Longing for Shalom.

A quest for peace.

War and conflict are greatly reflected upon, at this time of year. We have thought of legacies, lamentation, and now we seek to explore our longings. Out of a November remembering the horrors and visicitudes of war, so now we plead for God to bring some good purpose out of all this.

Having thought of shell-shocked soldiers in the deep mud of the trenches of the first world war, and the bombings of the Atlantic convoys in the second world war, of the IED’s of more recent conflicts, the trauma and inhumanity of war experiences, broken bodies and spirits, are all too clear. The cost of conflict in human lives is incalculable.

Yet this is not the end of the story, because exposure to these military stories and experiences, reminds us of our purpose as human beings, our deep yearning for shalom, for healing and goodness and forgiveness and love and peace.

I was reminded of the biblical vision of of a peaceful Kingdom in Isaiah 11: 6: ‘ in that day the wolf and the lamb will live together, the leopard will lie down with the lamb, the calf and the yellowing will be safe with the lion, and a little child will lead them all.’

Desmond Tutu describes the fullness of biblical shalom ‘ God’s shalom, peace, involves righteousness, justice, wholesomeness, fullness of life, participation in decision making, goodness, laughter, joy, compasdion, sharing and reconciliatiom.’ In some ways, it seems like a long list of qualities, but shalom is just such a beautiful deep peace,the very presence of God- so it needs all these words and more just to catch a glimpse of it.

We have a deep yearning for a peaceful world, of justice and reconciliation and love. And the reason we have that, is because we have seen the alternative- a world where the loudest voice seems to win, where bullies get their own way, where lies prevail over truth, where mistrust and violence and conflict have become the norm. And the hurt and pain and tears are flowing in all nations and continents.

So let’s not just accept this as ok. Let’s not just put up with violence or abuse or exploitation. Let’s not say that the lives of children, or people with different views are lesser in some way. Let’s not say that where there is a dispute, that fighting and guns are the best way to resolve this. Have we learned nothing?

So may God give us a pure heart, to hear His voice. We need discernment, to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. We need the holy spirit of God to help us on our narrow path, and it is not easy.

Even if we resolve to do one thing, to pray for peace, to give to charity, to not escalate a dispute, to support a veteran, to breath before we speak- if everyone did these things, it would make such a difference. And because the task is great, may be not be put off, but have our inner compass always pointing to true North, to the larger purposes of God, for shalom for His people, for the world.

It is sometimes only when you have been through hard times, that you realise what is important in life. So out of the horror and brutality of conflict, may we yearn for something better, and resolve to work for Shalom in our lives and world, Amen

Let us pray, Gracious God, Maker of the Universe, You look upon our world, which you made to be so harmonious and beautiful, and You see the damage that our greed and selfishness has brought. Lord Jesus, have mercy upon us, and forgive us for our vindictiveness and struggles for status and power. Holy Spirit, humble us to seek the wellbeing of others before ourselves, to yearn for a true Shalom, and to be channel’s of your peace, Amen.

Remembrance- Lamentation and brutality.

War horse

Remembrance Day is one of the hardest of the year, thinking of all who have served, been injured and died in conflict and war. We think of the first world war 1914- 18 and the second world war 1939-45. But we also think of more recent conflicts and wars, Northern Ireland, Afghanistan, Iraq.

Many of us have relatives that have fought and died, and we seek to honour their memory. But the sad fact is that many veterans who come home, have PTSD and mental health problems which can become overwhelming, and which leaves them homeless on the streets of our cities. We see them every day.

The sheer brutality and violence of war is haunting and visceral. Whether it is in the muddy trenches of Flanders, or the streets of Belfast, at Dunkirk or the opium fields of Afghanistan, shooting, bombs and explosions maim, wound and kill.

We often see such conflict expressed in film, snd I remember especially seeing the film ‘War horse’. Seeing that horse entangled in the barbed wire, the barbs getting deeper into its flesh the more it struggled, and its cry of distress and pain, somehow embodies for me the cry of all who suffer the long term effects of violence and war.

The horse entangled in the wire on the battle field, reminds me of Jesus on the cross, innocent yet suffering such great pain. Jesus had done nothing wrong, but he suffered because of the guilt and violence of humanity, paying the price for our greed and selfishness, so we could be cleansed and forgiven.

