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.
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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.

 

Good Friday Retold

A simple reading and prayers for this Holy Friday

From The Bible Retold and Prayers and Verses

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

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Cano Alonso

THE ROAD OF TEARS, AND THE PLACE OF THE SKULL (Luke 23:26-49)

Jesus stumbled under the heavy wooden cross, weak from his beating, and so the soldiers seized Simon, a visitor from Cyrene in north Africa, and gave him the cross to carry.  Jesus followed slowly over the rough, hard road.

A large crowd followed, and among them were many women, sobbing.  He turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. You and your children will know enough pain.”

Two other men were led out to be crucified with Jesus at Golgotha, the Place of the Skull: one on his left, and one on his right.  So Jesus was nailed to the cross, and a sign was hung above him, saying: “This is the King of the Jews.”
From the cross, Jesus spoke slowly, painfully. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

But some among the crowd sneered “Save yourself if you are God’s Chosen One. You saved others!”

The soldiers joined in, as did one of the men being crucified. But the other said, “Don’t you fear God, at the hour of your death?  We are guilty, but this man has done nothing wrong.”  He turned his head towards Jesus.  “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom!”

And Jesus answered “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

Then, a deep darkness came over the land, and the shadows spread and joined together.  In the Temple, the curtain that hid the holiest place was torn in two.  “Father, take my spirit!” Jesus called in a loud voice, and then his head fell forward, and his breath stopped.

The Roman centurion at the foot of the cross said, “Surely this was a good man.”  And many of the crowd were overcome by sadness, and turned away.  But those who knew him, men and women, stayed, and kept watch.

THE TOMB  (John 19:38-42, Matthew 27:57-61)

Joseph of Arimathea, a secret follower of Jesus, went to see Pilate. “I request permission to bury Jesus,” he said, and Pilate gave him the body.  So Joseph and Nicodemus, the man who had visited Jesus at night, took Jesus away.  Nicodemus had brought a great weight of spices – myrrh and aloes – and together the two men prepared Jesus’ body with the spices and wrapped it in linen.  Then they carried him to Joseph’s garden tomb, cut into the rock, and there they laid him. They rolled the stone over the entrance, shutting out the last red rays of light. Then they turned, and walked away. But Mary Magdalene, who had been healed by Jesus, and the other Mary, stayed and kept watch in the chill of the deepening shadows.

 

 

Lord Jesus, who died upon the cross:
You know this world’s suffering,
You know this world’s sorrowing,
You know this world’s dying.

In your name, Lord Jesus, who rose again:
I will work for this world’s healing,
I will work for this world’s rejoicing,
I will work for this world’s living.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we feel abandoned.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we face danger.

Jesus, who walked to the cross,
be with us when we are suffering.

When sorrow threatens to defeat us,
Jesus, who rose from the dead, be with us.

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

 

Bless you this Easter

Maundy Thursday Retold

As we approach Easter, I’ll share with you retellings and prayers that might help you in your preparation, and might be useful for faith communities to share.  Today, we’ll look at the time when Jesus knelt before his followers to wash their feet, and gave them a new commandment – to love each other.
The word Maundy derives from the word commandment.

Love and serve one another

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THE SERVANT KING (John 13: 1- 17)

Evening came, and Jesus and his disciples were together in the upper room they had been given.  Jesus knew the time had come to leave the world – and those he loved, and would love to the end.  Jesus knew that God had given him power over all things, and so he took a towel, and tied it around his waist. He knelt down before his followers, and began washing their feet.
“No, Lord!” burst out Simon Peter when Jesus came to him. “I can’t let you do that!”
“You don’t understand yet – to be part of me, you must let me serve you.”
“Then wash my hands and my head, too” Peter replied.

Jesus came to Judas.  He knew that Judas had already agreed to betray him to the high priests and the Temple guard, but still, he carried on washing his feet.
“Do you understand?” he said when he had finished. “I’m your Teacher, your Lord, and yet I take the place of the humblest slave.  So you must serve each other, and you will be blessed in doing so.”

BREAD AND WINE  (Matthew 26:20-29, from John13:31-17:26)

Then, they began the Passover meal.  They ate flat bread with bitter leaves, and dipped greens in salt water, to remember the bitterness and the tears of slavery in Egypt.  Once more, they told each other the story of how God saved the people of Israel.  But then, Jesus’ face clouded with sadness.
“One of you is going to betray me!” he said.
“No!” they all answered, pale with shock.
“One who shares my bread,” Jesus said, giving a piece to Judas.

While they were eating, Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, giving it to all of them saying, “Take and eat, for it is my body.”  Then, after supper, he raised the cup, and gave thanks.  “Drink, all of you. For this is my blood, poured out for forgiveness.  It is the blood of the new covenant – the binding promise of God.”

During the meal, Judas slipped out unnoticed into the dark, dark night.

