of us! Being still was so healing in itself, and having this beautiful creature to study was all absorbing. From the movement of the antennae to the fluttering of its wings, it was so interesting. It seemed so fragile, yet it had such a strong life force, choosing to sit in the sun.

Not to be dramatic, but it felt like a gift from God! A time of gratitude and awe and stillness that I really needed, a gift of peace and wonder, that has stayed with me, and given me strength.

I remember the verse from Philippians 4:19 ‘God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus.’ God is so often gracious, and blesses us with an encouragement and inspiration, just when we need it. May God meet the needs of all of us, when we cry to Him, and may we receive His message of love.

Gracious Creator God, we so easily become downhearted and unsettled, weary from too much sadness. Even in bleak times, open our eyes to the beauty around us. Lord Jesus, grant us moments of such awe and wonder, that we find healing and deep peace. Holy spirit, may we each receive the blessing You have for us, and find renewal and strength for each day, Amen.

Mystery in prayer!

To be honest, so many questions!

To my great surprise, I have had some answered prayer this week- a person came forward at just the right moment, another person was really encouraging, and a family member had a positive medical appointment. I am deeply humbled at some really lovely outcomes.

It made me realise however, sometimes when I pray, I just don’t know what to expect. I know that I pray to the King of all the universe, and that God delights in hearing his children. I know that God is good and loving, that He loves justice and is merciful. I know that nothing is impossible for God.

And yet my experience is that sometimes when I have prayed desperately for some one to be healed, or for a particular direction in my life, it has not worked out. Maybe healing for some one, is sometimes the healing that is in death- no more crying or pain. Sometimes too, in retrospect for some prayers, I am glad that God did not bring them to pass, for I was in danger of going in the wrong direction.

Yet it is so hard. There is so much mystery in prayer, so much that we don’t understand. It can really hurt, when what we prayed for seemed so reasonable. I was rereading some of Philip Yancey’s book ‘ Prayer’ and on page 239 he reminds his readers of Paul’s words ‘now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then ( in God’s nearer presence) we shall see face to face.’ 1 Corinthians 13: 12

We are so conscious that we only understand things in part. There is so much that makes no sense. The book of Job articulates this theme so well, when Job faces so many disasters in his life, but somehow can still say ‘ I know that my Redeemer lives’ Job 19:25. He trusted even when he didn’t understand.

This is my prayer for all of us today, that whatever our situation, whatever our story and our struggles, that we still able to trust God, to know that His love for us is unchanging, even when He seems far away. God is faithful, even when we doubt, and He is loving and forgiving, even when we cannot feel it. In the middle of doubt, questioning, and even anger, may we know that God never gives up on us, and always offers us a way back to Him.

Gracious and Loving God, we are so thankful for your perfect nature, Your goodness, and mercy and grace. We thankyou for your love in Jesus Christ, supplying all our needs. At times You answer our prayers in ways we recognise, and we are so grateful. At other times we are hurt and bewildered at how life turns out, and in danger of becoming bitter. Holy spirit, cleanse us of anger and resentment, and restore out faith in You. Even in the mystery of our prayer lives, speak to us of Your constancy and faithfulness, and enable us to trust, even when we do not understand, and even to find peace, Amen.

Windows to the soul!

There is an old saying that your eyes are the windows to the soul. It is amazing when you meet someone what their eyes tell you- they can speak of heartache or worry or joy or wonder, just by being.

My beautiful friend has dementia- some one I have known for such a long time. She has forgotten most things, and needs extra care to keep her safe. It is so gut wrenching to see her like this, and I have to screw up my courage to visit.

But when I get there, all I can see is her eyes, all I can feel is her spirit. Her Christian faith shines from her, and the holy spirit dwells within her. We can sing hymns together, and she tells me verses from the bible, even though she doesn’t know where she is. And her eyes sparkle and speak of such a deep love, that I weep every time. In her presence, I feel the presence of Christ, the product of a life time of prayer and obedience. It is so humbling, and so beautiful.

In Matthew 6:22 it says ‘ the eye is like a lamp, that provides light for the body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is healthy’ and this seems so true. My dear friend gives testimony to this every day. The light of Christ is in her body, mind and soul, and His love radiates from her. A poignant blessing.

