Landscape of lament.

A cleit and dwelling places at St Kilda.

I had the privilege of visiting St Kilda this week. It is a group of islands over 40 miles from Uist off the west coast of Scotland, where for thousands of years, people lived in a very harsh enviroment. The group of islands and stacs are stunningly beautiful, with incredible rock formations, a vast and varied colony of birds, including puffins, and the physical remains of a community, who chose to leave in 1930, when the community was no longer viable. When we visited, the cloud was often very low, and it gave it all a very atmospheric and mysterious air.

Walking around the village, you can see the remains of blackhouses (traditional stone cottages from the 1830’s), almost 1,300 cleits ( stone larders), dykes, the church, the factor’s house, graveyard etc. There are sheep everywhere, and you can imagine a little of trying to work the land, looking after the sheep, and capturing birds for harvesting.

Traditionally in Scottish literature, the relationship between humanity and the land is depicted as harsh, think for example of George Mackay Brown, where in ‘The house with the Grem shutters’ rural life is seen as cruel and desolate. Or we might look at Lewis Classic Gibsons ‘ A Scots Quair’, and the changes that war brought to the farming community. People often work hard in all weathers, only for the crops to fail, or financial ruin to strike.

We sometimes have an ideal concept of farming life, but listening to the stories of the people on St Kilda soon dispels this. They were out in the fields in all weathers, and in the evenings spinning and crafting wool, distilling oil for export from birds, making skins into shoes etc, and often living with their animals. Life is depicted as relentless, and yet the people persevered, through illness and little medical support, and terrible storms, when the community were completely cut off. You can’t help but admire their stoicism. And when you visit, you almost here the song of lament in the air, for the loss of so many lives over generations.

Today, we perhaps face different types of adversities and obstacles, sometimes more subtle ones, but they are there- poor health, the loss of work opportunities, the impact of the pandemic, climate change, injustice in our society. We have to try to navigate these, whilst keeping our self respect, and a constructive sense of purpose..

Christians are not exempt from seasons of frustration and hardship. Everyone has to work through difficult stuff. Yet God always encourages people to keep going, and to have hope, even when things are tough.

In Galatians 6:9 it says: ‘let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season, we will reap if we do not give up.’

Creator God, You have made this beautiful world, yet we live in a state of rebellion and disharmony, and it is hard work to care for nature, and to make a living. We give thanks for those who persevere in what seem like impossible circumstances. Sometimes we lament for the pain people experience just trying to put food on the table, and we think of story of the people in St Kilda in the past, and many other places today. Lord Jesus, help us all to work together for a just and fairer world. And when it all seems too much, holy spirit give us courage to persevere, and hope that things can get better, Amen.

After the rain……

Black clouds and then ethereal beauty.

I was fortunate enough to be away for a few days up north. I so appreciated the change from the normal frantic pace of life, to a time of space and light and rest. I was so blessed. The weather was often amazing, but there was a particular day when you could see the black clouds gathering up ahead. There was nothing I could do, but wait for the inevitable rain. The deluge was heavy and torrential and the puddles deep.

However, after the rain, it was magical. There is a softness in the light, and the whole of creation seems to be coated with a reflective shimmer, that adds brilliance to all things. It was magnificent.

Often we question why there is so much suffering in the world, so much heartache and pain. There are no easy answers to these profound wrestlings about meaning and purpose.

Yet often on our journey, we find that after the rain and the sorrow, we develop a patience and a softness to us, that we have learned in the midst of trauma and sadness. We learn what is important, and what really doesn’t matter at all.

The temptation when skies are dark, is to become overwhelmed, to doubt, to become full of self pity or resentment. Why has God allowed this to happen, we shout.

Yet, even in the darkest and coldest experiences, we discover the tender presence of Jesus alongside us, we find a flicker of light, an act of kindness that brings comfort and a deep sense of connection. And these moments transform all things, and help us trust that God is still good.

I was thinking of the verse from Leviticus 26:4 ‘ I will send you rain in season, and the ground will yield its crops, and the trees their fruit.’ Even the rain has a purpose, and can bring new life and growth.

Creator God, You have created a beautiful world of light and shadow, rain and sunshine, heat and cold. Every experience can have significance and purpose, and we learn from each one. Lord Jesus, you teach us that after the most terrifying storm, can come peace, and that after rain can come a deep calm and serenity. Whatever adversity we have faced, or are facing, may your holy spirit help us to find a deeper insight and new perspective, which brings us wisdom which we can share with others, and draws us closer to You, 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.

A convergence of sorrow and love.

