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

The joy of photographs!

Light and space!

Lockdown seems to be lasting a long time- what an understatement this is! We know it is needed, to get the rates of virus transmission down, but it seems a bit endless, well actually completely endless.

It is a time of hibernation- when we are in a dormant state, everything seems slowed down, and going out to walk in the cold and rain can lose its appeal. It would be easy to feel a little down.

I am so impressed by people who have taken up knitting, done an on line course and learned a new language in lockdown! Such amazing self discipline and focus are needed.

One thing that can be remarkably beneficial, is to open up some old photo albums. Electronically stored photos are good too, but don’t quite have the same feel. Everytime you turn the page, you find a plethora of experiences, journeys and memories. They are mixed of course, sometimes people look a bit grumpy, and other times a moment of pure joy is captured- a night out with friends, a family holiday, an unexpected fun day out. Looking through photos, I am reminded of birthday meals, talking with dolphins, that trip to Moscow, swimming at Florida beaches, sunsets in Cyprus. I am reminded of all the ways that I am blessed.

I would encourage everyone to look at old photos. They remind us of family and friends, times of being together. They remind us of places we have traveled too, and the experience of different cultures and landscapes. They remind us of the richness of the lives that we have led.

God has blessed us, He watches over us in days of heartache,  He gives us days of song, He inspires us with His word, He reminds us of beauty  even out of ashes. We just need a little reminding at times.                                

     ‘I will praise you, O Lord, with all of my heart’   Psalm 9:1    

Dear God, in lockdown, we often live much of our life within four walls, which can seem pretty claustrophobic. We cry to You to help us, when we feel hemmed in, and ask that You remind us of the freedom of your holy spirit. Lord Jesus, forgive us that we have short memories of the joys of past days. Give us patience, thankful hearts, and a desire to connect and bless others in safe but thoughtful ways. Thankyou that your love is never restricted, but is unlimited at reaching each one of us, wherever we are, Amen.

Peace beyond understanding.

Deep rest.

There are so many sad and disturbing things going on in the world just now, it can be hard to be still. There is too much to make our minds race, and to disturb our equilibrium. The number of people unwell, especially ill with covid 19 at home and in hospital is difficult to comprehend, and the consequent human misery and loss that is resulting for so many families.

In the midst of all this, it is hard to know how best to pray, I pray for the virus not to spread more, and for healing of those who are sick. But I also want to pray for peace for those who are critically ill.

I am so fortunate, as I am relatively healthy, but in times when I have been unwell, I can remember my body feeling so busy fighting infection, that my mind felt very far from reality, as if everything in the world was so far away, I was actually very peaceful. Ironically it felt like quite a safe place to be, where nothing bothers you, because you are not really thinking. You can hear people and respond in your soul, but not necessarily physically.

I was watching a you tube clip of Joni Eareckson Tada the other day, a woman who recently had covid 19. It is quite a challenging, direct and emotional video, so watch it only if you feel able – a summary is below- https://youtu.be/squAX6lV2Aw        

Joni is quadriplegic, so when she got her diagnosis of covid 19, she thought she would die. She was in hospital, fighting to breathe, when she felt a deep trust in Jesus, and an odd calmness- she knew that whether she lived or died, she was with God, that she was resting in the shadow of the Almighty. And she was at peace. She wants everyone to share this peace of Christ, which is why she shares her experience.

People have different experiences and spiritual understandings, but that resting in the Almighty, that deep peace and trust is surely something that we want people to have. So they are not worried or anxious or fearful, but rather completely at rest.

In Philippians chapter 4, Paul encourages the Christians in Philippi to trust God, to present their requests to Him, and then he says:

‘ and the peace of God, which passes all human understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’ Verse 7

When I feel worried or uncertain, I know I can trust Jesus, and He often shares that sense of peace with me. To be honest, there are still times when I still struggle or am restless. But God wants to bless us with His peace, and that is the gift He longs to share.

