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Category Archives: Reflections

The Way of the Heart

Henri Nouwen in his book The Way of the Heart say, ”Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul….

….Just look for a moment at our daily routine in general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say or do are worth thinking, saying or doing.   We simply go with the many ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that have been handed on to us…..

….Why is this so?  The answer is quite simple…

…Our identity and our sense of self is at stake. The false self is the self that is fabricated by social compulsions.  Who am I?  I am the one who is liked, praised, admired……Whether I am a businessman, a pianist, a minister (or a charity worker) what matters is how I am perceived by the world (or at least my colleagues and friends). If being busy is a good thing then I must be busy, if having money is a sign of freedom then I must claim my money (or buy those new things), if knowing many people improves my importance I will have to make the necessary contacts.  The compulsion manifests itself in the fear of failing and the steady urge to prevent this by gathering more of the same – more work, more money (or possessions), more friends.”

The desert fathers and mothers decided to escape the rat race of the 4th and 5th centuries and spend time in solitude.  “Good for them” I hear you say, “I can’t do that, I have a family to look after, a mortgage to pay.  I don’t have time for stillness and solitude!”

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What I have come to realise is that if I don’t have stillness and solitude, if I don’t take time out to stop and wonder and to admire our amazing God and the beauty of His creation then I am living a half-life robbed of the joy and experience that God has in store for me.

God has not just called me to “do” he has called me to “be”: to be His child.  He has chosen me and called to live my life following the path that He has set for me.  He has also called me to ‘be’ the person that He has designed me to be. If I am too busy in the rat race how do I know I am on the right path, how do I have time to reflect not just on what I do but on who I am.  Am I the person that God wants me to be?  Am I filled with the fruits of the spirit?  If not then it’s time in solitude that is needed to spend time with God, giving Him the space to challenge who I am and shape me into who He wants me to be.  It’s silence and solitude, spending time just being with God where I can learn who I truly am as His child and can be equipped to go back into the world to serve Him. It’s in silence and solitude that my soul can be renewed by His presence, the beauty of His world and be surrounded by His love, giving me the strength and wisdom to face the rat race.

I’m now beginning to realise that making time for silence and solitude each day is not an optional extra, it’s essential if I am to experience life in all its fullness and the true blessings that God wants to bestow on me.  Without it I am missing out on the most fundamental part of life – being at one with God, feeling his love, experiencing his peace and ensuring that He is at the heart of who and am and He is the one who inspires what I do.

I need to get off the treadmill, out of the rat race, and spend some time in the desert, not a dry and barren place, but a quiet place where I can learn ‘the way of the heart’.

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If you need help with the practicalities of stopping being busy and having time wisdom, you might find Stephen Cherry’s book ‘Beyond Busyness’ a useful read.

 

 

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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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Christian Mindfulness – Part 2

Launde Abbey, near East Norton in Leicestershire is one of those thin places where God is close. Set in 450 acres of parkland it has had people praying there since 1119 when the Augustinian Priory was founded.

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The Launde Abbey Prayer says:

Father,  here may the faithful find salvation and the careless be awakened;
here may the doubting find faith and the anxious be encouraged;
here may the tempted find help and the sorrowful comfort;
here may the weary find rest and the strong be renewed;
here may we all find inspiration, and that peace which the world cannot give: your precious gift to us in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

For me it is certainly a place of peace and relaxation where you can feel God present. As you enter the Launde bubble you step away from the distractions and busyness of the world – even the mobile signal does not work – and you have the opportunity to rest in God. This special place was the setting for my mindfulness retreat.  The 12th Century chapel has a time for contemplative prayer each morning at 7.45am, a great way to start the day sitting in silence before the Lord.  This is followed by morning prayer. The place exudes God’s presence.

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However, the place were God spoke to me most during by time there was not in the chapel, but just outside the chapel door in the ‘quiet’ garden.  I had been taught how to do a mindfulness walk.

Mindfulness walk

A mindfulness walk is walking the same 10-20 steps backwards and forwards, gradually slowing down the pace, at the same time experiencing the sights, sensations and smells around you, and experiencing the sounds and images from around you and within. Its important to experience the moment and to listen to God.

