The Deadline Approaches – I AM book

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I have been working on a book for BRF for nearly a year now, and my deadline is approaching!

This means I’ll have less time to share things with you good people over the next month,  but I hope to be able to post a little something from time to time when I can.

Instead, I shall be sitting at my writing table – it’s a lovely ’60s pine one that was my family kitchen table before being passed on to me.  Many meals have been eaten off it, and veggies chopped and pastry rolled.  It also bears the marks of art projects and homework frustrations which I could sand down, but really don’t want to.

The view from the table is the picture you see here – it’s a little distracting.  Although I haven’t had my camera ready to take pictures, so far today I have seen blackbirds, a robin, and even, briefly, a kestrel at the birdbath. I think the kestrel is watching for smaller birds…..

Today, I am revising a chapter on Jesus’ saying “I AM the bread of life”, thinking about the crowds that were fed by the side of the lake, and what it might mean to be nourished by God.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to do, and it is also wonderful to be able to stretch my legs and think outside, with all that beauty and life around.

Thank you for your patience, and I’ll try to post something soon!

Happy Post – Quiet Spaces and Otley Hall

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So, today our lovely post person, Wendy, delivered a small parcel containing the new issue of Quiet Spaces from BRF.  There is still time to order your copy here.

My contribution is on the Book of Esther, which seems appropriate in our rather turbulent political climate, when many feel powerless.   Below is an extract from this edition, one of the more studious ones, which invites us to consider power and its uses.  We are reminded that God has a special regard for those who are powerless.

The Golden Sceptre
    Thematic Reading

Power is an inescapable theme of Esther – yet however absolute it seems, it has cracks.  The extent of this nation’s power, stretched from India to Ethiopia,  is laid out in the first sentence, and the first chapter is a study in egotistic powerplay. The nobles and subjects are simply audience, and woman’s beauty is degraded in this sordid charade. What matters is that the various appetites of the king are sated, and that all dance to his tune.
The Bible is a most unusual book in that it is a collection of stories from the bottom.  It is the perspective of slaves, invaded peoples, younger sons, and the defeated.  Even in its brief glory under David and Solomon, Israel was not a mighty nation like this.  The New Testament, too, gives us the perspective of the excluded and marginalised.  Jesus is a servant king, so different from Xerxes (NIV).
It is easy to forget this, as we look back at history through the lens of a powerful Christendom, with a powerful church.  It is easy to forget that God calls us to be a people under God’s shepherding, and that Jesus knelt at his followers feet.
*

Consider some of the passages below, reflecting on any situations where you may be in a position of power – even in something as everyday as buying things.

Ezekiel 34
John 10:11-18
Jeremiah 31
Hebrews 8:10, 10:16
1 Samuel 8-9 (esp 8 v6-9)
Luke 20:46-47
John 13:3-17

Are there ways you can honour and serve people in positions society may regard as inferior today?  Can you bless people you normally overlook?
You could make some  “Thank you” or “Bless you” cards to give to people you encounter.

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Wendy also brought a letter from Otley Hall containing some of the lovely feedback from last Wednesday’s Quiet Day.  Thank you to all who came – it was very special to share the day with you. Thank you all so much.
I hope you had a good Easter.

 

Sunday Retold – Lazarus raised from the dead

Part of the Sunday Retold series, based on the readings some churches follow.
This week it’s

John 11:1-45

Please feel free to use any of my material that helps you, saying where it is from.

We are preparing to enter the season of Passiontide, towards the end of Lent when we turn our attention more fully to the coming of Easter.  This strange and powerful story is at such a  turn in John’s Gospel, a turn of the road that will take Jesus through death and into life.  We have had hints of what will come before, but this is something much more significant, which attracts much more attention. Crowds pour out of Jerusalem to see Jesus, and Lazarus, and the religious leaders are afraid, and their resolve to be rid of him hardens.

It also contains one of the great I AM sayings which form the backbone of my  next Book

 

Lazarus

By Jacquie Binns

……
4I5

Jesus is now close to Bethany, when Martha, Lazarus’ sister, comes out to meet him.