May we pray: Lord Jesus Christ, our hearts break over the number of people unwell and dying because of covid 19. We give thanks for all the paramedics and medical staff working with patients, especially in ICU wards, for their medical care and kindness to their patients and their families. Please bless them all, and especially those that are critically ill. May your holy spirit bring to them, that deep peace that passes all understanding, and may they know that whatever happens, that they can find safety in your loving hands, Amen.

Unexpected angels in our midst, even Gabriel!

A Christmassy Gabriel!

Everyone has their own favourite film at Christmas, from Elf, Love Actually and It’s a wonderful life. There are many films to choose from, and it seems important to enjoy them, especially with the latest locdown restrictions announced today. People are so worried about the virus, disappointed about their plans to see loved ones have now been cancelled, concerned about loved ones unwell or having the virus. We need some escapism, to help us to cope.

It’s a wonderful life, is particularly popular, as it reminds us that when we are questioning what our life is all about, that maybe God has used us to accomplish more than we know. Clarence the angel, is maybe not what we imagine angels to be like, but he appears just at the right time to save a life.

There are so many angelic appearances in the bible, and in the Christmas story, Gabriel the angel speaking to Zechariah in the temple, to Mary in the house, to Joseph in a dream. Angels are described as heavenly messangers, that stand in the very presence of God. They do the bidding of God, answering prayer, intervening in situations, revealing God’s will.

Especially in these days of difficult death statistics, restrictions and isolation, we pray for God to send His angels into this world- to remind the lonely person that they are not alone, to visit the despairing person in a hospital bed or prison cell, to remind that bereaved person or traumatised child that God wants to comfort them.

On the hillside, the angels praised God amongst the shepherds, and brought news of great joy for all people, for a Saviour was born to bring glory to God, and peace on earth. The purity of angels praising God must have been inspirational.

I believe that God still sends divine messengers to this earth, to encourage, to guide the lost, to be with the dying. Sometimes God might choose the most unlikely people to fulfil His purposes, unexpected angels are all around. And this brings us hope.

We know that in the new year, the various vaccines will be rolled out, and that this will make a difference. We know that these restrictions will not last forever. We know that the number of people ill with the virus will gradually lessen. There is much to be hopeful about.

Right now, as we look at the dark nights, and the rain drops rolling down the window pane, it is easy to feel down. May we know that God has not deserted His people, and that the angels still sing. May we notice the angels in our midst, the prayers said, the acts of kindness around, and may this strengthen us, and remind us that there are better days to come.

May we pray. Eternal Father, news of a new more spreadable variant of the virus, is hard to hear, and the new restrictions have curtailed so many plans to meet up at Christmas. Help us to remember that the first Christmas was tough too, a long journey, a birth of a child in less than ideal circumstances. Yet God provided for the holy family, and He provides for us today. Holy spirit, help us notice the angels in our midst, the heavenly singing, the prayer, the acts of kindness. And may we find peace, trusting in You, Amen 🙏

Finding freedom!

Flying in the light.

At this time of coronovirus and lockdown restrictions, life can seem a bit heavy. In the west of Scotland, we are not to leave our houses unless it is necessary, and it can feel a bit as if we are in prison, unable to do the things we would normally do, to meet up with friends, or go to the theatre.

In comparison with many, we are so fortunate. We are not in a refugee camp in Kenya, or in prison for our faith. We have so many things to be grateful for.

I suppose this is where perspective comes in. It is so easy to focus on the things that we cannot do, and be downcast. However God calls us to focus on what is possible, and the choices we can make.

For people who are carers though, I think this is a particularly tough season. Many support services have been cut, day centres and respite opportunities are often closed or limited. Caring for a loved one with mental health issue, a chronic condition or a disability, can be exhausting at the best of times, a 24 hour a day job. Listening in the night to meet the needs of some one who is ill, or might wander, means that feeling of never being able to relax for a second.