As I chose my path to walk the first thing I saw was the chapel doorway.

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The bible reading I had been focused on in morning prayer that day was Matthew 7:13-14:

13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

As I walked slowly back and forth along the path to the chapel door I felt God saying, “Take the narrow gate, the gate of heaven.  The path may not be easy but just trust in me. I will be your strength and your guide. You can do all things in Me.  Don’t rely on yourself. Trust in me and refresh yourself as you rest in me and visit my house.”

Then my attention turned to the path.

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It was covered in holly berries.  As I walked slowly along the path I looked down at the berries, scattered both on the path and on the grass to the side.

I heard God say, “I have chosen a path for you. Each person you touch, you bring a bit of Me to them.  Even when you stray off the path I can use you to touch others with my love. Share with them the drops of blood I have shed for them. Let them know that I love them too.”

Berries – a profound symbol of the love of God shed through the drops of blood of his Son.  It reminded me of the words of the carol the Holly and the Ivy….‘The holly bears a berry, As red as any blood, And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ, To do poor sinners good.’

Then I looked more closely at the holly and the berries, and listened to the birds singing. It reminded me how God takes care of his Creation.

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I heard God say, “I am the God of Creation. Just as the holly bears beautiful berries (despite being a bit prickly) and glorifies Me, so do you.  I provide the berries to take care of the birds because I love them; how much more will I provide for you because I love you. Sometimes you look so worried, as though you have the cares of the world on your shoulders. Let me carry your burdens.  People hurt you, you have become weary.  Do not worry, bring your hurts to Me and I will heal you and give you rest.”

As the wind blew that day the trees swayed and creaked, and the cool breath brushed against my cheeks.  The leaves were blowing off the trees and dancing across the path in front of me.

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God said, “As the wind blows in the trees and has power and force, so do I through my Holy Spirit.  I am a powerful God able to act and bring change. Sometimes the storms of life can be a bit scary but trust that I am in control, blowing through change.  Just as the wind blows the leaves off the trees and they dance along the path and I guide their journey, so I want you to dance with joy and move through life in my power and strength.  Allow me to lift you up, to twirl you around and send you in the right direction so you can do my work.”

Then I saw the lamp post.

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And God said, “Realise that I am not just the light of the world but I can angle my light to shine it in the darkest of places. I shine my light through you. Be prepared and open and allow me to use you to light the way for others. And remember, I am your light.  I will show you the way.  You just need to look and I will light the path.”

Then as I walked away, back to the group I glanced at the gate post.  It was covered in ivy and its head had fallen on the ground.

I heard God say, “You are like this gatepost. Ivy, the stresses and strains of overwork, are pulling you down. You have lost your head in the busyness of life. Put me back where I belong as head of your life and I will help you, guide you and help you to guide others on the narrow path to union with me.”

What comfort I drew from these words.  And how a realised that mindfulness practice, such as meditative walking, can help me to be still enough to hear that ‘still small voice’ of the Lord.

 

 

Christian Mindfulness – Part 1

Is Mindfulness Christian?

If you are reading this I’m guessing that you have heard about the concept of mindfulness – “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.”

It’s often regarded as a Buddhist meditation practice or a new age self-help phenomenon, and as such some Christians have been wary of it.  However, the more I learn about it the more I believe it is in synergy with the teachings of Christian mystics such as Teresa of Avila, St John of the Cross and the author of the Cloud of Unknowing.  Used well, Mindfulness practice gives us space to appreciate the moment; to be rather than to do; to be responsive rather than reactive; to feel rather than to over analyse; to appreciate our senses and the blessings God has given us; to love God, ourselves and others from our heart and not just our head. It enables us to be still and quiet, rest in God and hear that still small voice.

How much of our life do we waste pondering the past or worrying about the future?   Do Not Worry – Jesus said…(Matthew 6:25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

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In 1 Peter 5:6&7 we are reminded, “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”

Christian Mindfulness teaches us that it is the present that is important: it is the present where we can enjoy life, experience the blessings God has given us and be with Him.  By allowing our thoughts to wander, dragging things up from the past or planning for a future out of our control we waste precious time; time that we could be using to enjoy the present. Instead of appreciating the moment we often reside in a life of anxiety or despair.