“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,”  she says, the same phrase  Mary uses later.  They have such confidence that Jesus would have healed their brother, if he had been there.  Then, Martha continues….”But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

Martha’s confidence in Jesus seems to hold even in the face of his delays, and her brother’s death.  We do not know what she expected might happen – maybe she didn’t know herself, speaking in fresh raw grief.  Perhaps she was simply throwing her whole self, her whole confidence and trust, on this dear friend who was unlike anyone else she knew.
“Your brother will rise again”
“I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
To Martha, this talk of rising may have sounded like a conventional consolation, and  Martha takes it up, this hope, and places it on the Last Day, a day when the dead will rise. It is hope that death is not the end.  It is a distant hope, though, for a distant future.
“I am the resurrection and the life.”   Jesus moves that distant hope – a time, an event, a particular future thing, and says this instead:  He is the resurrection and the life .  Now.
In him is life.

Jesus is more than the one who rises from the dead on Easter Sunday, for others to look on and marvel, and believe if they can.  He himself  is resurrection, and that means something transformative for Lazarus, and Martha, and Mary, and all of us.

After Martha makes her extraordinary statement, she quickly moves on.  Her sister, Mary, is still shut inside.  She must be told that Jesus is here.

Jesus  meets Mary, and the raw grief that she and the others bring with them.  She says the same thing as her sister –
“Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She says it weeping.  She says no more words beyond these.  The tone, therefore, feels different.  Her words sound desperate, almost accusing.  Maybe they are accusing.

“Where have you laid him?”
“Come and see”

The pain of the moment now is overwhelming.  Jesus is described as being greatly disturbed, deeply moved.  There is no talk here of denying the hope of the resurrection by grieving.  No accusation of lack of faith for being overcome with emotion.  Grief here is fully experienced – for his friend, and for those who love him still.  Grief too for all the death and loss that are caught up in this, and in the death that Jesus himself will face very soon…..

Jesus moves to stand by the grave with those who weep, and weeps too.

Perhaps we can learn from this “come and see”, to invite Jesus into the darkest places in us.  It is the same phrase Jesus uses to answer “Where are you staying?” right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him (1:35-39).

He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love.

And then, and then…….

JESUS AND LAZARUS 

Jesus followed the road on towards Jerusalem, stopping at the desert place by the Jordan where John had baptized him: where the sky had opened and the Spirit had come down like a dove.  Many people came to him there, and many believed.  While he was by the Jordan, a messenger arrived.
“Teacher, I bring word from Martha and Mary of Bethany.  Your dear friend, their brother Lazarus, is very ill.”
“This sickness will not end in death, but in God’s glory!” Jesus replied.  But he did not follow the messenger back.   Two days later, he stood up and turned to his disciples.
“Come on, let’s go!” he said.  But they were afraid to go so close to Jerusalem, remembering how Jesus’ life was in danger there.
He stepped forward into the sun-baked road. “Now it’s daylight.  Lazarus is asleep, and I’m going to wake him up!”  And the disciples followed Jesus despite their fears.

As they came close, they saw Martha running towards them.  “Lord,” she called out, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” Sobbing shook her as Jesus stepped towards her, steadying her. “But I know,” she carried on, quietly, “even now, God would do anything you asked.”
“Your brother will rise again,” Jesus said.
“Yes, I know, on the Last Day – the day of resurrection, of new life.”
“I am the resurrection, I am the life.  Whoever believes in me will live, and will never be swallowed up by the dark emptiness of death. Do you believe this?”
“Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was promised from long ago!”  Then she went back to find Mary.
“Sister, the Teacher is here!”  Straight away Mary got up and went out, followed by those who had come to mourn with her.  She went up to Jesus and fell weeping at his feet. “Lord!” she said. “If you had been here, my brother would not have died!”   Jesus saw her sorrow, and looked at those around, draped in black, and weeping. And he, too, shuddered under the heavy weight of grief.  “Where is he?”  Jesus asked.
“Come and see, Lord,” they answered. And Jesus wept. “See how he loved him!” said some.

“Could he not then have saved him?” questioned others.

They came before the tomb – a cave with a stone rolled across the entrance.
“Take away the stone!” Jesus said, but Martha hesitated.
“Lord, he has been dead four days.  The body will smell,” she said.

“If you believe, you will see God’s glory!” Jesus answered, and they rolled the stone away.  He prayed in a loud voice, and then, he looked into the deep darkness of the tomb. “Lazarus, come out!” he called.  And Lazarus came out, wrapped in linen grave clothes, with a cloth around his face. “Set him free from his grave clothes!”  Jesus said to those around him, who stared in astonishment as the man they had been mourning stood before them, alive again.