Gracious God, thankyou for the way your light shines, and the darkness cannot put it out. Thankyou that even when people are unwell with illnesses or dementia, that Your love for them can still be seen in the tender aspect of their eyes. It is so deeply moving. Lord Jesus, in a society where so many have memory problems, teach us to be respectful, and to support and care for vulnerable people in the community or in care homes. Help us keep them safe. And may your holy spirit always be at work in their lives, so they know they are loved and treasured. Bless all those who care for a vulnerable loved one this day, grant them patience and wisdom, in Jesus name, Amen.

A seal at the beach!

Spotting the seal?

I was swimming in the sea today- so wonderful and almost warm. And in the water was a seal- he was about 50 metres away, but round the beach the cry went up’ there’s a seal!!!’ and everyone was so excited, not just the small children. It was like we had never seen one before. ( I didn’t get a picture, as it was a bit wet).

Seals are amazing creatures- they have such a rounded head, and move so gracefully in the water. What I notice about them is their desire to play! On so many occasions at Millport in the past, they have followed me along the beach, almost playing peekaboo, every time I turned round to look at them. They are comical in their interactions.

This reminds me of the importance of play. Play between adults and children, can help children feel safe, help them to voice how they are feeling, and strengthen relationships. I came across ‘ Theraplay’ and just love how simple it is and how effective. It is about creating positive relationships in fun ways. It sounds simple, but is really profound, and can bring healing to children who are struggling or unsettled.

After all these years of trauma and pandemic, it feels like we need to learn to play again. The sunshine helps, and whether it is making sandcastles or paddling in the sea, moments when we are absorbed in fun things, are so relaxing and healing. Tensions leave us, and we laugh again.

It is amazing that Jesus Himself, in the midst of his ministry, made time to be with children, and surely to play. There is an innocence and pure joy in children, that reminds us all that play is indeed essential for our wellbeing. We need more playing!

Gracious Father God, You take delight in your children, and love to see us enjoying Your Creation. Thankyou for days of sunshine, and animals and birds and fish that bring us joy. Lord Jesus you remind us that even when there is so much going on in life, playing is a blessing, sharing fun and laughter, and building relationships. Please forgive us for times when we are so serious, and heavy in heart, that it seems as if we shoulder the cares of the world. Holy spirit, we commit the people and places that we worry about, to Jesus in prayer. And we give thanks for lighter joyful moments, when we can play and laugh, and find the deep healing we need, Amen

So many spiritual casualties.

I have been travelling, and loved it. Recently I watched some swallows going in and out of a nest, so graceful in their flight, playing and dancing and darting about. They looked so free, and their nest was the centre of the action.

A swallow ready to fly!

It reminded me of the verse in the psalms, in psalm 84 about God’s house; ‘ the bird has found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young.’ Psalm 84 talks about how the house of God can be a place of the presence of God, a place of safety and worship.

It got me thinking however, about how many people have not found the church to be like this. Over the years I have met so many people who have been let down by the church, and hurt by the people in it.

I know some people find me difficult, and I apologise to anyone who I have hurt, or forgotten something important. I am so very human, and I grieve over mistakes I have made.

Church families are very human too. Often we are trying our best, but when personalities disagree, or there is conflict, we sometimes forget the ways of Christ, to pray, to talk, to seek forgiveness, to be peacemakers. And even when we try, sometimes with the best will in the world it doesn’t work out. We don’t know each other’s stories, we can judge the other harshly but excuse ourselves. And it is so very painful.

Whatever happens in a church, the most important thing is that we know that God’s love for us is unchanging, that He looks at us with eyes of mercy, and that because of Jesus Christ He forgives us for our faults, and welcomes us into His family. God is always faithful, He does not turn us away. He welcomes us with open arms. And this never changes

Gracious God, Your house in meant to be a place of safety, love and blessing. Forgive us when it becomes a place of hurt and pride and judgement. Forgive us when we hurt others or turn them away. Teach us to live differently. Lord Jesus bind up the wounds of the spiritual casualties around us, people who feel rejected and unvalued from experiences in churches. Holy spirit please be at work in our churches and communities to that people know how much You love them, and that they can find healing and peace in You. May every person have an encourager alongside, to remind them that they are seen and loved, for Lord Jesus, this is why You came, Amen.