When I was looking after Colin, I could never anticipate his needs, or when I should be involved. He was proud and independent- he often didn’t want help. He resented it. Yet on occasion, intervention seemed the lesser of two evils. So hard, as a spouse, to deliver person centred care, and to ensure his dignity. For many carers, your anticipation of risk, means you can’t rest, because you are seeking to keep everyone safe.

If we are feeling trapped, whether because of personal circumstances or covid restrictions, the Christian faith can make such a difference. There is a beautiful verse: ‘ where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ 2 Corinthians 3: 17

We are reminded that God releases us from our chains, He heals the broken hearted, He puts the lonely in families, He lifts up those who are down. He gives strength, insight and patience when it is needed. God is so tender hearted towards His children- He sees our struggles, and comes alongside us, to release us from what binds us, and to set us free. Our spirits can dance and soar, even in the midst of burdens and cares.

And so, dear friend, whatever might be weighing on your spirit, I pray that you can find freedom in the Holy spirit of God, who cleanses and heals us, and inspires us and brings life.

Let us pray, Lord God, at times our burdens are so heavy, we feel weighed down and trapped. But Lord Jesus, You shine your light into our darkness. You forgive our shortcomings, You open our eyes to the beautiful, the small acts of kindness. Holy spirit of God, bring us to a place of freedom, where we can soar like the eagle, and enjoy the exhilaration of the fresh air and the warmth of the sunshine. May we always know an inner freedom, that enables us to be, and to have space and identity. Help us to appreciate and explore this freedom, Amen.

Changing colours of autumn.

This weekend, the weather has been glorious, and the colours rich and vibrant. The soft autumn sunshine, azure skies and soft clouds floating by are idyllic. The sun has been surprisingly warm, and if you find a sheltered spot, it is like being touched by the love of God.

Yet the message of all of this, is that the seasons are changing, that the leaves are starting to turn, and then to fall, sometimes gently, sometimes in a stormy frenzy of whirl.

Autumn brings hope, because it reminds us that change can be beautiful. As human beings, we often seem stuck, stuck in grief or trauma or illness. We get used to it, and forget that there is another way to live.

Jesus was always on the move, going to different places, meeting new people, praying, challenging people as to how they could follow him. He was never static. So we too are called to be open to learning, to explore our creativity, to deepen our spirituality, to be fashioned into the very image of Christ. The Holy spirit is ever at work within us.

When we enjoy the changing autumn colours, I think God is also inviting us to change- to somehow find deeper healing from the past, and the courage to move on. This seems to be slow, painstaking work. We complain as the leaves fall, as there is so much to let go of, regrets, old patterns of thinking, difficult memories, dark hurts. Yet if the tree lies bare for a winter, by spring there is new life, new growth, new colour.

For all those entranced by the melancholy beauty of autumn, may we allow God to search our souls, guide our thoughts, to help us to choose wisely, to establish a new rhythm of life. It might be a painful transition involving reflection and self awareness, but my prayer for all of us, is that we are able to keep going forward

Let us pray, Lord Jesus, we strive to go forward, to move on from the past, but unbidden memories can force their way to the surface. Cleanse us by your holy spirit, and give us the vision of better things that are to come, of new growth and energy. And on days when it just seems too hard, may we just rest in the warmth of your love, and find your gift of deep, healing peace in your rays of light. Thankyou Father God, that we can rest with you, to marvel at Your beauty, and be in communion with You, Amen.

When to take off the mask?

We have got used to wearing masks!

In these covid 19 influenced days, we are getting used to wearing masks in many situations- shops, dentists, churches etc. We know that this helps prevent the spread of the virus to others, so it is so worthwhile, even if its a bit uncomfortable.

However, in our society, it feels as if most of us are wearing a mask of some sort that prevents people seeing who we are, not just physically, but spiritually. When asked how we are, we often say that we are fine, when we feel anything but. We are often editing information to share with others, so we don’t say too much.

The American pastor Rick Warren says this: ‘ wearing a mask wears you out. Faking it is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.’