When I think of my late husband Colin Gardner, and his struggles as a veteran having come home from mitary service, I think of his pride in his service, but also his colossal frustration with his disability, his perpetual recounting of traumatic experiences and his feeling that nothing else in his life could ever mean as much as his military memories. His pain, physical and emotional were enormous. This time of year and the 5th November and all the noises of the fireworks made him want to dive for cover, and to draw his gun, and retraumatised him.

The death of Jesus Christ, reminds us that on the cross, love ultimately wins, transcending hatred and cruelty, bringing forgiveness for all who seek peace. We learn even from the most horrendous pain and brutality, and find renewed purpose in working for a better world, a kingdom of justice and peace.

In this season of Remembrance, we remember all who gave their lives in conflict and war. We also give thanks for all who served, and returned, but whose experiences maimed and scarred them for life. We lament on their behalf and pray for them and for their families. May God bring to them the healing and peace they seek.

Jesus’s words from John 15:13 : Greater love has no- one than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends.’

Let us pray, ‘ Gracious Father, Eternal God of hope and peace, we cry to You to have mercy upon us, for our world continues to be a place of conflict and dispute, of greed and violence. Lord Jesus Christ, you died alone on a cross, because of the greed and selfishness of our race, to be the perfect sacrifice to bring redemption and forgiveness for all. Holy Spirit, cleanse us from our pride and wilfulness, heal us from our wounds, help us to support and pray for all who struggle with the nightmares and brutality of war, and help us find new strength and peace, so that we can build for the future, Amen.

Honouring a legacy?

This week, one of our very long standing church members died, and had a funeral that celebrated her long and incredibly full life. It was very moving, to reflect on all that she did, and she was described as a pioneer of her time. One of our challenges as a church, is how we live up to her legacy.

This started me thinking about what we leave behind us. None of us knows the number of our days, so how do we make them count?

I found a quotation from the 4th century Greek statesman Pericles:   

          ‘what you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the life of others.’

I started writing because I wanted to honour my late husband’s life. Somehow, telling his story, helps us as a family, to find meaning in what has taken place, and to honour his legacy.

Part of this is shaped by a desire to raise the profile of the need for more effective care for veterans. The damaging nature of the long term emotional, spiritual and physical injuries after serving in armed conflucts, cannot be over estimated. And the impact on relationships and families can be immensely destructive.

It also feels important to raise awareness of the need for more research into epilepsy, and the exploration of possible new treatments. If some one’s seizures are well controlled by medication that is great, but if their epilepsy is intractable, life is challenging.

To honour Colin’s legacy, in the midst of these two strands, I also want to give thanks for people who have supported and prayed with us. God gave us kind people around us, guided our path, and sustained us on the darkest days, granting us all we needed.

And so Colin’s legacy is that even in the midst of trauma and disability, we are not to give up, that God gives us strength each day, leads us to helpful people, enables us to laugh, helps us find an internal resilience that we did not know we had. Every day of life is precious. God gives our lives a quality of love and grace that is life changing.

At times, I question writing about all this, because it makes you so vulnerable. But this feel like our purpose to try to encourage others,, and the best way I can honour Colin, so I pray for strength to do so, especially in these days leading up to Remembrance.

In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 2 it says:    ‘ live a life of love, love others as Christ loved us’                                         The legacy of Christ, is indeed love, and so sharing that love, truth and grace with others, is our greatest calling, let us pray.

Gracious God, forgive us that we often don’t think what our spiritual legacy is to the next generation. Lord Jesus, may we be inspired by generations of Christian people, who have faithfully and creatively followed you. May our life’s purpose be to honour the legacy of all who have gone before, and may your holy spirit guide us as to what to do, as we seek to pass on your life changing and transformative love and truth to others, 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

The scream of trauma.

Edward Munch The scream

When considering the state of the world just now, the scream of trauma seems to reverberate across every land- the child in the refugee camp, the parent unable to feed their child, the person subject to sexual violence, the individual unjustly incarcerated. For no fault of their own, often  people end up caught in cross fire, suffering anguish which can damage and break a spirit. It can be so overwhelming to contemplate, and so we often switch off by not watching the news, saying that these scenes are too much to bear.

As a Christian, I can’t pretend these things are not happening, whether it is the war veteran struggling with violent memories, of the human rights lawyer in a Chinese prison, or a survivor of abuse. Some days I can’t do much, others I can pray, write letters, campaign, give.

