Who is God/Jesus to you?

A few weeks ago when I was on leave and not blogging, I invited people to reflect on their images of God each day. The images I offered then for consideration weren’t human images (breath, light etc.). Last week I mentioned Jesus being able to identify with those who have the coronavirus because he fought for breath as he was crucified. With me going on leave again (yes again; the last time was to finish an essay, this time I should be in Croatia), I invite you to reflect on God and/or Jesus once more but this time include some more human terms, some of which aren’t traditional words or names but could be attributed to Jesus by what we know from the stories about him. Again, you might want to take one a day or you might just want to spend time figuring out who God and/or Jesus is to you.

King

Shepherd

Sofa-surfer

Rock

Living water

Fortress

Rebel

Lighthouse

Son of God

Wisdom

Healer

Friend

Parent

Saviour

Creator

Redeemer

Emmanuel (God with us)

Christians look for Jesus to come again. The Bible presents us with images of that being quite a fanfare. My fear, however, is that he will come as he came before, quietly, unknown and not in the way we expect, and that, if he comes in my life-time, I will fail to recognise him.

Not all prayers are spoken

Sometimes words won’t come when trying to talk to God or we feel so overwhelmed we can’t even find the words. Sometimes we’ve spent all day communicating verbally and we don’t want to use words to pray. Perhaps you’ve signed up for a prayer vigil and are wondering how to pray for half an hour or an hour. There are various forms of silent prayer, but something I’ve begun experimenting with recently is colouring prayers.

Ironically, with all the online communicating I’ve been doing since lockdown, I’ve found formulating any sort of spoken prayer a chore. Our loving God understands that, but I want to come before God because I want to be in God’s presence, not because I feel I have to be. Colouring prayer has helped me do that at the end of a busy day with far too much keyboard time. You don’t have to be a great artist as the above illustration shows! You’ll see that I select a Bible verse and write an address for God in the middle of the page. I then effectively draw/doodle the things on my heart that I wish to offer to God, each stroke of the pen effectively being my prayer for the people and situations.

A less pictorial version of colouring prayers is to select colours which represent your moods and draw more abstractedly with swirls, shapes, scribbles even, whatever represents the feelings you want to offer to God, be that praise, thanksgiving, regret or something you’d like help with. God knows our hearts and really doesn’t need our words. It’s our attitude in seeking God that matters.

You will seek the Lord your God, and you will find him if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deuteronomy 4:29)

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Romans 8:26-27)

The paradox of sharing

“What’s yours is mine and what’s mine’s my own!” Social media thrives on ‘Likes’ and ‘Shares’, but we can become paradoxically possessive about what is shared and unreasonably intransient about what we don’t like. Take, for example, mindfulness. Some see this as an appropriation of Buddhist meditation. Some Christians see mindfulness (and meditation) as something ‘dodgy’ and not to be entertained. Yet most faiths, including Christianity, have a mystic element; it’s the extent to which it is mainstream which differs. Christian mysticism goes back to the desert fathers and mothers who withdrew to the Egyptian deserts to live as hermits around the third century, but it was particularly strong in Medieval times. There are various forms of Christian mysticism and I don’t intend to go into them here, but I referred to one in my blog the other day when I mentioned Ignatian spirituality.

Instead of claiming something as ‘ours’ or something else as ‘other’, surely we should be seeing signs of hope in finding common ground. It enables us ‘to speak the language’ as it were. Someone who practises mindfulness for reasons of wellbeing rather than to connect with God might nevertheless be led to explore that aspect. As Christians we’re called to share the love of God through Jesus, and the last thing we want is for people not to like our message before they’ve even heard it because they’ve already witnessed behaviour which belies the message. St Paul is our example here, able as he was to link what he had to say to the context in which he found himself:

“To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.” (1 Corinthians 9: 21-23 – New Revised Standard Version)

“From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live. He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; as someone has said, ‘In him we live and move and exist.’ It is as some of your poets have said, ‘We too are his children.’” (Acts 17:26-28 – Good News Translation)

Like Tearing a Piece of Paper

This is something I wrote three years ago, seven years after the death of my husband Ray. Although written in the context of losing a spouse or partner, I think it may speak more widely into loss. Knowing that a lot of people are currently grieving, I share it with you today.

