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Category Archives: Church

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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Lenten reflections – Falling Upwards – the journey of life

We’ve just been through a hard time, where a loved one was told she would have to have surgery for what looked like a life threatening illness.  The whole family was turned upside down. Living on different continents did not help; feeling inadequate at a distance. Flights, accommodation, tests and surgery would not come cheap.  Getting time off work to be there, worrying about how she would cope with surgery, the long term prognosis and how we were going to support her and fund her treatment was exhausting.  The emotional and financial stress took its toll. As Christian’s we put the situation in God’s hands, got the pray warriors praying but despite a deep trust in God the underlying question as to “why” rose its ugly head.

I’m sure all of you have been in a similar situation, you may even be in it now, where a loved one is suffering. So why does God allow it? I’m certainly not one of those people who believe suffering is a punishment for sin, after all Jesus died to wash away our sin.  Perhaps we can talk about the fall of mankind and that sickness is now just part of life in our mortal bodies. We can talk of the laws of the natural universe and suffering being the result of the decisions of mankind. But why does a loving God allow His children to go through such physical and emotional trauma when he could step in?

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Richard Rohr is a Franciscan priest, his book “Falling Upwards” got me thinking about the meaning of life and the part that suffering plays in it.

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Rohr says life can be viewed in two stages, the length of these stages vary between people and some, even followers of faith, never reach the second stage.  The first stage of life is largely about striving for success.  We all try to do what seems like the task that has been given us. We establish our identity, home, relationships, friends, career and build our platform for life.  Part of this involves building our ego, our self-esteem and putting on a façade for the outside world that shows us as being the things that society, colleagues, family and friends expect of us. We respond to the expectations of the world, or perhaps as Christians to what is expected by the church or other Christians. We may strive to follow the Bible to do what is right.

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But life is not rosy, we often feel inadequate, unable to live up to the expectations of others. As we strive for success or even trying to live a good life we realise that there are barriers in our way, we are not perfect and problems and suffering are integral to life, often removing the joy of living.

So we are back to the “why” question. Why does God let His children experience tragedy, sorrow and pain? Look back over your life and think about the times when you have been closest to God, when you have grown the most, spiritually.  Is it during the times of joy or time times of sorrow?  My experience has certainly been that when things are going well I feel like I can cope on my own, God is in the joy, but it’s not necessarily the time when I put my greatest trust in Him. But when problems arise or I have done something wrong, that’s the time I go into prayer overdrive and rely on God for help. And it’s definitely during the hard times that I have seen the most spiritual growth.

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Yet the human ego prefers anything but falling, changing and dying.  It likes the status quo.  We don’t like it when our plans for life are spoiled, when things go wrong; when problems arise that turn our life upside down.

However, perhaps we are looking at things from the wrong viewpoint, with a worldview instead of God’s view. Perhaps it’s not the problem that is the problem, it’s how we view the situation and respond to it.  How about turning it on its head and thinking about our “when things go wrong” moments being God’s way to enable us to grow, giving us an opportunity to move from the first stage of life to the second, a life where we are able to experience our true self (and not just the container) and to be in union with Him.

During the recent family health issues, realisation dawned that the ‘problems’ that upset our plans of a pleasant life may actually be God’s plan for us.  I’m not saying that God necessarily sends us suffering, more that he can use the suffering we experience for our benefit and His glory.  “God turns all things together for good for those who love Him.” Romans 8:28. If we respond to the trials of life by learning from them, by being open to how God wants to work in a situation and by trusting him we can ‘fall upwards’ and begin our journey into the second part of life.

Thomas Merton, an American monk, said “We may spend our whole life climbing the ladder of success, only to find when we get to the top that the ladder was against the wrong wall.”

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In Falling Upwards, Rohr says that the first part of life involves building the container the second part of life is finding the content that is to fill it. The container is not the end in itself but exists for the sake of a deeper and fuller life.  Many people spend their time repairing their container, trying to be a better person, but they never dip their nets into the deep and bring in the huge catch that awaits them (John 21:6).

