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.

Praying in desolate places- finding courage!

Holidaying in Scotland is mixture of experiences, some of colour and vibrancy, but also of mist on bleak grey landscapes.

At times, when you have got soaked yet again, you question the meaningfulness of wilderness experiences. Traipsing through the horizontal rain and squelching mud can be challenging. But then the clouds lift a little, the light changes and you find unexpected beauty that takes your breath away. It is all worthwhile.

Recently I have been reading Brene Brown ‘s ‘ Braving the wilderness’ about having the courage to be your authentic self, even when it might unsettle or offend. Her insights into the vulnerability and empathy and belonging are so very moving, and encourage us all to have the courage to be honest. For me, writing ‘ love song for a wounded warrior’ has felt like telling our story in a wilderness of fear and potential judgement.

I was reading Maya Angelou the other day, and she said ‘ there’s no greater agony than having an untold story within you’ and certainly it can feel like a festering wound. After a while, the fears around telling the story become less than the consequences of not telling it.

The wilderness is often part of a journey. For the Israelites, they were 40 years in the wilderness, learning to rely completely on God before they got to the promised land. For Jesus Himself, when he was tired and burdened, he often withdrew to desolate places to pray. In these bleak landscapes, there are no distractions or places to hide- it is just us and God, and so His tender love becomes our sole focus and reality- the moment of illumination that we seek.

Whatever place we find ourselves today, even in a place of questioning and shadow, may God help us find the courage to pray and to be our true selves, ready to speak the words that are on our hearts, let us pray

Dear God, when clouds gather, we confess that we tend to like the days of sunshine more than the rain- forgive us our selfishness.

Thank you that even in the most dark dreich wildernesses, Lord Jesus, You call us not to be afraid, to surrender all that is false, and to commune more deeply with You, so that this enables us to find the courage to be both vulnerable and honest.

Holy spirit, You transform our lives through your loving purpose and inspiration. Summon out our courage, and creativity, to be true to our calling , and to journey forward, in Jesus’ name, Amen