By rushing through our day, always busy doing, we miss so much of what God has in store for us.  I’m sure you remember having driven somewhere and not remembered how you got there, operating on auto-pilot.  Not only is this not safe but its a sign that the mind is too busy working on other things and is not actively experiencing the present. The huge demands of life lead us to become stressed, prone to burn out and we end up taking our frustrations out on others, having a negative impact on their lives as well as our own.

Mindfulness practice gives the the space we need to appreciate the wonders of this life, to enjoy the moment, to be still, to rest in God, to love Him and to experience His love. It is intrinsically linked to prayer. Not so much prayers of words, rather prayers of the heart, where just like the contemplatives Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross we come to a place where we can just be with God and love Him; where we can follow the most important of the commandments to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strengthand to ‘love your neighbour as your love yourself’.

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The challenge for many of us is that before we can truly love God and others we must learn to love ourself.  This means first getting to know the ‘real me’, not ‘me’ in terms of what I do but ‘me’ in terms of who I am.  How would you answer the question ‘who are you?’? We spend so much time rushing around ‘doing’ that we often define ourselves by what we do – our occupation or our role in life, as parent, spouse, carer, etc.  We don’t take time out to reflect on who we ‘are’ and how God sees us. This often results in us failing to appreciate the wonders of our true-self and prevents us from growing in the likeness of Christ.

Mindfulness is a simple concept – its about being mindful of the present and how we are experiencing it, and being mindful of God – but its not easy to do. It’s a long hard journey which takes a life time.  However it is a journey where even the first few steps will start to transform your life for the better, letting you appreciate the wonder of the present and enabling you to know, love and experience God and yourself in a new and special way.

Now I expect you are wondering what you have to ‘do’ to start this mindfulness journey. First remember its not about doing, its about being mindful!  Here are a few simple tips to get you started:

  • As you shower, appreciate the feel of the warm water flowing over your skin, the smell of the shampoo, the texture of the soap, watch the condensation on the glass, enjoy being clean – and thank God for the blessings of clean water and the ability to keep clean, pray for those who do not have such luxuries.
  • Eat your food slowly without talking, look at the colours, feel the textures and taste each flavour – and thank God for the abundance of food He has provided for you, pray for those who are hungry.
  • Rather than rushing through all those emails in your inbox, before you open each one – thank God for the person who has sent it and pray for God to bless them.
  • Go for a walk in the countryside or park, feel the wind or the sun on your cheeks, look at the patterns of the clouds, hear the birds, see the leaves on the tree, the flowers, appreciate the beauty of your surroundings – thank God for the wonders of His creation.
  • When an issue arises or someone is confrontational don’t react. Take a step back (either physically or figuratively), breath, put the situation in God’s hands and respond calmly and with love.
  • Sit or lie quietly for at least 10mins each day (more than once if you can), close your eyes, breathe deeply – in and out, in and out. Hear the sounds around you and before naming them gradually push them away. Do the same with any thoughts that come to you mind, acknowledge them and then push them away. Let your mind be quiet, feel the warmth of God’s presence within you, His love surrounding you and rest in His peace.  Take three deep breaths in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, before returning to the world.

Follow me for more on Christian Mindfulness…..

 

He Named Me Malala – don’t be afraid to speak out!

If you haven’t seen “He Named Me Malala” do so.  It’s not necessarily the greatest documentary ever, but is certainly focused on an inspiring young woman and father, who were prepared to risk their life to stand up against injustice and oppression.