However, to bring in what God has in store for us, to be filled with the ‘new wine’, we need to learn to get out of the driving seat and give up control to the real guide. We need to be willing to fall, to lose what is precious to us, in order to gain the amazing life that God has planned for us.  In the spiritual world we do not find something until we first lose it.  Take the parables of the lost coin, sheep and son (Luke 15). We do not truly appreciate something until it has been lost and then found. It’s when things have been taken away, when the problems and challenges arise that we realise who we are in God and who God is in us.

The second part of the journey of life happens only when we are led to the limits of our present game plan and find it insufficient. It’s not until we fall that we realise that what we have built is not in fact what life is truly about.  Only then do we search out the real source, the deep well, the constantly flowing stream, the living water.

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When we realise, not just in the head and the heart but in the soul, that we cannot fix, control, explain, change or even understand everything, when we are willing to lose our life as we know it, we will in fact gain it.  Through the problems and trials, if we are open to Him, God will show Himself and fill us with his love, showing us our true selves and the way to be in total union with Him.

Matthew 16:26 says “Anyone who wants to save his life must lose it. Anyone who loses her life will find it. What gain is there to win the whole world if you lose your very self? What can you offer in exchange for your life?”

Only by losing our false self, the image of success and perfection that we show to the world, can we find our true self.  It is through the times of suffering that God helps us along that journey.  Eternal life does not begin at death; we reach our spiritual home when we are our true self in God. We don’t have to be dead to live!  But it is a long journey and until we choose to take it we will be homesick, experiencing restlessness, loneliness, sadness and longing. The good news is we don’t have to do it alone, the Holy Spirit is our guide and will help us to reach our destination. But we have to choose to step out into the second journey of life.

The journey, I am told, is a lot different to the first. Priorities are different; we gaze at life through a different lens. We experience the gift of wisdom, can share it with others and fulfill what God has planned for us – a special union with Him where we are able to be our true selves as God has created us and He can use us to his glory.

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So how does this fit with the health issues of my loved one?  Well after further tests it was found that it was not cancer, that surgery would not be needed. It was a miracle of healing but through the “problem” God showed us that He can do more that we can even comprehend. We prayed for timely surgery, he removed the need for it altogether. He used the situation to move us closer towards our second journey. He needed to help us to put more trust in Him, to realise our dependence on Him, to strengthen our relationship and love for Him. And through the healing, He enabled us to experience together the most overwhelming sense of joy as we recognised the blessings of family and health and most importantly of a God who loves us and wants what is best for us.

Falling is not easy, it hurts, but falling upwards, into God’s loving arms is the place where we can feel the greatest ever comfort, joy and peace.

 

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The meaning of life….

Why Why WHY???

Do you think about the injustice in the world and wonder why is this happening?  See the extreme wealth of some and the extreme material poverty of others and question why?  Do you wonder why despite having the things you have acquired you are not happy? Why others seem to be able to enjoy life and you feel you have to spend all your time working hard to help others and provide for your family?  Why the wicked seem to prosper and those who do good struggle?

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What is the meaning of life?  What does a successful, fulfilling and happy life look like and how can we achieve it?

I read some wise words today that might help you to explore the answers. Here are the 12 Top Tips to a life worth living.

1) “If you love money and wealth you will never be satisfied with what you have…..I got whatever I wanted and did what made me happy. But most of all I enjoyed my work.  Then I thought about everything I had done, including the hard work and it was simply chasing the wind.”

Life is not just about doing what we want, getting what we want and working…. there is more to it!

2) “Everywhere on earth I saw violence and injustice instead of forgiveness.  So I told myself God has set a time and place for everything. He will judge everyone, both the wicked and the good.”

Yes, the world is full of injustice and it may seem that those striving for good are fighting a losing battle.  But this is not so.  Lead a life that walks the right path, that obeys God and rest assured that you will be blessed. Forgive those who hurt you, become reconciled with those who have offended you.  Not only will this bring you peace in your relationships and make your life happier, but you can also rest assured that the time will come when those who hurt others and are not sorry will be punished.

3) “Everything in earth has its own season…. God makes everything happen at the right time. Yet none of us can fully understand all he has done and he puts questions into our minds about the past and future.”