Jesus never turns his back on those who cry to him, he understands mocking, physical assault, trauma, to feel alone in the darkness. On the cross he cried:                                             My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’        Matthew 27:46

In Isaiah 42: 3 the prophet says:                ‘ a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuffout’                                                           and this reminds us of the tender care of God, for those who are hurting and feel bruised by life’s tribulations. God has a deep concern for those who are suffering, and in anguish.

So if some one has suffered trauma and abuse, what can we do? There are many routes in different circumstances, judicially involving the police or safeguarding where appropriate, and counselling, prayer and specialist help.

Last year I had the privilege of listening to Dr Bruce Perry talking about childhood trauma, and then reading one of his books ‘ The boy who was raised as a dog’. The book gives different case studies of traumatised children, and offers different approaches as to what helps. It is a hard but beautiful and deeply emotional read.

Dr Perry recounts true case histories of children, and tells us of the impact their trauma has had on their brain development. This in itself is such a detailed area of neuroscience, with so much to learn. And the things that can help bring healing are empathy, understanding, connectiveness, healthy relationships and love.

And so, when we think of that scream of pain echoing round the world, we pray for a powerful wave of God’s love in Christ, to heal and bring forgiveness, trust and places of safety, where people can find restoration and grace. And God often uses doctors, such as Dr Perry, and so many others, to bring understanding and healing for so many. We are thankful for all who work in neuroscience and psychiatry to bring support and help to others. And we are thankful for the wider trauma therapists also, for the wisdom and insight they bring. We need to be discerning in this area, but also to be thankful for God’s healing power in body, mind and soul.

Let us pray, Gracious God, You created this world to reflect the harmony of the trinity, but instead we fight and exploit and tear apart. Forgive us for our cruelty and greed. Lord Jesus may there be many wise healers, who heal not just with medicine, but with prayer and empathy, understanding and love. Holy Spirit, help us not to turn away from disturbing screams, from ourselves and from others, but help us to be honest, and through tears and lament, to find our healing, Amen.

seeking healing for wounds.

The last 10 days have been very emotional, the book launch, replying to comments, sending out books to people. I am so grateful that the book is published, and my husband’s wishes honoured, and I thank people for their thoughtful insights, and encouragement. Colin would have loved that people heard his poems, and read of his experiences.

It has also been a time of pain – reliving things again, and realising that the impact of some of these things are still very much with us as a family. The memories don’t leave you, but we pray that they will become less distressing, and that we learn from them, and that God uses them for good.

Some people think that for a wound to heal, it needs to be exposed to air. This is controversial, but it could be that at times exposing an emotional wound can be helpful, so it doesn’t fester, and that talking it through in a safe place, might bring understanding and perspective. In life, we often have difficult experiences, and they can leave scars that tell their own story. God can bring healing in different ways, through being listened to, prayer, appropriate trauma therapies etc, often through connection, as it indicates in the quotation above.

One of the books that has always spoken to my soul is that of Henri Nouwen ” The wounded healer” and he talks about how the things that hurt us, can be redeemed. He says:

” nobody escapes being wounded. We are all wounded people, whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. The main question is not ” How can we hide our wounds?” so we don’t have to be embarrassed, but ” how can we put our woundedness in the service of others?. When our wounds cease to be a source of shame, and have become a source of healing, we have become wounded healers.”

When we are hurting, the pain is such that we are often immobilised. We cannot see beyond it. But once the healing process starts, it often helps to find some kind of meaning in what has taken place, wherever possible. I believe that God does not want to cause us pain, but that when things go wrong, that He can help us find something we can learn from it, even our hurt and shame. Telling our story can be part of that healing process.

In Isaiah 53: 5, it says of the Suffering servant ” By His wounds, we are healed”, and as Christians we know that Jesus’ death on the cross, brings us cleansing, forgiveness, and healing, the possibility of new beginnings. For all those who are wounded veterans, and their families, or people struggling with disabilities or mental health issues, or people weary of lockdown, may they trust in Jesus, and find the deep healing that he can bring.

Let us pray,

Lord Jesus – You understand the things that have hurt us and caused us pain,

The memories we struggle with, the injuries we have endured, and inflicted.

In your life, you were mocked, beaten, and died on a wooden cross,

Yet your Love shone, even then.

For all who hurt today, come along side us and bring healing grace and hope,

Bring healing in the way best for each individual,

So that we in turn, can provide a listening ear, prayer, and a safe space for others,

To feel heard and valued and loved. Holy Spirit help us we pray, in Jesus’ name, Amen.