It was on her way home from school on October 9th, 2012 that the Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head. This assassination Malala Yousafzaiattempt sparked international condemnation for the Taliban, but also mass support for Malala and her campaign for girls education.
Through a combination of narrative, animation and questioning from the Director, David Guggenheim, the film tells the story of Malala and her family.
Malala’s inspiration is her father, Ziauddin, who has a huge influence on her life.  He is a man able to step outside the confines of his culture and who recognises the equality of women and the importance of education.  He married Tor Pekai for love, rather than an arranged marriage and Malala was their first child. She was named after a 19th Century Afghan national hero, teenager Malalai of Maiwand, who with her speeches, including a now infamous line “It is better to live like a lion for one day then to live like a slave for a hundred years”, rallied the soldiers in the fight against the British.
Just after Malala was born her father got out the family tree that traced back their ancestry for over 300 years.  He noted that only the male lineage was recorded.  However, under his name he broke tradition and added his precious Malala.
Ziauddin had a passion for education and fulfilled his dream by setting up his own school.  There he taught both boys and girls, instilling in them a willingness to question and to search for truth.  It was very unusual for girls in the the Swat valley of north-west Pakistan to go to school, but Ziauddin knew it was essential both in terms of fulfilling their human rights, but also as a means of protecting them from abuse and exploitation. He actively encouraged girls to attend school as did Malala. However, as the Talaban took more of a foothold in the community this became more and more difficult.
The Taliban publically burnt TVs, computers, films, books, anything they felt was influenced by the west.  They outlawed girls education and bombed schools.  People who spoke out against them were killed, often in public executions. But this did not stop Ziauddin.  He openly spoke out in rallies, condemning the acts of the Taliban, calling them the enemies of Islam, and demanding gender equity and peace.
Malala had grown up watching her father, and education was her primary focus.  She did not intend to let the Taliban take the opportunity from her or the other girls in her community.  She began campaigning when she was 11 years old by writing a blog under a pseudonym for the BBC, each night the BBC correspondent would phone her and she would dictate her blog detailing her life under Taliban occupation. The anonymity of this made her feel safe.  However, nothing was changing. Girls were still being prevented from learning. Pondering what to do next she mused, “there is a moment where you have to choose whether to be silent or to stand up”.  We all know which she chose. She agreed to the New York Times making a documentary about her life in the Swat Valley, it was a way for her to raise international awareness of the issues that girls were facing and that their right to education was being denied. As a result, her prominence grew, and her life was under threat from the Taliban.
On the 9th October 2012 her father was speaking at a public meeting and Malala was traveling home from school when the Taliban stopped her school bus; she was shot in the head.  With her skull in pieces doctors did not think she would survive.  However after initial treatment in Pakistan she was airlifted to the UK and her family joined her.  After numerous operations and physiotherapy she is now studying at an English school. In the film she reflects on how different life is here in the UK and how she misses home in Pakistan, although she knows that if her family were to return they would be shot.
Her father, Ziauddin, the “he” in the film’s title, speaks of his guilt for allowing Malala to speak publicly against the Taliban’s ban on female education.  He clearly blames himself for what happened to her, for the fact that she has lost her hearing in one ear, despite his daughter’s insistence that it was her choice.
There is a shocking parallel that, although 140 years between them, both Malalai the Afghan hero and Malala spoke up and were shot immediately afterwards. But Malala Yousafzai survived this horrific attack, and continued to share her message. Ironically the shooting has only furthered her campaign efforts and made her story even more renowned.  She has travelled to numerous countries speaking out on the issue of girls education.  She has met the queen, numerous presidents including Obama, has spoken with eloquence at the UN stating her famous slogan “One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.

In 2014 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for  her struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education. Yet as well as being a world renowned figure she is also an ordinary teenager. The film allows us to observe how different Malala is with her family compared to when in the public eye. We hear her talk about celebrity crushes, fighting with her brothers and what she deems ‘bad grades’. All things which should not be remarkable, accept these were all aspects of her life the Taliban wanted to stamp out with their policies. The director asks Malala how her life would be different without education, Malala tells Guggenheim she would likely have two children now and be illiterate.
What is striking is that despite her fame, Malala shows true humility.  She reinforces through the film that it is not her story, but the story of million of girls across the world. Its a touching and powerful film that I hope will raise awareness on the current situation of child rights and gender equity.  However, I also hope that it will inspire people everywhere to stand up against injustice and to realise that we all have a responsibility to do all we can to make this world a better place.

Well done Malala!

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2015 in History, Life, Reflections

 

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