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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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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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Conversations at the Mosque – Islam v Christianity

During my visit to Bahrain I took the tour of Al Fateh Grand Mosque. I was asked to dress in a Hijab and was shown around the building.

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My guide was a young lady called Faiza who had such a sweet humble nature, it was a pleasure to talk to her. She had a profound love of God and a desire to serve him and dedicate her life to him.  She was keen to share her faith and I mine.

FaizaI took the opportunity to learn from her more about Islam, to learn about what Muslims believe about Jesus, our similarities and differences, and to share with her about the Christian faith. We had a long conversation and I liked and respected her very much, in different circumstances I think we could have become good friends. So what did I learn? That Muslims believe that:

  • There is only one God and our first commandment is to serve Him (although Islam does not attribute a gender to God) and then to serve others
  • Abraham had direct communication with God and Abraham, Moses, David, John the Baptist are among the prophets
  • Jesus was born of a virgin and was God’s messenger, the messiah who was foretold in Jewish scriptures
  • Mary was a very special women, chosen by God
  • Jesus healed the sick, raised people from the dead and was without sin
  • There will be a second coming of Christ, which will be a time of judgement.
  • We can communicate directly with God through prayer, we don’t need priests or rabbi as intercessors
  • There are angels who God uses as messengers

So far so good. But then the difference were shared. Faiza stated that for Muslims:

  • The trinity is regarded as blasphemy as there is only one God – and that Jesus never claimed to be God – he was human not divine
  • Mohammed was prophesied in the Bible, the Holy Spirit Christians refer to as the Comforter that Jesus promised is believed to be Muhammad.
  • Jesus did not die on the cross, he was still alive when taken up into heaven
  • The Bible, although it contains words of truth from the direct words of the prophets (including Jesus) has been change and manipulated and is not all the Word of God.
  • That Muslims are the great nation promised in Genesis from the descendants of Ishmael and it was Ishmael that was sacrificed not Isaac.
  • The Quran is the unadulterated Word of God and Muhammad the last of the prophets.

I started with our common beliefs then explained about how Jesus died to reunite mankind to God, so that our sins could be forgiven.  That God was not just a God of justice but a God of love.  I encouraged Faiza to read the Bible and she quietly encouraged me to read the Quran.  We had a difference of opinion but I think we both recognised and respected that we were followers of the creator and working towards a better world.

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It was an interesting discussion but as I was about to leave the mosque a woman who worked there approached me to explain about Mecca and the Kaaba.  When Faiza shared that I knew a lot about the Bible, the women proceeded to cast fierce accusations on Christians, stating the Bible had twisted the truth and that it contained many errors.  She gave the example of Genesis 21 when Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, showing that the Bible says Hagar carried the boy on her shoulders (when the text shows he must of been about 17 years old).  How was this possible?  If there were errors like this she complained how can we trust it.  I was ashamed that I did not know enough about that passage to give her an answer.

She claimed that God had brought me to the mosque that day to hear the truth of Islam, that this is the truth that would set me free??? And that if I did not respond to the one and only God, and reject beliefs about Jesus being God, I would be confined to hell.  Wow!!  Such a different approach to the humble loving kindness showed by Faiza and much more reminiscent of the nature of conflict prophesied for Ishmael in Genesis 16:12.

“And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” (King James Version)

It made me realise that I need to go back to scripture and also understand more about Islam so I can clearly justify my beliefs.  I started today by looking at Genesis 21 and the opinion of Hebrew scholars on verses 8-15. It became clear the problems with translation, something Faiza referred to.  If you go back to the original Hebrew it looks as though the punctuation in many modern translations is wrong and that instead of:

14   So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of
     water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, 
     along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, 
     and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
15   When the water in the skin was gone, 
     she cast the child under one of the bushes.

It should read:

So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water; and putting it on her shoulder, he gave it and the boy to Hagar, and sent her away. Then she departed and wandered in the Wilderness of Beersheba. And the water in the skin was used up, and she placed the boy under one of the shrubs.

(Genesis 21:14-15) New King James version.

To read more about this literal translation of this passage click here

 
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Posted by on November 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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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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