Just As We Are

I find one of the most astonishing things about the Bible to be that, every once in a while, I can still be surprised by it.

It can be through re-reading a passage that I haven’t read in a long time or through listening to it read with perhaps a different emphasis than I’ve heard before or through the context that it’s being read in. For whatever reason, there are times in our lives when the old familiar words let rip into our consciousness in new and exciting ways.

This weekend, I was reading Evening Prayer with the small community of Scottish Episcopalians who gather together on a Saturday evening for the short online service. And when the time came for the Epistle, I found that the words of St Paul, words that I must have heard and read dozens of times, were still surprising to me.

However that may be, let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God has called you. This is my rule in all the churches. In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.

Or to put it in the words of a great twenty-first century orator: “Baby, you were born this way.”

Lent is a time of self-reflection, of growth, of change.

But what is it that we hope to change into?

God will be who God will be, a priest said this week*. God is full of mystery and beauty and surprise and even some unwelcome stuff that we can’t cope with, he said, but we love Him and trust Him and we’re with Him anyway. God will be who God will be.

And if that’s true of God, would God expect anything less of me, His child, who was formed in His image and likeness?

I will be who I will be.

What does God ask of us during Lent?

Not to seek to change what He has made, but to see the potential in it. Not to think about what we could have been, but to fulfill who we are. Not to become someone else, but to be the very best version of ourselves we can be.

Because the promise of Lent is this: that our God is a God who made us and died for us and loves us.

Just exactly as we are.

 

*With apologies to the Reverend AKM Adam and the line from his sermon for Lent 3 that I have, with permission, stolen.

Beguiling Dust

Usually, not always but usually, I find myself drawn towards Moses taking off his shoes to walk on holy ground in Lent, this year it has been different.  This year it has been dust.  Why has dust so beguiled me this year?

For over 20 years I have begun Lent by marking the faithful with the sign of the cross in ash on their foreheads, for longer than that I have felt the sign traced on my own forehead as I knelt before the altar.  This year the dust remains like never before.

As I am sure I don’t need to say, we all lead busy lives and this Lent is as hectic as most so in-between the mid-week service and a meeting with a CoS colleague last Wednesday I sighed and thought should really do a quick bit of dusting, only I didn’t.  I ended up drawing crosses in it instead (I tried to take a photograph but there wasn’t enough dust for it to be clear, slightly better in black and white.)

Dust Cross

The dust being cleared away for the Cross.

Is it too late to give up dusting for Lent and take up drawing crosses in all the dust I see?

Transfiguration

Glen Coe feb 13

Finding God at the top of the mountain
is not so very surprising.
Mountains are bigger than we are.
They put things into perspective,
lift us above the humdrum,
remove us from what is routine.
Mountains are never trivial.
They take our breath away.

Finding God on a mountain
is not so very surprising,
though once, they say,
the devil took Jesus to the top of one,
to show him all the kingdoms of the world,
to make their people seem so very small
and easy for his taking.
But then the devil never did understand mountains;
they never took his breath away.

What was surprising
was the God we found up there,
for we had heard him many times before,
for we knew his tones of voice,
the looks in his eye,
the limp in his gait
(as though he had wrestled with an angel
through long hours of the night).
He was our fellow- traveller,
our master and our slave,
father to us, mother, too,
healer, teacher, brother, friend.
We knew where he came from
and it was no heavenly city
of jasper, gold and clear as glass,
but Nazereth, a nowhere place.
We knew where he was going:
Jerusalem, to torture and to death.
You cannot have God killed, for God’s sake!

And yet, there, up there,
on thetop of the mountain
we walked straight into God
and recognized him,
for the first time.

part of The Transfiguration
Trevor Dennis ‘The Easter Stories’

The Gathering

DSCN3534Many years ago I awoke and made ready for the day ahead. Spirits soared at the prospect of ascending the lofty ridge towering high above Glen Kingie. My heart leapt in anticipation of standing atop Sgurr Mor to survey the wild and piercingly beautiful handiwork that has emerged from the celestial crucible. A herd of deer leapt with me. Rugged mountains plunged breathlessly into the depths of shimmering sea lochs as the gulls swooped silently below my feet. From the sparkling, tumbling burn I could hear an orchestra of sound as sunlight shimmered and danced on its bustling surface to the ambrosial conductor’s quickening tempo. Isolation amidst raw beauty- wind; sun; rain; river; sea; mountain ridge; the silence of solitude. A time of rejuvenation; of communion with God; of self-discovery.

By the end of the week the silence felt louder than the shrieking winds that seemed to slice through rock itself. My senses were heightened- high mountain grasses thrust skywards like individual spears of rusty red and burnished gold; the cold and hunger made for unwelcome bedfellows; the imposing flanks of Sgurr Mor appeared as monstrous tidal waves looming through the gray and damp mists, threatening to engulf me as readily as the wild beauty was ready to consume me. I felt alive, joyful, and afraid in equal measure.

Following Ash Wednesday, we take those first tentative steps into the lenten journey. Each year as I look inwardly and outwardly, I am reminded again and again of that heady sensation of fear, of joy, and of life I experienced in the mountain wilderness. I bring on this path my successes and my failures, my joys and my sorrows. Every year that we gather we are each drawn, week by week, closer and closer, to our own high mountaintop and to the parapet of the Temple where we feel the tension as our own failings meet with the path Jesus has set out for us to follow. I am not yet ready to gaze upwards at that blood encrusted cross- but at this early stage of the journey I give thanks for the gift of life and the people in it with whom I share its glorious mysteries. And I thank God for the gift of the Church in holding love, grace and forgiveness as lanterns to guide us.

He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. (Luke 4:11 NIV)

Quality control

bread.jpg

 

I always felt my first proposal was the most successful. The essential thing is to have the right proposal. He could see the merits of it at once – it was simply doing good to poor tired hungry souls. So many would be healed, helped, and their response would in many ways be the more true for a full belly. Men think better when not contorted with worry over where the next mouthful is going to come from, not weak from hunger.

He rejected the proposal for an idea which was ‘noble’, as I suppose one might anticipate; it would misdirect attention. Folk would see him as being about catering. To put it in the more high flown form he preferred: their attention would be on the food he gave them. He wanted it elsewhere, he said. When I left, he thought he had seen the back of me. But he hadn’t. No. I’m not quite that easy to get rid of. I’ve never been a quitter.

You know, my idea never quite left him. Healing, feeding – helping. He could never quite stop himself, could he? He got very, very close. Catering for 5000 – definitely catering, I thought. Yet, I never felt he was quite on line. Sad. A bright beautiful man in his prime – I kept trying to convert him to the very end. We could have done great things together. I really thought that if he had worked for me he would have benefited his own career.

Me? I sort things out. I do it professionally. A professional tester.