So don’t stress about life, things will happen in God’s timing. Worrying about the past and future won’t change things.  Put things in God’s hands and enjoy the present, make the most of the blessings you have, the people in your life and the experiences you find yourself in.

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4) “The best thing we can do is to enjoy eating and drinking and working,  I believe these are God’s gifts to us….if we please God he will make us wise, understanding and happy.”

So what about approaching life in a way that you become determined to enjoy the gifts God has given you; take pleasure in eating and drinking and do work that you enjoy.  But do this in a way that pleases and serves God and then you will be blessed, not necessarily with money, but with the things that really matter.

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5) “Yet a very little food eaten in peace is better than twice as much earned from overwork and chasing the wind.”

Overwork is as much as a recipe for disaster than doing nothing. Getting a balance is what is important. Enjoy your work, do something where your gifts can be utilised; but remember that work is just one of God’s blessings that we have to enjoy.  By overworking we deprive ourselves of many of the others.

6) “Be cheerful and enjoy life.”

A smile brings warmth to others and is a gesture the world-over that cannot help but bring down barriers and generate a smiling response.  It usually instills happiness in yourself and others.  Smile more, be cheerful and show other how blessed you are. Happiness and joy is contagious, spread it!

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7) “You are better off having a friend than being alone.”

Developing friendships take time and investment, but having the love and support of a friend is without price.  It helps us get through the hard times and enables us to share the good times, making them extra special.  Spend time with your friends.

8) “Dress up, comb your hair and look your best. Life is short and you love your spouse, so enjoy being together.”

Marriage is not without its trials, but deep love is at the root of a successful relationship. Love without condition, love that forgives, love that shares the good times and supports each other through the difficult times, love that respects each other, is gentle and kind and that makes the most of being together. Turn your marriage into a place of love and you will be happy.

9) “It is better to enjoy what we have than always to want something else because that makes no more sense than chasing the wind……I think we should get as much out of life as we possibly can…. a child born dead is better off than you unless you enjoy life and have a decent burial.”

Count your blessings, maximise the benefits of what God has given you.  Enjoy life! We are only here for a short time, as we get older time seems to pass more quickly. Don’t put of doing something you have been longing to do.  Don’t waste your life; set your mind to recognise the positive in your circumstances, to work towards building strong relationships, towards enjoying the things and people you have been blessed with and to putting God into the right place in your life.

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10) “Be generous and some day you will be rewarded.”

The more you give to others in terms of love, service, as well as money, the more you will be blessed and the more joy you will experience.  The saying goes that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  Start giving and see the changes that it makes to your life, as well as the lives of others. Give at home, in your community and to those worldwide more in need. Your generosity will touch your heart and also the heart of others.

11) “Nothing on earth is more beautiful than the morning sun.”

Appreciate the wonder’s of God’s creation.  Take time to see the beauty of what he has made: the animals, butterflies, fish and birds, the mountains and the valleys, beaches and forests. Find peace in stillness as you feel of the grass under your feet, sand in your toes and the warmth of sun on your face. Listen to the wind blowing through the trees, the sound of the crashing waves and the birds singing. Smell the perfume of the flowers and ground after new rain. Watch the sun rise in the morning and the colours of the setting sun, and look in awe on the wonders of creation.

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12)  “God has done all this so that we will worship him.”

He has made the beauties of creation, given us people who care for us, provided for our basic needs. Think of all the blessings you have: a roof over your head, food to eat, clean water, electricity, living in a country free from war, freedom of speech, friends to share things with, family who love you, a spouse who cares, a welcome home from you pet, a job, times of stillness and peace, music, kind words said by others, a hug, the joys of nature, or your good health. God blesses us all in different ways, but our response should be to worship Him and give Him thanks.  For by praising Him for the gifts we have been given we begin to find our purpose and can enjoy life with Him at the centre.

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So the what is the purpose of life?

  • Keep your creator in mind, worship Him and enjoy life; work hard but make time to enjoy and share the blessings He has given you.

Lord help me to get a work-life balance. Help me to enjoy life, to serve you in my work, but not to over work. To take time to enjoy all that you have blessed me with…. family, friends, food and the beauties of your creation.

