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Monthly Archives: February 2016

Food for thought this Lent

Lent is traditionally known as a time of prayer and fasting, a time reflecting on Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness, where Christians give something up to provide extra time and space to concentrate on God.  For many 21st century Christians, and I count myself among them, fasting is not part of their spiritual life.  In the past I have made the token gesture of deciding to give up chocolate or cake; in a society where we are surrounded by such luxuries (there is always cake in our office!) it can be a challenge and a good discipline but I’m not that sure it ever brought me any closer to God.  It might be different for you, but I’m sure my motives were more about losing a few kilos rather than spiritual in nature.

I find giving up food difficult, mainly because I am a foodie, but also because I get headaches if I don’t eat frequently. Perhaps giving up a meal each day would allow me more time to spend with God. If I also gave up eating out I could give extra money to charity. Call it an excuse if you want but I decided this year that I was not going to give up food for Lent (although I’m sure I would benefit from a little less excess).

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I’ve often heard people say that giving something up is negative and they are going to do something extra, something positive for Lent, like giving to charity or spending more time in bible reading.  There is certainly nothing wrong with starting new positive habits and charities need all the support they can get, so its a great idea.   For me this year in Lent I wanted to do something positive and spend  more time in silence, escaping the seemingly never-ending rush of life, being still with God.

However, to do this required ‘finding time’.  I needed to give up something  to ‘find’ that time to make a real difference to my spiritual life, in the hope that the habit started for 40 days would become lifelong.  This Lent has been about slowly changing my lifestyle so that I am able to get a better balance in my life.  I’m trying to limit my excessive ‘work’ time to provide more time for family, friends and stillness, trying to take a few minutes each day in silence (not just those moments on the loo) to sit and be with God, to be mindful, appreciate the beauty around me and to thank God for all He provides.

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Books that have been helpful in this include Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness – Time Wisdom for Ministry’. I’ve learned the difference between time management and time wisdom and have used various tools he suggests for making wise decisions about how I spend my time.  It’s a must read for workaholics and anyone in ministry.

The other book that has inspired me has been Mary C. Earle’s book ‘The Desert Mothers – Practical Spiritual Wisdom for Every Day’.

12745639_10208284540649310_1344397817639724825_nShe writes, “When we fast (whether it be from food or noise or busyness or buying too much), our fast is not only for our own health and deepening love; it is offered for the life of the world.  When we fast from mean-spirited conversation and from the need to be always in control and think ourselves to be right, we are allowing open space in which God’s healing silence can bring forth something new, if we give it time and care. When we fast from hurry and frenetic, non-stop rushing, we not only allow the distended stress of our bodies and souls to heal. We also practice one of the most subversive acts in this society: rest in God, trusting that God’s own recreating and restoring grace will be sufficient for the tasks at hand. We put aside the addictive behaviour of working as if everything depended on our own efforts, and allow real questions to surface…..the questions are an essential part of discovering who you are and who you were called to be.”

I don’t know about you but I so relate to this passage.  Up until now my life has centred around doing…..now I’m trying to balance the doing and the being.  Who are you and what has God called you to be?  My food for thought this Lent!

 

 

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Go to your cell

I’ve recently been studying about the Desert Christians, women and men from the third century who escaped popular culture to go into the desert to dedicate their life to God.  This was a time when Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire.  You might think that this was a good thing.  However, mixing Church and State meant in reality that with ‘serving’ the church came a life of wealth and prosperity, it was often socially and materially beneficial to associate yourself with the Church and people ‘decided’ to become Christians often to further their own ends.  Such a situation meant that the Church became more secular than spiritual, it was a friendship club rather than a place of prayer . It was focused on serving ambition rather than humbly serving others and sharing the good news.  Therefore, those keen to live in humility and simplicity in a close relationship with God decided to move into the desert and live either in single cells near to others or in community.  They spent much time in silence, prayer and simple work but communities also provided hospitality and spiritual direction to Christians wanting to walk in a closer relationship with God.

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Their time in prayer and listening to God gave them immense wisdom and sayings of the Desert Mothers and Fathers, although written 1700 years ago, are still relevant to us today.

Lets take the example of a saying from Mary C. Earle’s book The Desert Mothers.  She quotes Amma Syncletica:

“If you find yourself in a monastery, do not go to another place, for that will harm you a great deal. Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was sitting on  prevents them from hatching, so the monk or nun grows cold and their faith dies when they go from one place to another.”

As Mary explains, this is not just a message for monks and nuns in the third century, it ‘is addressing a universal temptation – to miss our lives by living completely on the surface’.

Our culture encourages competition and ambition.  We are highly mobile, with it often being common to flit from one job to another, one relationship to another, and to move from place to place.  There is an inner kind of rootlessness. Even when we are at home we are rarely still, if we get bored we move on to something else.  We don’t take time out to be still and go deep, we live our lives on the surface.

Amma Syncletica taught that faith was like hatching eggs, it needs us to be still and patient and to wait out the boredom.  There is temptation for us to go and do other things, but at what consequence?  Our chicks will never hatch.