“Now the glory begins, and I give you a new command.  You must love one another.  Your lives will be marked by love, and all will know you are mine because of it. For I will leave you, and you cannot follow yet,” Jesus said.
“I’ll follow you anywhere!” said Simon Peter.
“Will you?  Before the cock crows, you will deny you even knew me three times.”

They were all silent, stricken with sadness.
“You are troubled – don’t be.  Think of it like this.  I’m going ahead to my Father’s house, to get rooms ready for you.  Then I’ll come back for you. You know the way!”

Thomas said “We don’t know where you’re going, and we don’t know the way!”
“I am the way,” said Jesus. And his disciples remembered the many long, dusty roads they had followed him along.   Now, where would they go, what would they do? He saw their sadness, and spoke gently to them for a long time, planting hope.
“I am a vine, and from me grow branches – you. The vine gives the branches life, and they bud and blossom and fruit.  So draw your life from me, and you will too.

“When I go, the Spirit will come, to guide you into all truth. In this world, you will face trouble.  But take courage: I have overcome the world!”

From The Bible Retold

This reading, too, contains one of the great I AM sayings of Jesus.  I have been mulling it over in my mind as I write my next book.  I hope to share more on this with you another time!

Dear God,
Help me to love you with all my heart,
with all my soul and with all my mind.
Help me to love those around me as I love myself.

O God,
Let me learn how to love.
May I grow more patient.
May I speak more kindly.
May I act more humbly.
May I never give up learning to love.

Lord Jesus,
May our lives bear the mark of love.
As we are kind, as we share, as
we are gentle, may your love be seen in us.
Help us, for this is hard for us.

From Prayers and Verses

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

And finally, a poem, imagining what it was like for Jesus to wash the feet of Judas.  I used this poem on a Holy Week retreat at  Otley Hall  last year.

Jesus washes Judas’ feet.

That moment, when you knelt before him,
took off his sandals, readied the water,
did you look up?  Search his eyes?
Find in them some love, some trace
of all that had passed between you?

As you washed his feet, holding them in your hand,
watching the cool water soak away the dirt,
feeling bones through hard skin,
you knew he would leave the lit room,
and slip out into the dark night.

And yet, with these small daily things –
with washing, with breaking and sharing bread,
you reached out your hand, touched, fed.
Look, the kingdom is like this:
as small as a mustard seed, as yeast,
a box of treasure hidden away beneath the dirt.
See how such things become charged,
mighty, when so full of love. This is the way.

In that moment, when silence ebbed between you,
and you wrapped a towel around your waist;
when you knew, and he knew,  what would be,
you knelt before him, even so, and took off
his sandals, and gently washed his feet.

Otley Hall Quiet Day – 12th April

Here is some information about my next event, a day at the stunning Otley Hall in Suffolk on the Wednesday of Holy Week.
Otley Hall in the spring is a beautiful place.
It would be lovely to see you there!

Otley Hall Quiet Day
Wednesday 12th April 2017 10am-4pm

Entering imaginatively into the Bible

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We will read gospel stories, imagining ourselves into the scene, and then be free to respond however seems best  – quietness, poetry, prose, media of choice.  For those who wish, we will also think about how to communicate the treasures we find with others.

To book a place on the Quiet Day (£25 including lunch), contact Otley Hall
Otley Hall’s website
01473 890264

I will have a few copies of my books available to buy, thanks to Browsers Bookshop of Woodbridge.

 

Wind, and weather

This is my second response to the wonderful Quiet Day at Otley Hall with Malcolm Guite.
While  Trying to listen to God grew out of the day’s content, this next came from the distractions. While we were listening, and looking out at the garden full of delicate spring flowers, the weather had an agenda of its own, bringing swift and sudden bursts of snow and hail.  With the north wind came this very small verse.

 

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Wind

Who knows what the wind brings?
These clouds cross the blue sky
full of rain
and hail
and snow,
as the birds sing,
as the flowers grow.
They come if I say yes
or no –
can I say Yes to the wind?

 

 

 

 

Trying to listen to God

This week, I had the great privilege of spending a day at Otley Hall listening to some of Malcolm Guite’s most recent poems, to be published soon in Parable and Paradox  .  This collection on the sayings of Jesus is full of personal response and deep scholarship.  Those of us who were there had time to reflect on all the wisdom and beauty outside, which always helps my thinking!  It was an astonishingly good experience, and several new poems ended up among my jottings – they still feel quite tentative.

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Here is the first.

 

Trying to listen to God

There is all this that speaks –
the electric green grass,
the cowslips and fritillary lilies –
I know I am to consider them,
consider it all.
The song the trees sing today –
their tender beauty
like the beauty of a child –
will not be repeated tomorrow.
Today is the day to hear it.

There is all this
and stories too –
The Kingdom is like this, like that –
slipping past the guard of ego
and reason
they work their slow growth
Seeds that crack the
dark tarmac,
the grey concrete,
soften the callouses our own
stories have worked.

For there is all that too –
the stony weights,
the things that choke.
How does good soil get to be
good?
I wonder, as I am shaken,
as my ground is cleared.

 

 

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