Loch Lomond saints!

Resting place of St Kentigerna?

Sometimes we travel to discover new cultures and ways of being, but we neglect what can be closest to us.

A number of years ago, we had a church pilgrimage to Luss to see the celtic cross in the glebe there, and to remember St Kessog. St Kessog came from Ireland, and founded a monastery on the island of Inchtavannach near Luss. He introduced Christianity in the area, and died in 520AD. It is quite moving to realise this very early Christian influence in the area, and for me it adds to the feeling of being a sacred place. Loch Lomond feels like a place of retreat and of solace, a place with a history of prayer.

Today, I visited the island of Inchcailloch. To my shame, I had never been there before. Of the 22 islands in Loch lomond, it is the island nearest Balmaha. You can walk around it, it has a beach and ruined farm. But it also has an old graveyard and the remains of a church, where St Kentigerna is meant to gave been buried in 733AD. Inchcailloch means island of old women, or of nuns. It is certainly at the very least an ancient Christian site. It is a very beautiful and peaceful place.

My visit reminded me of the celtic Christian appreciation of nature, of the seasons and the tides, the moon and the sun. There is a deep appreciation of creation, of thin places and thresholds, of the importance of pilgrimage and blessing, even in the mundane things of daily life. The landscape around loch lomond, of hills and islands and quiet beaches and glens speaks of God’s creativity and glory.

In Psalm 19 it says ‘ the heavens declares the the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims the work of His hands’. In many places on this earth, that is particularly felt.

The words of the ancient celtic blessing seems so appropriate:

May the road rise up to meet you, May the wind always be at your back May the sun shine warm upon your face May the rain fall soft upon your fields, And until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Gracious God, thankyou for the early apostles and followers of Jesus, who took the gospel message to new lands, people like St Ninian and St Mungo, St Kessog and St Kentigerna. We are grateful for their resolution, even when travelling through hostile and difficult landscapes. May we remember their stories, and remember that so many places have sacred histories. Holy spirit, on our pilgrimage though life, may we be attentive to these places, and the very presence of God, and be filled with humility and praise, Amen.

Kelp, causeways and inspiring young people.

Uist reflections!

I love travelling- it broadens my mind, and is a brilliant way to learn. It is great to be up here in Uist, and to spend time just being. It seems to be a land of picturesque stone causeways connecting different islands, and amazing colours and intricate patterns of kelp on the beaches.

Swirls of colours!

The landscape is stunning, even in the mist and dreich, grey skies. There are machairs full of wild flowers, beaches of white sand and kelp, and wildlife galore. Today I saw a majestic white tailed eagle, otters and red deer, and seals lazing on rocks, and they were all amazing.

I have learned much of the history of the place, from archaeological finds ( Kilphedar Kate) to stories about crofting and the clearances. The uses for kelp, eg dried out and used for bedding, are so varied. Such a hard life, making a living from the landscape, land or sea.

Something quite unexpected has been arriving during a Gaelic summer school, – Ceolas. Listening to traditional Gaelic tunes and songs has been very moving, even though I haven’t always known what they are about! Such a rich heritage, snd so encouraging to see so many young people involved.

One of the things I have so appreciated is listening to young people. The young people coming to Ceolas, full of enthusiasm and talent, eager to learn. And other young people who just love the animals and landscape here, and are brilliant advocates to help others appreciate Uist. There has been a lyrical kindness in so many people’ s souls, it has been a pleasure to be here.

I also really appreciated Andrew my son and Lauren, who came to get me when my car broke down on the way to Mallaig. I then set off in a different car, which unbelievably even for me, also broke down ( just for the record it was nothing to do with my driving). And then he and Lauren drove me to Mallaig in the middle of the night- so I wouldn’t miss my ferry. A very stressful start, but he was a superhero!