The words of wisdom in bold above are taken from the Book of Ecclesiastes – ancient wisdom that is so relevant today.

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Church, Life, Reflections

 

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Making a Gingerbread House in Gingerbread Land

Staying for Christmas hols in Nana’s in Bargoed, South Wales; the festive season started today with a nativity play at church and then the three generations planned how to carry on their festive activities.  Ice skating, going to see The Hobbit, making paper chains and baking gingerbread were all on offer, but it was the excitement of making a Gingerbread House in Gingerbread Land that won the day.  Since no one had ever made gingerbread before it was going to be a challenge.

First stop… Google….. to search a recipe….It was the BBC good food recipe that was decided upon for the gingerbread and then the design would be adapted to decorate the house…. out with the almonds on the roof and in with chocolate buttons, etc.

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For the gingerbread

  • 250g unsalted butter
  • 200g dark muscovado sugar
  • 7 tbsp golden syrup
  • 600g plain flour
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 4 tsp ground ginger

To decorate (adapted from…)

  • 200g bag flaked almonds
  • 2 egg whites
  • 500g icing sugar, plus extra to dust
  • 125g pack mini chocolate fingers
  • generous selection sweets of your choice, choose your own colour theme
  • 1 mini chocolate roll or a dipped chocolate flake (or Twirl)
  • Cake board

Plus a rolling pin, baking trays, foil, greaseproof paper, wooden spoon, tablespoon, teaspoon and mixing bowl.

Nana, the Generation 1 non-chef, was asked which of the above she had in her kitchen.  Her response? A rolling pin, a baking tray, spoons and a bit of foil….. time to go shopping…. not even a mixing bowl in sight!

It took three shops to find an appropriate mixing bowl, but outside the last one I caught a glimpse of the angel of Bargoed, quite apt this Christmas season…

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The trip to Bargoed’s new attraction…. Morrison’s supermarket…… yielded thousands and thousands of calorie-filled sugar and fat!!!  And the box was kindly donated by a shelf stacker after he had unloaded his trays of frozen raspberries.

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Ingredients in place, it was time to start baking. But the one thing that had been forgotten in the rush was a weighing scales; yet another piece of essential baking equipment missing from the Generation 1 kitchen.  It was time to ring the neighbours!

A lady kindly popped round with a red contraption that looked like it had come from a museum.

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Then came the history lesson….. we were asked how much we wanted to weigh. The answer of 600g was looked upon in despair. Awch!!! It only measures in pounds and ounces!! Back to Google to find out conversion rates, and after some debate over how many ounces in a pound and 1.3lb not being equal to 1lb 3oz, it was time to start weighing the ingredients.

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The 250g of butter and 200g of brown sugar were put in the saucepan (pronounced sospan in Wales!!) and then a tablespoon found to measure out the 7tbsps of syrup. Generation number 2 dipped it into the syrup tin to be greeted by Generation 3 saying “If you were a chef you would have put the spoon in boiling water first and then it comes off easily”. 2 seconds 2 late!! Now two spoons were covered in syrup as one was used to scrape the syrup off the other spoon.  Generation 2 was sacked and Generation 3 took over!  Good to know she was taught something useful in school!

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This was then heated over the stove until everything melted.

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After which time the dry ingredients of 600g of plain flour, 2 tsp of Bicarbonate of Soda and 4 tsp of Ginger were placed in a bowl and a dip made in the centre; into this the melted mixture was poured.

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This was then gently mixed together…..

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Then rolled out on some greaseproof paper to about the thickness of 2 £1 coins.

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The three Generations did not have access to a printer to print out the Gingerbread House plan from the BBC Food Guide website, so it was time to quickly design a template and use it to measure the gingerbread walls and roof.  Care (although in hindsight perhaps not enough!!) was taken as a fatal flaw here could mean construction problems.

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The leftovers were used to make trees for the gingerbread forest, Hansel and Gretel, and stands to help them all remain upright.

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Then, with just one baking tray lined with foil, the first walls were placed in the oven at 180 degrees C for 12 minutes.