From The Bible Retold

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Henry Ossawa Tanner

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Vincent van Gough

What would it mean to be a resurrection people?

To follow Jesus into this experience too? To participate with Jesus in this walk down to the darkest, deadest places, and participate in this bringing of life and hope,  of making things new.  To be part of the new heavens and new earth, to pray and work for his kingdom to come now, on earth, as it is in heaven.  Is it possible to move from discussion of the meaning of resurrection, important as that is,  to beginning to practice it, to live as if it were the way things were meant to be and were becoming?  In any experience of darkness, perhaps we can take courage  to walk through the valleys of the shadows (Psalm 23), to not be afraid, to trust there is a way out the other side.  And, when we are ready,  to look up, to look for signs of light, and life.

Here is a poem, one of a series.  You can find the first, and follow them through,  here

Mary, sister of Lazarus, at your feet a second time

She sits in the shuttered room,
the room where her brother had laid,
dying, dead, the messengers sent out
returning empty, with no reply,
like prayers that bounce  off ceilings
or stick to the roof of the mouth,
choking with sorrow.
When you stay by the Jordan
that shuttered room is where Mary stays.

This is her shadowed valley, the dark forest of her path,
foreshadowing yours, it is all foreshadowing you.
The room where her brother had laid,
how can she ever leave it now?

But leave she did, at last, when you called for her,
she came quickly, running, trailing darkness behind
her weeping.  Mary, once more at your feet,
and when you saw her weeping, you wept too.

You know us in our grief.  You come to us, call to us.
In our darkest, most shuttered places,
your spirit moves, breaks with ours.
Death lay heavy upon you, too, and all the sooner for
this, what you do now, standing before that tomb.

For now, you who are Life,
Word made warm and beating flesh,
and weeping,
call Lazarus out,
You, who are life, and will rise,
call out one who is dead from the cold tomb.
You watch as they run to free him from the graveclothes,
pull darkness from him, calling in strange bewildered delight,
and you see Mary’s face as she sees now,
her brother, who was dead, once more in light,
astonished, seeing your glory, part of your glory,
as she weeps again, is weeping again
breathless with joy.you staying, right at the beginning, inviting Andrew and another to follow him(

Come, O Joy:
Let heaven break into my dark night of sorrow
like the early dawn of a summer morning.

From Prayers and Verses

 

1:35-39).  He will follow us too, even to the grave of one we love. 

The one coming into the world.  This is an interesting bit.  I like the continuous tense.  It is not just the one who was promised, although it holds that meaning too.  It is one who is coming into the world.

Sunday Retold – The Woman at the Well

Part of the  Sunday Retold  series, based on the readings some churches follow week by week.:

This week we’re looking at

John 4:1-42

Please feel free to use any of my material if it helps you, saying where it is from.

This is a powerful and extraordinary story early on in John’s Gospel, one of the important conversations he has with just one person that are recorded for us.  It is a story I have turned over in my mind for a few years, and at present it forms the basis for a chapter I am writing in my next book on the I AM sayings  – not one of the classic seven I know, but I have been exploring a little beyond those, and find this story too interesting and too significant to overlook.  What follows are some of my reflections as I prepare this chapter, a very early share before I have gone through my editing process.  I hope you find it helpful.  I hope it gives you living water.

 

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Mural by  Emmanuel Nsama

 

At a time when our politics is increasingly divided and divisive, where people divide each other into categories, and make some lesser than others, this is a particularly relevant conversation.

John the Evangelist is preparing us for this story very carefully, for it is profoundly counter-cultural. Jesus stops to rest near the plot of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph.   Jacob’s other name was Israel – one who wrestles with God.  We are going back to Israel’s common spring, common source, at Jacob’s well.  We are being reminded of a time long ago, before the time when and the Jews and Samaritans became peoples who saw themselves as separate.    It is a place that holds meaning and memory for Jews and Samaritans – of their common father, and their common salvation story.  John is placing us on common ground……

 

I think it is no coincidence that John begins this story by setting it against an atmosphere of potential conflict – between cousins, between related nations.  We see Jesus acting out his mission to be a peacemaker, a reconciler.  “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us” Eph 2:14.  Jesus himself is common ground,  and his presence changes things.  If we look carefully at how we are prepared for this encounter, we can see that we are being led away from conflict, towards reconciliation, to inclusion, and to hope…….