Light and shade

In life sometimes there can be the juxtaposition of too many sorrows. The loss of a loved one, of a job, of a dream, all coming at the same time. There are so many things that can cause people to mourn, not just our personal circumstances, but the loss of certainty, a wailing over injustice, a deep sorrow at the state of the world. In this time of pandemic, turbulent international politics and horrendous poverty and injustice, we have so many reasons for sorrow.

Walking in the valley of the shadow can be scary and lonely. There are so many dark places on the path, which are unexpected and unnerving. Yet it is when we are under pressure, that we call out to our Saviour, when we find out what it means to have him walk beside us on that path.

One of my favourite verses is from Isaiah chapter 43: ‘ I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places’. I often ponder what this means, but it seems to be that it is only when everything goes wrong, and you feel overwhelmed, that the beauty of Jesus’s presence can be truly felt and appreciated. Somehow it is only through being in the darkness, that we find out who we really are, and the discover the blessing of God’s grace to us. For He never turns His back on us, and when we are weak, He holds us up, and encourages us each step of the way.

And do there is a convergence of sorrow and love, for it us only in the deepest despair, that we experience the tender and transformative love of God, His Holy spirit refining our characters, so the dross is burned away, and only the gold comes forth. We are changed forever, with such an overwhelming waterfall of love flowing over us, that we are cleansed and strengthened and inspired.

The cross points to this deep truth, because in this place of human cruelty and barbarism and pain, Jesus lived out the love of God, revealing concern for his followers, forgiveness for the sinner, and a trust that he could commit his spirit to His heavenly Father. The cross is the most powerful and moving expression of love, because it is when Jesus is desolate and separated from his heavenly father, we see the extent of his self giving love for all.

This encourages our hearts, for when we are burdened looking after a loved one who is chronically unwell, or when we are struggling with pain and ill health, and life seems colourless and drab, that is when Christ’s presence gives us new strength, when we feel appreciation of a random act of kindness, when we are gently drawn into an experience of love that defies all description. In the darkest moment, God can bring a revelation of His grace, which whispers to our souls a word of peace.

I feel really thankful, that even in my worst days, God was there. Even when it seemed no- one understood, God listened. Even when all seemed lost, God was faithful. We are so blessed.

I remember the words of that great hymn ‘ when I survey the wondrous cross’ and the third verse says this: ‘ see from his head, his hands, his feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down; did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?’

May we pray, Gracious God, we give thanks that even on the most drab and empty days, in the midst of our unmittigating sorrow, You reveal to us the depth of Your love in Christ, that convergence of sorrow and love on the cross, and you meet with us, and through your holy spirit breathe new strength and life into our souls. Your amazing love demands all we have, gladly given in love and service,and so we declare our love and devotion for You anew, Amen.

Beauty healing the soul

Beauty in unexpected places.

Dear friends, what a journey we have all been on – the fears and stresses of covid 19 and Lockdown, and the gradual release of restrictions. And as we begin to reflect on all that has happened, we are gradually realising more of the devastation that has taken place, and the impact of this time on our world, our community, and on us as individuals. The ripples are still gradually spreading outward, and the impact of the loss of freedom, employment, health and precious lives is just beginning to be felt more keenly.

Our Christian faith helps us in times of stress and exhaustion, and it seems important to ask for a summer of rest and restoration, to have time for God to repair the damage to our souls, to heal our broken hearts, to give us space to find our healing and equilibrium. Our lives have been turned upside down, and in this time of fluidity, many of us have questioned what is really a priority in our lives. It is a time of soul searching and of seeking God’s guidance as to the way ahead.

My own experiences are still pretty raw, but I know that many people share these same type of difficult memories and pain, so I wanted to offer a few ways to self care over the summer months, that might help us on our journey.

God provides all we need, and He gives us nurture for our souls, as we read the bible, listen to praise music, and ask Him to speak to our souls – he brings us a Word in season. Worship also reminds us of the bigger eternal persepective, which helps us put our own situation into context. The joy of singing ( by ourselves, and for me, with no-one listening!) enables us to lose ourselves in God’s love.

God inspires us in so many ways through Creation- through the grandour of the hills, the roar of the sea, the babble of a stream – and sooths our souls.

God wants us to take care of our bodies also – the temple of the holy spirit – by eating healthily, taking exercise, and resting.

Sometimes sitting with a blanket, a candle and a journal, can create the space, so we can hear from the Holy spirit, and find our healing and peace.

He lets me rest in green meadows, He leads me beside peaceful streams,

He renews my strength.” Psalm 23: 2 NLT translation

Let us pray – Dear God, all wise and all knowing,

Look upon your children, in our weariness and brokenness,

Lord Jesus, grant us forgiveness and grace, rest and peace,

So we can worship You in the beauty of Your holiness,

And be lost in wonder, love and praise,

And know once more, that all is indeed well, Amen

Meditation 5