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And while they were baking, a piece of cardboard was covered in foil to make Gingerbread land…

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While each tray was baked and cooled the ‘cement’ for putting the house together was made, with two egg whites mixed with 500g of icing sugar.

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Then the trees were decorated using an icing bag made from greaseproof paper, and Hansel and Gretel put on their coats with three dolly mixture buttons….

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They were then stood up on their bases.  But next came the big challenge; the walls had expanded on cooking, some were larger than the others, and because they were cooked one after the other rather than together (due to lack of baking trays and lack of oven space) this was not realised until they were cool.  Oh dear, sticking them together was a challenge.

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This was left to cool for a few hours while the Christmas tree cookies were decorated to give to friends. The door was added made from sour strings and the path with fizzy tiles. There was a cut made in the roof top for the chimney and an attempt was made (and failed) to put it on the roof.

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The roof fitting ended in disaster, with walls about to collapse and roof panels sliding off as the icing seals had not set. Just as Generation 2 thought all was well, the chimney fell in and one panel fell off…..

It was decided to leave one panel on for it to set overnight and to try the other again tomorrow… so watch this space and see if we manage to get a half decent gingerbread house and garden constructed.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Church, cooking, History, Seasons

 

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Treasures of History

Where am I?

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If you look carefully in this picture you’ll see some clues.  Yes, its a church, although the vaulted ceilings and the tomb may indicate that it is in fact a crypt.

Perhaps you recognise this symbol on the chair by the altar.

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Yes, its the cross of St John’s Ambulance or in fact of the Order of St John.  The Order had its origins in 11th Century Jerusalem when in 1080 it founded a hospital to look after sick pilgrims.  By 1113 the religious Order was registered with the Church as the Order of Hospitallers. After the Crusades it took on a more military focus and its members became know as the Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

This crypt dates back to the 1140’s but its not in Jerusalem; it’s one of London’s historic treasures situated in St John’s Square in Clerkenwell and was the London Headquarters of the Order.

When King Henry VIII split from the Catholic Church and established the Anglican Church, the Order in England was dissolved and all its lands and wealth were seized by the Crown. The Order was briefly restored by Henry’s Catholic daughter, Queen Mary, who granted it a Royal Charter. However, with the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, the Order in England was dissolved for good.

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This tomb dates back to the 16th century.  However, the buildings in Clerkenwell were put to different uses in the years that followed. They were used as the offices of the Master of the Revels. Thirty of Shakespeare’s plays were licensed here. However, they quickly reverted back to religious use as a chapel and in the early eighteenth century, a Presbyterian meeting house. In 1721 it was rebuilt giving it much the appearance it has today.

The church became the parish church of St John for some years until 1921 when it was given to the new order of St John of Jerusalem who use it as their chapel. The new Order of St John in England had been granted a Royal Charter by Queen Victoria in 1888. Humanitarian in its aims and purpose, it recognised the need for public First Aid and ambulance transport services, as no such system existed in newly industrialised England. In addition, the Order established an eye hospital in Jerusalem, following the principles of the Order’s first hospital, treating all those in need regardless of faith or wealth.

During the Second World War the church was badly bombed, by the end of the war it was left a blackened shell. The Order of St John restored and rebuilt the church afterwards, although not to original designs.

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The new church building is not amazing but there is a cloister garden built in the 1950’s.

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However the crypt itself is spectacular and not to be missed.

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So if you are in London and looking for ‘free things to do’, don’t miss the peace, tranquility and history of this Christian place of worship.  Nearby you can also visit the Museum of the Order of St John (another freebie).

Reviews available on Trip Advisor.

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Posted by on October 12, 2013 in Church, cities, History, Travel

 

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The Wesleys – founders of Methodism

My understanding of Methodism has been rather limited, experienced until recently only through interdenominational services in my youth.  My teenage observations were that there seemed to be a greater emphasis on the Bible and preaching (longer bible readings and sermons than in our church) and less of a focus on the sacrament, with greater engagement of lay people in ministry.

As a new board member of the Methodist Relief and Development Fund, I thought I had better find out a little more about Methodism.  I grew up worshiping in an Anglican church so I’m well versed in the words of Charles Wesley, singing many of his hymns during my time in the choir.