Although I am whole again,
there’s a hole I cannot explain.
Perhaps not so much a hole
as a part of me which is missing,
that part of me which is you.
Jesus said, “The two will become one flesh.”
In the separating,
there’s no perforated line to tear along.
Like tearing a piece of paper in half along a rough fold,
it’s not neat.
Some would say I haven’t grieved properly or
I haven’t got over it.
Seven years on, I think the reality is
that it never really leaves you.
The pain is gone
but that sense of something missing is always there,
will always be there.
Is it a hole in my soul?
A hole in my heart?
Like tearing a piece of paper in half along a rough fold,
bits of me went with you.
Yet on the same basis,
bits of you must have been left behind,
more than just memories.
The hole I feel is perhaps the gap between us.
The gap that will only be closed again
when I too am with God.

Mind, body and spirit – The human trinity

I was struck by an item on the BBC news website yesterday about the experiences of three body-conscious young women during lockdown. For the full article, see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-52728957.

One of the women, Katy, who is otherwise obsessed with beauty treatments, shared some of her thoughts now that we have so much time to think: “Why am I actually doing this – is it for me? Is it because I feel like I have to look good to other people? What is it I am actually doing it for?” She admits to coming to realise that she doesn’t need the treatments as much as she thinks. She also says that to take her mind off the treatments she was missing, she’s stopped following Instagram pages showing treatments and started following pages about self-love and self-reflection.

Human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” as it says in Psalm 139, verse 14. We are not just bodies, we have minds and spirits, and over-focusing on one is not only neglecting the others, it can also have a detrimental effect on the others. One aspect of Christian spirituality is Ignatian spirituality. It’s a much bigger subject than I can go into here but it has at its heart what Ignatius called “feelings of desolation” (when things don’t feel right inside) and “feelings of consolation” (when they do). So the next time you’re taking a long loving look at the real, listen to what the little voice inside (which we as Christians would say could be God) is saying to you. God can speak within the heart in direct intuitive communication. God’s message for all of us is, “Come to me. I love you the way you are”.

The parable of the lunch club

One day a man walked into a church lunch club and asked to speak to whoever was in charge. He explained to the leader of the lunch club that he was hungry because he hadn’t eaten for days, but hadn’t any money either so couldn’t pay the £5 charge for meal. The leader said that it didn’t matter and invited the man to have lunch free of charge. When the leader went round to collect payment for the meal, one man noticed that the newcomer hadn’t paid. “I’ve been coming here for years,” said the man, “and I’ve never had a freebie! I’m not coming again if you’re going to let people off paying.” The leader replied, “Isn’t the church free to do what it chooses with its money? Or are you envious because we’re being generous?”

And Jesus said, “Thank you for the lunch, it was really appreciated.”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40)

What we can learn about authority from Banksy

The above is a photo of a Banksy print which hangs in my hall. (Sorry, Banksy, if I should have asked permission to use the image.) A question I have when I look at the picture is whether the character depicted was always intending to throw a bouquet of flowers or whether the missile he was originally holding miraculously turned into a bouquet as he drew back his arm. Maybe as you look at the image, you have other questions. As with any artistic creation, be that a painting, a poem etc., we cannot know the mind of its creator unless the creator shares their thinking. I enjoy finding out how others interpret art (using that term in its widest sense), but get a little annoyed when someone speaks authoritatively on the what’s its creator means when the creator hasn’t otherwise shared the meaning or symbolism of their creation.

For me, the same is true when I read (and it is generally reading, although it can sometimes be listening) what others have to say about God. If the person comes across as too authoritative, my reaction is how can you possibly know for sure. It is in sharing thoughts and ideas and reflecting together that we can possibly bring some of the Creator’s thinking to light. Some people say they have a faith but prefer to practise it alone. That’s fine but there is something about sharing with others what we think Jesus or the Bible means which enriches our faith. We explore together and even then we can only hope to deepen our understanding, not find all the answers:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9 – New Revised Standard Version)

Sharing in suffering

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
    I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
    for the wound of my people?
[declares the Lord] (Jeremiah 8:21-22 – New International Version)

I’m currently working my way through Jeremiah for my daily reading. Often referred to as the prophet of doom, it’s not the most consoling of books to be reading at this time, but I was struck by the above words this morning. Two things have been said to me recently relating to Jesus and the coronavirus. The first was that, with crucifixion essentially being asphyxiation, Jesus knows exactly what the victims of the virus are going through as they fight for every breath. The other was that the body of Christ has coronavirus as we’re all parts of the body. They’re thoughts you might like to reflect upon.