We need to give time to our spiritual life.  We need to go to our cell each day (any quiet place where we will not be disturbed) and be still, encounter the divine and pray. It may be prayers of word, or silence, or a combination of both, but in doing so we will root our lives in prayer and faith. If we get bored, we must persevere because we will miss the deeper spiritual life if we are always on the move.

The Desert Mothers and Fathers told followers of Jesus to let their cell be their teacher.  Mary C. Earle explains:

Staying the in cell, or ‘sitting on the eggs’, means noticing our appetite for over stimulation. The cell teaches us to slow down, to be less of a slave to our impulses, to notice what is right in front of us. The wisdom that the desert mothers offers us is that by staying with ourselves, with our inner ups and downs, with our hurts and our fears, we will bring forth the new life that God is creating within us. The cell teaches us to trust in the Presence even when it feels like absolutely nothing is happening. The cell helps us to see that skipping from one activity to another, from one interest to another, from one focus to another results in never putting down roots, never getting into deeper meaning and purpose, never going beyond the surface reality.”

Where is your cell?  Do you have a space, a particular chair or area in your home that you can go into each day to be still and root yourself in the Presence of the Divine?  A place where you can ‘be’ rather than ‘do’? Why not give the wisdom of the desert mothers a try and spend some time each day rooting yourself in God? Doing so will enable you to live life in depth and fullness – not just on the surface.

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Meditation on Psalm 23

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The Lord is my shepherd.…………….He is the one who cares for me and protects me from the dangers of life, warding off evil. He knows what is best for me and leads me on a safe path.  He searches for me when I am lost and brings me back to the fold, tending my wounds and nurturing me so I grow to follow Him.

I shall not want…………………………Just as he cares for His sheep and the birds of the air, making sure they are fed, so he cares for me.  If I trust in Him and follow Him, He will provide for my every need.  When I am secure in Him I do not want the things of this world, the fame and fortune, I am satisfied with His provision and thankful for His presence and abundant blessings.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures………………When the hustle and bustle of life seem to take over, He brings me to a place of rest.  He encourages me to lie down with Him, be still, take time out and experience the wonders of His creation.  The beautiful, lush grass feeds me, nourishes me and gives me the strength to carry on.

He leads me beside still waters………………….Waters where I can drink my fill of the water of life and emerge refreshed. Gently flowing waters where I can bath, be cleansed and feel energized with the cool water against my skin; where my sin can be washed away.

He restores my soul………………….With Him in the the stillness of creation I can feel the peace that passes all understanding. In solitude, with only Him as my companion I can be; be me. Restored in my relationship with Him, my heart unburdened, I can rest in Him, emerging from the silence with my soul restored and His peace within.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake……….He has a plan for me, to prosper me and not to harm me.  He wants what is best for me but I must follow His lead.  Only when I choose to turn away from temptation and follow Him where He leads will He bless me and use me for His glory.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil…………….When the gloom of depression closes in, when the inner demons attack and drag me down, questioning my value, knocking my self-esteem, calling me unworthy. When there seems no way out or no way to carry on, I need not fear, for He is there protecting me.  He is battling with the demons of despair, disbelief and unworthiness, determined to win me to Himself.

For you are with me………………….Even in that place of darkness where I feel so alone, He is there.  He is walking with me in the shadows ready to guide me out of the valley and help me climb up the mountain to the summit, so I can get out of the fog and view clearly the abundant blessings He has prepared for me.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me……………Just knowing He is there, guiding me with His rod, protecting me with His staff, I can rest assured that I am safe.  I can take comfort in knowing that I am a child of the Almighty God and He cares for me so much that I need never be afraid.

You have laid a table before me in the presence of my enemies………………He has invited me to the feast, chosen me to dine at His table, provided me with fine food and wine in abundance. He has invited me to share in the bread and the wine, to accept the sacrifice that He made for me upon the cross, as my enemies watch on.  As they ridicule me and gaze at me looking for all opportunity to criticize me, He reassures me that He has invited me especially to join His feast.  But He wants me to share this abundance with others, not just my family and friends, but also those I don’t know and even my enemies who look on, so that they too may taste His bread and wine and come to know Him.

You have anointed my head with oil and my cup overflows……………..The High King of Heaven has anointed my head with holy oil, claiming me as His own and joining me to the priesthood of all believers.  As His child I can approach Him at all times without barriers. He has filled me with his strengthen, the power of the Holy Spirit, to the extent that my heart overflows with His love, allowing Him to touch the lives of others through me.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life……………As I continue to walk in His way, filled with His spirit, following His path and loving others, He will fulfill His purposes in me. I will be blessed, forgiven and experience the goodness and mercy of living in His kingdom surrounded by His love.

And I will live in the house of the Lord forever…………….This life of living in goodness and mercy provides just a taster of what is to come, a taster of what it feels like to be one with God. The time will eventually come when He calls me home. Death will not be a time of sadness, but rather as the challenges of this world are over, I can rejoice in the presence, peace and joy of the Almighty Creator God who made me, loves me and will care for me for eternity.

 

 

 

 
 

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