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Favourites include:

And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior’s blood!
Died he for me? who caused his pain!
For me? who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
   And the famous wedding hymn….
 
Love divine, all loves excelling,
joy of heaven, to earth come down;
fix in us thy humble dwelling;
all thy faithful mercies crown!
Jesus thou art all compassion,
pure, unbounded love thou art;
visit us with thy salvation;
enter every trembling heart.
But what of the other brother, John, and the principles of Methodism?  This week, while I was visiting London I stumbled upon the Wesley Chapel and Wesley’s House (free entry) and took some time to explore.
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John was born in Epworth in Lincolnshire in 1703, the 15th child of parents Samuel and Susanna (buried opposite the Wesley Chapel in Bunhill Fields Burial Ground).  Samuel was the Rector, so John experienced life in the church from a young age. Educated at Charterhouse School in London and then Oxford University, he was ordained as an Anglican deacon (1725) and priest (1728) at Christ Church Cathedral, and became a tutor and Fellow of Lincoln College.  He was a member of the ‘Holy Club’, a group of like-minded people who disciplined piety, but it was not until 1738 that he had a spiritual experience that convinced him of his salvation through Christ and made him want to preach the Good News. John Wesley is estimated to have travelled 250,000 miles in 50 years to preach the gospel.
Perhaps one of the most famous quotes of Wesley is:
“Do all the good you can,
By all the means you can,
In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can,
At all the times you can
To all the people you can
As long as ever you can!”
He was committed to preaching a gospel that stood up for living a life based on scripture and standing up against injustice. He would start his day with prayer and devotions for at least an hour.
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Christianity was not something to be kept within the four walls of the church, but to reach out to others, particularly those in need, bringing them the love of Christ.  He placed an emphasis on personal faith and holiness. Justification by faith, forgiveness and redemption through Jesus Christ, was the essence of his theology. Sanctification (defined in terms of “pure or disinterested love”), is found through the Holy Spirit. Its characteristics are to love God and one’s neighbour as oneself; to be meek and lowly in heart, having the mind which was in Christ Jesus; to abstain from all appearance of evil, walking in all the commandments of God; to be content in every state, doing all to the glory of God.
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This is the foundation for the Methodist interest in helping the poor and promoting social justice and Wesley led by example. During his time at Oxford, he took courses in basic medicine and first aid and ventured into London during much of his free time to work with the poor, providing medical aid where he could.  Wesley and his Methodists worked hard to raise the money to provide food and clothing for the poor.  He introduced interest-free loans to the poor in London and Methodists devoted themselves to helping the poor to find jobs.   In a time and place in which many viewed poverty and sickness as an indicator of the worth of the individual, Wesley preached God’s love for all mankind and demanded unrestricted love for one’s neighbour. Long before the Quakers introduced anti-slavery legislation to Parliament, Wesley was convinced that slavery was an atrocious blot upon mankind.  In 1774, Wesley wrote Thoughts upon Slavery, presenting his case for abolition.  Wesley’s staunch opposition to slavery heavily influenced abolitionist members of Parliament such as William Wilberforce.

Wesley’s famous Sermon 50: The Use of Money, stated ”gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” demanding his followers be good stewards of their wealth.  In fact, Wesley earned quite a bit of money from his published writings, and yet lived and died in relative poverty.

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But this life of preaching and service took a toll on his family life.  Wesley and Mary Vazeille, a well-to-do widow and mother of four children, were married in 1751. By 1758 she had left him—unable to cope, it is said, with the competition for his time and devotion presented by the ever-burgeoning Methodist movement. Molly, as she was known, was to return and leave him again on several occasions before their final separation. Due to her husband’s constant travels, Molly felt increasingly neglected.
In 1778 he built the Wesley Chapel and the house next to it where he lived until he died in March 1791.
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Despite John Wesley’s claim ‘I live and die a member of the Church of England’, by the time of his death the Methodist movement (which, by then, was largely associated with John Wesley) had grown apart from the national church.
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He is buried in the grounds of the Wesley Chapel, but has left a long legacy behind him of Methodism, people who walk in the footsteps of Christ, caring for the poor and standing up for injustice.
If you want to carry one the work of Wesley how about starting by studying the Bible, showing kindness to your neighbour and making a donation to the work of the Methodist Relief and Development Fund?
 