For all those amazing young people who quietly help others out, and try to make the world a better place- a blessing from Numbers 6:

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

Gracious God, sometimes we listen to the tv and our spirits are heavy because of all the difficult and negative news. Lord Jesus, enlarge our vision, and remind us of all the good in the world, the richness of different cultures, the wild beauty of island landscapes, the generosity and kindness of many, especially our young people. Holy spirit, may we appreciate them, and encourage them, and pray for them in the midst of the pressures of the world. Thankyou for all the ways You inspire us each day, Amen.

Learning to be patient!

A traffic jam in Uist!

The weather today has been wet and freezing! I decided to go for a lovely beach walk, which was very memorable. The wind was blowing so strongly the foam from the sea kept blowing into me. It was bracing indeed!

I was so grateful to find my car in the mist in a field, that I failed to notice another little problem, there were cows! Cows and calves, looking super cute, but right in front of the car. I didn’t want to startle them, so I thought I would just sit, and they would move eventually.

Well, dear reader, it took a while. They did keep moving, but not necessarily away. Sometimes it was more towards! And then they would stop, have a chat and a snack, and then form a new configuration right in front of me. It took a long time! By the time I could safely move on, I had names for them……

As I sat there however, I was thankful. I had no schedule or agenda, I didn’t have to be somewhere else. I wasn’t in a hurry. I could just sit in a field of cows, and be content.

Maybe life is meant to be more like this. Listening to people who have come here to Uist, many have come to get away from frantic lifestyles and demanding work schedules. Here the pace of life is much slower, and patience is easier, especially when you are confronted with a herd of cows!

‘ Love is patient, love is kind’ – 1 Corinthians 13. Maybe slowing down, and waiting is good medicine.

God of creation, You are the God of sunshine and cloud, warmth and rain. Every season has its purpose. Thankyou that you teach us to value every encounter with people and creatures, and to seek their wisdom and good. Lord Jesus, You saw the beauty of the lily, and noticed the humble sparrow. Teach us to take time and look after your world in even the smallest ways. Holy spirit, give us patience, that we might cherish the beauty around us, even cows and their calves, and be content, Amen.

‘Collecting moments’

‘This is us”

In recent days, I have had the opportunity to watch the final season of ‘This is us’ a poignant and wonderful series based on the life of the Pearson family. This is one of my favourite shows ever- such beautifully written characters and dialogue, such amazing story lines about what happens in the different generations in the family. The narrative shifts back and forward in time, and we are always learning a little more about why something happened, or the motivation of one of the characters. I am going to miss them all so much. A story about how people love each other in daily life, and about the magical moments which transform and connect.

One of the characters says the following ‘ that’s what we are doing, just collecting these little moments. We don’t recognise them when we’re in them, because we’re too busy looking forward. But then we spend the rest of our lives looking back, trying to remember.’

The show is very life affirming. The characters make mistakes, have difficult choices, and the ripples from what some one does or says, often has long term repercussions. Yet in the midst of it, there is grace and a desire to understand. It is incredibly human and emotional, going from heartbreak to joy and back again in many episodes.

The verse that comes to mind is from Philippians 4 verse 8 ‘ finally sisters and brothers, fix your thoughts on what is true and honourable and right, and pure and lovely and admirable. Think about the things that are excellent and worthy of praise.’

Often we compromise in life, we listen to music or watch stuff on TV that is trash or cruel, just because it is on. And it weighs us down, and can make us think that the whole world is like that. We need to watch stories and listen to music that affirm and inspire, that remind us of what is lovely and admirable, that this transforms and transcends the darker side. The things that are pure and lovely, are part of a revelation of the very being of God, and rather than leaving us dismayed, they lift us up.

For me, this programme reminds me of the intense beauty of connection, of the challenges to forgive, to accept difference, and to savour and appreciate what we have. There is not much talk of formal religion, but there is a deep spirituality and appreciation of life, which can speak to all of us.

Gracious God, forgive us for times when we dwell on the past, or anticipate the future, rather than just being in the moment. Thankyou for the gift of each new day, and the opportunities there are. Lord Jesus, you knew your Father’s will, and you spent time just loving the people around you, the people you met on the road, or over a meal. Holy spirit, grant us the gift of just living in the moment, noticing the beauty, appreciating connection and significance, and savouring all. For Jesus’s name, Amen