And so, as Jesus waits for the disciples to find food, as he waits by the well in the heat of the day, a woman approaches.  We can only imagine what it must have been like for her, in a culture where a woman could be divorced “for any and every reason”.  We often think of her as one utterly disgraced in her community, having to visit the well at such a time.  That may well be so.  It is a highly plausible explanation.  Her multiple husbands are hardly a marital model, but, we must remember that at this time divorces were easy for a man to come by, and early death not uncommon.  However her situation came about, she had most certainly known her share of tragedy and disappointment.  She may have known deep shame and disgrace.  If we are thinking in terms of barriers and divides, she has many to cross.

And yet she, like everyone else, gets thirsty, and needs water to drink, and water to wash with.  She is as human as everyone else.  So often, we do not see people like this.  So often, we make quick judgements, build fences, wonder about people’s worthiness, and in our own pride and insecurity, seek to feel superior, safe, chosen, righteous in some way.  Not so Jesus.

His question bursts through all our categories and barriers in its gentleness, its humanity.  It is a question that changes everything for this woman, and for her community.
“Will you give me a drink?”

It is not just that he recognises her thirst, but that he humbly admits his own.  He speaks, not to rebuke a sinful woman, not to point out what she needs to do to straighten out her life, but to make himself vulnerable before her, and to call out her goodness.  For this is what the question does. It recognises her goodness.  It recognises and awakens this truth about her – that she is made in the image of God, she is a God-bearer in the world.  That image can be buried beneath layers of hiding, of shame, buried under words of condemnation that have been spoken over a person, it can be twisted by hatred and fear and darkness, but it is always there, and Jesus sees it.
If we have  come across the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25 this question opens up others – the thirsty person before us, asking us for water, for help, is Jesus.  How do we respond?  Do we give?

 

samaritan-woman

She does not know who is speaking to her. Of course not!  Neither does she know the gift of God.  But Jesus is revealing both of these things to her.  Jesus is the greatest gift. And he has living water.  We are diving deeper now.  We know that in John, there is often an association between water and Spirit.  Jesus’ previous encounter with Nicodemus (Ch 3) touches on that…. and it is such a beautiful counterpoint to this one.  Here we have a woman, an outcast, a Samaritan, in the heat of noon – there we had a man, a Pharisee, member of the ruling council, at night.
This water that Jesus gives, it can become a spring in us, as indeed the Spirit in us is a spring, bubbling and welling up to life.

 

From The Bible Retold

LIVING WATER 

It was hot when the woman went to get water from the well, near her home town of Sychar in Samaria.  As she drew near, she saw a Jewish man sitting there, in the shade.  She hesitated a moment, nervous of this stranger.  For the Jews and Samaritans had been enemies for centuries, since the time of the exile.  “But,” she thought, “I must have water,” and she carried on walking to the well.

The man was Jesus.  He had left Jerusalem and was making his way back to Galilee.  His disciples were buying food, leaving him to rest from the burning sun. He looked up at the woman.
“Will you give me a drink?” he asked, with a thirsty smile.   Jews and Samaritans never ate or drank together: it was against all the laws and customs.
You, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan for a drink?” She was so startled she nearly dropped her water jug.
“If you knew who I was, you’d ask me, and I would give you real, life-giving water!”
“How can you get water?  You have nothing to hold it in!”
“If you drink from the well, you’ll be thirsty again.  If you drink the water I offer, it will become like a clear spring within you, bubbling over with eternal life!”
“Sir, I would like that water!”  she replied.  But Jesus questioned her about how she lived, and amazed her by revealing her secrets: things she had kept hidden, for shame.  Could this man be a prophet?
She ran back to town, telling everyone.  They invited Jesus and the disciples to stay, and he taught them for two days.

The people of the town said to the woman, “Now, we don’t just believe in Jesus because of what you said.  We’ve heard the truth for ourselves!”

 

“The well is deep”  What does that mean for you?

Meditation suggestion:

Pour out a large jug of water, and set it before you, together with a glass or glasses.
Consider the water, and ask yourself what you thirst for right now?  Try to allow honest answers to rise in your mind, and note them.  Are there places in your life that feel dry and unproductive? What would bring them life?

 

Take a look at the photographs drawn from different cultures.  How do you respond to them?
You might like to place a picture reminding of of this story above a place where you wash, or your kitchen tap.

 

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Detail of stained glass at Gloucester Cathedral, above the place in the cloisters where the monks washed.