Some people say they cannot believe in God because of the suffering they see in the world. One of the mysteries of God is that complete healing didn’t happen when Jesus came; he only healed certain people and not everyone. What the above quotation and Jesus’ healing acts do show, though, is that God’s will is for health and healing. God endowed our bodies with the capability to resist disease and heal itself; God endowed certain people with the abilities to heal and find cures. Again why that isn’t a universal thing or why we’re entrusted with finding the answers are mysteries.

As members of the body of Christ, Christians are expected to have concern for all the other members. When a member is sick, the others should rally round in sympathy and practical help. Of course, that is not an exclusively Christian thing and we’ve seen many examples of such love and care being demonstrated by those who profess another faith or no faith. Sadly, you may have witnessed Christians failing in their Christian duty, but we’re all only human and get things wrong.

A prayer by George Appleton (adapted):

Bless, O Lord, all who are co-operating in your will for healing, all doctors, surgeons, nurses, psychiatrists, research workers, those who cook and serve and clean, all who work in preventative health, all administrators, all who study our social life to help us how to live. We thank you, O Lord of life and health, for this army of healing workers. Praise be to you and gratitude to them. Amen.

Desert island books

A friend was prompted to ring me the other day because she is reading a book for the third time and recalled me saying that I never read a book more than once, apart from the Bible, because there’s too much out there to read without wasting time reading something you’ve read before! I know not everyone feels the same way as I do.

The Bible, of course, isn’t a single book but a collection of 66 books (39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament). That’s a lot of reading, but you can choose a book in the same way you would if you went to a library.  Browse the shelves and see what takes your fancy. Perhaps you have a favourite book that is your ‘go to’ book or books which you re-read regularly.

You might be familiar with the Radio 4 programme ‘Desert Island Discs’, where guests share what songs and luxury item would be their ‘must haves’ if stranded on a desert island. The castaways are told that the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible (or other religious/philosophical text) is already on the island. The other week I was asked which four books of the Bible I would choose to have on a desert island if the Bible wasn’t already there. My choices were Mark, Romans, Psalms and Colossians. I really wanted to pick five as it was a close call between Colossians and Habakkuk. I don’t think the latter would be in many people’s top 4 (or 5). Habakkuk is one of the so-called minor prophets (minor in terms of the length of the book compared with the major prophets; it’s not a status thing). The reason I like the book of Habakkuk is because it reminds us of our complicity (albeit sometimes unintentional) in the injustices of the world and is also a reminder that we have to play our part in setting things right.

So, if you had to choose (and I’ll be generous and say) 5 books from the Bible for your ‘desert island’ choices, what would they be?

Would Jesus be on Facebook?

I’ve had a Twitter account for a while but have only recently gone on Facebook, and that’s primarily to administer the churches’ pages. My personal Facebook profile is actually quite anti-social in that it asks people not to send friend requests! Having started blogging since the lockdown, I’ve been pondering the role of social media in spreading the Christian message of love and hope we have to offer. Coming up with something to blog about each day is no mean feat, though I say so myself, but anyone who is engaging in what I’m posting into ‘the ether’ would perhaps become disenchanted if I were I were to start posting things intermittently. Then there are days when I become disenchanted and wonder why I’m putting all this effort in to reach a handful of people? At the moment, I’m in that place where one of my gripes with churches trying something new is that they don’t persevere enough before giving up ‘because it’s not working/making any difference’. So, for now, I’ve decided to persevere.

As well as sharing my blogs to the churches’ Facebook pages, I’ve been sharing them via Twitter with the hashtags ‘Turn to God’, ‘Turn to Jesus’ (#TurntoGod, #TurntoJesus – that’s a Twitter thing in case you don’t know) in the hope of reaching out to those with questions about faith. I was heartened by a response I got the other day from someone in America. It was a person of faith but encouraging me nevertheless to persevere.

I’ve also been praying as to whether this is something God wants of me? God calls us to different tasks, often to things outside our comfort zone, and I’m certainly no social media fanatic. At the same time, I’ve been wondering if Jesus would be on social media if he were physically present with us today? Would he have Facebook and Instagram accounts; would he be blogging and vlogging (a step too far for me – filming myself to lead worship is bad enough!); would he be a YouTube celebrity? On the basis that he came to engage with us, I think he would be using social media but I don’t think he would have a major following, perhaps be seen as a bit ‘fringe’; his major following coming later, passed on by the likes of you and I. Perhaps I can take heart from that. What do you think?

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