 

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Experiencing Reality – Communion with God

As a Christian, it is one thing to promise to obey God, it’s yet another to understand clearly what He is saying so that you can be obedient. Evelyn Underhill’s book ‘Practical Mysticism’ has helped me to understand how to start to become more open to what God has to say and live my life accordingly.

To fulfill our purpose in the world we need to be open to God’s voice and guidance, and to live in communion with Him. Only then will we get a glimpse of the awe inspiring wonders of His reality, His will and His wisdom.

So how do we do this?

James 1:5 If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.

Firstly we need to have a willingness to learn more about God, to be one with Him and ask Him to reveal His wisdom.

The next step towards experiencing Reality, which could also be described as have true communion with God, is Meditationwiping away our turmoil of thoughts and focusing on experiences of the senses, giving space for God to reveal his will to us. For example, focusing on an idea such as joy or an object such as a flower and being in awe of its beauty created by the hand of the Almighty….

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or meditating on a symbol of faith and letting God speak to us through it

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or a verse of scripture, spending at least a quarter of an hour, without distraction or invasion of other thoughts.

Thinkers and analysts may find this immensely difficult, whereas those with greater sensory appreciation such as artists may find it a little easier.  However, to begin on the road to communion with God we need to regularly practice mediation, i.e. holding concentration on a single idea or object without distraction. As our meditation becomes deeper it will help us defend against the assaults of the outside world.

The next stage is using times of quiet for Recollection, contemplating ourselves face to face, revealing our true motives – stripped and measured against eternal values, our unacknowledged indulgences and irrational loves and hates.  When we see who we really are in comparison to the model of Christ we will be compelled to remodel our existence.  The light dawns….

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We have been accustomed to the idea that we want or ought to want certain valueless things, status and power.  Our treasures have become material things and we are chained to longing for things of this world. But as we recollect we gain a glimpse of something other, something special, the land of peace, the heart of God and as we spend brief moments in communion we are enticed with every fibre of our being to be part of it. Yet to reach it we need to prise ourselves away from the old comfortable life of the material world, like a limpet being detached, we must sever old habits, old prejudices and self-interest. “Selfhood must be killed before Reality can be attained.”

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Meditating on scripture, God can use His Word to highlight what it wrong in our life, correcting our values and behaviour; He can work in us to break the bonds of sin and draw us to Himself. This remodelling of character is known as Purgation or Detachment, it’s a slow process that does not happen overnight, so we need persistence and patience. The chief ingredients of this new life are love, courage, singleness of heart and self-control.

So through meditation the mind is quietened from the buzz of the outside world and through recollection and purgation the heart is re-orientated. It can be a painful process, but as we gain brief visions of ‘beauty’ and ‘the land of peace’ we long for Communion with God, so our will becomes to do the will of God and we begin to develop a more intensively loving heart.

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This process changes two things in our attitude towards life. The first is that we become more observant, we perceive a truer universe and then, released from obsessions that have governed our heart, will and mind, we are able, in union with the spirit, to pour forth love.

Take the example of a homeless man on the street. Whereas before we may have made judgmental assumptions and walked on by, now we are struck with humble compassion. We are now observant and touched by the person in need, a person created by God in His image. We cannot walk passed without at least praying for this person through which we can then be open to what God has to say about how we respond.  Is it to give a friendly smile and pop some money in his pot? To stop and talk? To buy him a coffee or food? Or some other action of kindness?  Whichever way, whereas before we may not even have noticed the man or just given him a brief glance, now God has instilled in us His love for this person and a realisation that to be one with Him and to do His will means doing acts of compassion and being a blessing to others.

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James 2:14-16 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Because ultimately, following the will of God is walking with Him and showing His love in the world.

These are just the first few steps towards communion with God and understanding the ultimate Reality; but they are steps that will change our life and will bless others.

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Posted by on September 8, 2013 in Church, Reflections

 

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