 

This is what God says

“I myself will look for my people and take care of them in the same way as shepherds take care of their sheep.

“I will bring them back from all the places where they were scattered on that dark, disastrous day.

“I will lead them to the mountains and the streams of their own land, so they may make their home amid the green pastures.

I shall be their God, their Good Shepherd; they will be my people,  my flock.”

From Ezekiel 34

From Prayers and Verses

 

May your week be bubbling up with life-giving water

The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

It was such a pleasure to visit the Abbey School this week, as judge of their prose reading competition. Such wonderful expressive readers – it was a real treat, and very hard to chose a winner.
They kindly let me show them some of my books, and they did enjoy playing “guess the language” with the foreign editions, and guessed very well!

Andrea Skevington

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I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon…

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An Advent “O”, and Quiet Spaces

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I am making some preparations for Christmas, following on from my previous post on experiencing the darkness, the waiting, of Advent.  As I’ve been doing bits about the place, I have had Malcolm Guite’s “O” sonnets in my mind, and also the ancient songs on which they are based.

I unwrapped my old twig wreath, to see that it is even less of a circle than in previous years.  But, as I turned it round, I saw it as an “O”, which seemed just right for today.  The most famous of the “O”s is O Come O come Emmanuel, which sees good for a wreath, a sign of welcome.  I thought of all the welcomes of Christmas – from Jesus in a manger,  to friends and family who come to the door.

As I was thinking this, Wendy our post person came with a little parcel containing these

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The latest edition of Quiet Spaces   My contribution is some meditations based on Emily Dickinson’s poetry.  I so enjoyed doing that – but I had forgotten that it hadn’t come out yet!
So, there are twelve poems, or extracts of them, by ED, followed by a meditation, a creative response, an application to take into your day.  They work as daily meditations, or combined to form a quiet day or group activity.  I’m quite excited about returning to them, with an

O

 

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Grundisburgh Cribfest, and The Little Christmas Tree

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Rev Wendy Gourlay’s beautiful collage

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from the Polish mountains

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Cardboard City Crib – some interesting characters here.

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Angel from recycled materials – Jesus is made from a book, among other things….have a look! by St Mary’s School, Woodbridge

I have just spent a beautiful morning at St Mary’s Church, Grundisburgh, Suffolk.  Rev Canon Clare Sanders and her team were putting the finishing touches to their Cribfest, which opens tomorrow November 16th.  The church is full of Christmas cribs from around the world, with such variety of figures and materials.  It glitters with precious things made from sweet papers, it is full of wood and stone in its natural state, of Russian eggs, of tiny figures and huge angels.  Each one has a story to share, something to tell us.
There is also artwork from the village art club on display in the choir, and two large pieces made of Christmas cards.  The faces and hands are cut from the inside, showing the words of love and greeting that people have sent.

The more you look, the more you see.

I was there to read The Little Christmas Tree to children from the local school which was such a joy.  One half of the class was looking at the cribs, while the other listened to the story.

Do go to visit the Cribfest if you are in the area, it is well worth it.

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The Little Christmas Tree – a few pictures!

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I love the illustrations for my first book by the fabulous Lorna Hussey, so I thought I would take it out on a sunny day and snap a few pictures to share with you.  She draws out the different characters of the trees so well, and the animals are delightful.  I am particularly fond of some of the minor characters, such as this beautiful owl, and the badger who appears later.

Whenever I take the book to schools, I always take the foreign editions.  The children enjoy trying to work out the different languages – and are particularly intrigued by the different scripts.  It’s a wonderful thought that the book has found  homes so far away.

I am very grateful for the way young readers have taken this book to their hearts.

The Little Christmas Tree remains a favourite of mine, too.
It is selling quite fast on Amazon at the moment, but other on-line shops and actual shops have it too if that’s your usual and it’s out of stock!  Here is a link to the publisher’s online shop

The Little Christmas Tree – in stock!

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This is the very first story I wrote after leaving school – and it is still such a favourite.  It is a Christmas fable of kindness and gentleness, beautifully illustrated by the very talented Lorna Hussey.

Last year, a new edition was issued, with very festive sparkles.  These don’t show up on the photo, but they are glittering away on my shelf as I write.

You can ask your bookshop to get it for you, if it’s not in stock, or you can order it online.
Amazon UK
and
Amazon USA

Last Christmas, the book sold well in the USA, so thank you very much for your support!