The kind of mask Rick is talking about, is a mask that we hide behind, that stops others knowing who we truly are. We often like to pretend that our life is going better than it is, that our job is great, that our relationships are harmonious, that we are in a good place. We often don’t want to make ourselves look vulnerable to others by saying that we are in debt, or are wrestling with self doubt or depressed, or struggling as a parent. We don’t know how people will react, and so we tend to hide.

We can all wear a mask, but at times, the weight of keeping up the pretense is overwhelming and destructive. Sometimes the secret is too big, when it comes to illness or addiction or domestic abuse. I think that some families of veterans know this pressure, because they are trying to pretend that everything is going OK, rather than admit that their much loved person has destructive behaviours. People try to be loyal, little knowing that becoming a codependent is not going to do good for anyone in the long run.

In John’s gospel chapter 8, Jesus says: “you are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” v 31 and 32.

Pretending to be what we are not, is a stressful burden. It is often driven by fear and insecurity. If I tell the truth, will people still respect me, will they still talk to me? It is such a strain to live with. The amazing thing us that God knows the truth about us, even our most dark secrets, and He still loves us. How incredible is that? And being able to be real with God in prayer, helps us to find that freedom we crave. Freedom to admit the truth, however difficult, and even to get the support that is needed.

For many people, struggling under the strain of pretending, please trust your worries to God. He will not reject you or abandoned you, rather He looks upon you with love and grace. He shows compassion on the weary and the hurting, and seeks to guide us, and to help us. God can be trusted!

I understand a little of this, as telling Colin’s story has been one of the hardest thing I have ever done, and at times people don’t like what I am saying. Yet being authentic, is the only way I can come to terms with all that has happened, and to seek to heal, and to find a new way forward. The truth is setting me free, although it us a gradual process, and I am so impatient.

So we might need to keep our covid preventative mask on, but to take our soul mask off. We have to ask God for wisdom, to discern if there are people we can trust to do this with. Being honest is such a relief, and helps us find our healing. My prayer is that each of us reaches out for help when we need it. May God give us courage, and bless us all with that loving friend or safe person that we can talk to, let us pray.

Gracious God, You are Loving, a God of integrity and grace, look upon your children with mercy, for we tie ourselves in knots with pretence and lies, and self doubt. Lord Jesus, give us courage to tell you the truth about our past, about our struggles, and to find the forgiveness and healing we seek. Holy spirit where you dwell there is freedom. Free us, and our loved ones from lies and deception, and help us find the support that us most needed. In Jesus’ name, Amen

‘ the banality of evil’

Eating the apple- it looked delicious!

Recently I watched the 2012 film ‘ Hannah Arendt’. It was a film about the political theorist covering the 1962 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichman, and one of the phrases she uses as she watches the trial is ‘ the banality of evil’. She is asking questions about who is responsible when things go wrong, and bureaucrats argue that they were just following orders.

It reminded me of a deeply troubling book I read many years ago ‘ people of the lie’ by Scott Peck. He spoke of case studies he had been involved in, where all the family members seemed ‘ nice’ on the outside, but at times had deeply damaged others by verbal manipulations and a basic denial of their humanity. It could be subtle, but people often lied, consciously or unconsciously, and this could cause devastating harm to others

It made me think about how trauma and harm can be not just big dramatic events, but a hundred small things. Things that can seem petty, but have a cumulative effect. When I listened to Colin talking about his days in the military, the damage was not just from the horrendous acts of violence, but also from small seemingly insignificant details, that became deeply symbolic of the emotional cost of what took place.

For Eve in the garden of Eden, we are told that she had complete freedom to do anything, except eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And the serpent knew how to tempt her, to distort what God said, and she saw the apple looked delicious. What could be the harm? Just a complete breakdown of trust.

We are all rebellious, we all make mistakes, and the logical consequence of this, is that we all contribute to the darkness in the land. Everytime we verbally put some one down, we don’t challenge injustice, we collude with untruths, we are part of the problem.

