Thursday, 28 January 2016

Take Heart

Saltburn by the Sea December 2015

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus heals the paralytic man, physically with the words “Get up!...”, and spiritually with the words “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven” (Mt 9:2)
It is those latter words of Jesus that I took into meditation last night*.
If someone was to say to us that “having a child is a huge commitment”, most of us (parents or not) would readily accept the principle. But when the commitment has been a personal one for us, when we have given love, time, money, ingenuity and bounced back from our failures to try again – then we have experienced all and more than the principle implies. We have known the difference between theory and practice.
“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”….
As I placed myself before God in meditation, those words were no longer merely theology. They became personal. I was moved to ask: “what..even the time that I….?”
And I heard again….”Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”
“And the times that I have…?
“Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven”. I began to sense a rhythm. I can only describe it as like the motion of the waves crashing on a shore. With each ebb, each movement of repentance,  forgiveness and grace flowed inexorably back. Cancelling, cleansing, crossing out.
The intellectual knowledge of God was surpassed by something else, an experience of the grace of God.  Theory into practice.  Universal into personal.
“Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls, all your waves and breakers have swept over me” (Psalm 42:7)
 *See Richard Foster’s quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer on page 33 of ‘Celebration of Discipline’

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Re-placing Ourselves

Nothing excites me more than the idea of being on the move.

Most of my travel these days is in the United Kingdom but motion usually brings me to novel, silent places and always prompts thought, prayer and reflection. There is something about being slightly ‘away from ourselves’ that can help us to see ourselves, others and God in a new light. Movement is seldom merely a physical displacement, but is often a place of spiritual opportunity. In his book, ‘The Art of Travel’, Alain de Botton writes: ‘Journeys are the midwives of thought’.

In Chapter 1 of CofD, Richard Foster stresses time and again that the spiritual disciplines we will explore together in the weeks to come are journeys, but not destinations. They merely ‘place us before God’. And being before God is a place of change and blessing which is the true destination of the follower-pilgrim.

Last Monday, together with a crowd at church, I listened to stories of change and providence: Jenny (now praying in partnership), Charlie (changed by small acts of service and listening) and Dorothy (connected into a new community from a place of isolation).

As I listened (and many of us wept), I was reminded that these places of change (and the dozen others that were spoken of) had not been arrived at accidentally. Each one was the result of a conscious, spiritual act of movement towards a place where God might work. Each bore the hallmark of spiritual discipline. Each was within the reach of young and old, too.

In moving to a new place closer to God, we ourselves are re-placed for the good.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Above and Below Ground

Outside St Pancras Church just off Euston Road, the church's resident street artist, Daniel McCarthy, has erected one of his murals on the corrugated iron barriers that surround the church's building work. It's a depiction of two realities. The ground above, green, flowered, with its hints of statues and lions (the iconography of the church outside which the mural hangs). And the place below with its underpinning arches, descending staircases which take mysterious interlocking paths – often apparently circular. It's the artist's interpretation of the paths and tunnels of the crypt which lies beneath the church, now housing its art gallery.

Between those two different realities, an intrepid figure takes the steps downwards. Surprisingly, the body seems to be taking light, almost weightless, steps.

On page 1 of his book, 'The Celebration of Discipline' (or the CofD as I will call it in this blog), Richard Foster invites us "to move beyond surface living into the depths" and "to explore the inner caverns of the spiritual realm".

On the opposite side of the Euston Road, the British Library houses a museum of the Library's Treasures. Currently on display are original manuscripts by Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte, Mozart, Bach and Chopin. Alongside them, on the back of a child's birthday card are the lyrics to a Hard Day's Night, scribbled out by John Lennon. Together, they are some of the most stunning iconography of this and previous ages in life 'above ground'.

It seems to me that Richard Foster's invitation implies that exploration of the inner life will lead us to more, but rather different treasures. Not just the things we can see, but the treasures of God. Our exploration isn't seeking more of ourselves or the world, but more of God.

The paths that I hope we'll take together as a church may resemble the artist's depiction, twist and turn. There will be dead ends for me/us, and places that draw in light. But as we take first steps deeper, we can do so with expectation and excitement.