Sometimes when we look at conflict and war in the world, we think it doesn’t affect us, as it is geographically far away. Yet the interconnectedness of international relations, means that there is usually an element of responsibility somewhere, in terms of our history, influence, selling of weapons and financial interests. We often turn away from any responsibility to get involved, and that has consequences.

I don’t want to make you feel down, but maybe we all need to reflect on our own contribution to misunderstanding, conflict and institutional evil. We need to discern when to speak out, to challenge the corporate giant, the corrupt government, to be willing to pray, to lobby, to speak. We have a responsibility to do so. Even if one situation was influenced to do something better, that would be so worthwhile.

Let us pray, and choose to act.

Dear God, You are Good and Holy, and we are so rebellious and selfish, often choosing to protect ourselves, at the cost of others, choosing to be blind to the consequences. Lord Jesus, forgive our pride and lies and self interest, in our relationships, whether intimate or international. Open our eyes to your truth, and give us courage to act. Holy spirit, keep us from temptation, help us not to compromise with the ways of the world,and help us speak out for Your kingdom values. May we not collude with evil, but choose to always walk in the light, for Your glory’s sake, Amen.

The anguish of war movies.

Under fire

When I first wanted to start understand my late husband Colin better, as well as listening to his military experiences, we watched some war movies together. This was to give me more insight as to what war could feel like.

Over time, we watched movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse now, Letters from Iwo Jima. At the time, I felt this was really useful, helping me realise the confusion, brutality, senselessness and anguish of violence and conflict. Another film that was particularly memorable and disturbing was Jacob’s  ladder, thinking of the delusions and sheer hell of war.

Whilst these films enabled us to talk through issues of war, justice, the horror of impossible choices, the loss of humanity involved in battle, I think they often retramatised my husband rather than helped him. They reminded him of duty, comradery and courage, but also reinforced all the nightmares of darkness and pain and questioning.

At this point in time, I can’t  bear to watch any of these movies any more. They just speak to me of the senselessness and savagery of combat, which brings overwhelming sorrow and anguish. The cries of the wounded and maimed seem to echo forever in my head.

And so I look to Jesus for guidance. Our Saviour personally experienced the worst cruelty and violence of humanity, yet His love was never diminished or tarnished. He kept forgiving, was full of goodness, kept working for an eternal kingdom of truth, goodness, justice and peace.

In different seasons of our lives, different things are helpful. Films, plays, books can all remind us of the moral complexities of conflict, their longlasting and often devastating impact on individuals and communities. There are theological and philosophical challenges as to what constitutes a ‘ just war’. Having any understanding or insight into each context, helps us pray and campaign and protest, as our conscience leads us.

I am struck by the extent to which I felt, and can still feel as if I was in some of these military conflicts with my husband, because of all the memories he shared. PTSD is not just experienced by veterans, but also often by their families. This vicarious trauma, is because of their exposure to repeated stories and re enactments of violence and suffering.

My concern therefore is that veterans and their families get the support they need to work through these traumas, and find a self worth, understanding, healing and peace. These can come through various trauma therapies, and ultimately from Jesus Christ, as our Healer and the Lover of our souls.

Meantime, we also need to find balance, by focusing on the good, the brightness of sunshine, the joy of a pet, the taste of a good meal, the encouragement and prayers of a friend, the inspiration of the Holy spirit.

I remember the words from Philippians chapter 4, where Paul writes: ‘finally dear friends, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy- think about such things’. As a corollary to thinking of the darkness and barbarism of humanity, we need to remember the light and beauty and nobility, and so these words speak to my soul.

Let us pray, Dear Father God, you look upon us with the mercy and kindness of a beloved parent. On this earth, we fight and squabble, we often loose sight of our humanity, we use torture and violence all to easily, especially in times of conflict and war. Lord Jesus, please forgive us, heal us, restore our humanity, bless our veterans and families, and give us wisdom as to when war is ever necessary. Holy spirit, help us to notice the good, the pure, the lovely things in our midst, and to find our peace, Amen