Advent 11 -Here I raise my Ebenezer

I’m not sure what this one has to do with Advent but it feels important to put it on this ever evolving blog of mine. Mainly so my most faithful reader (me) will remember. You are welcome to listen in. It’s a long one though so maybe have a cup of tea in hand. Or listen to this lovely song as you read. It sums up most of what I’m saying.

Ever since turning 40 I’ve had a strange feeling that I’m returning to the core of me, to the things that were important to me as a child and seem to be an essential part of who I am.  I’ve had a sense of my story circling back again to the things that have always been a part of me. There is another blog post brewing in how this is happening in my love of nature but I can feel this happening with my faith as well. I’ve been struggling to articulate anything to do with faith on this blog in recent years. I’m wary of the internet and wary of the thought police that seems to exist in some Christian tribes.

My faith is evolving in a natural way, I’m less certain of more things and more certain of less things. It seems an utterly normal progression and has been happening for about 20 years (my time when I was certain about everything was a mercifully brief period at the end of university.)

So here’s some of my story.  I write it down to show myself the journey so far and the path from then to now, to see the familiar threads coming up time and time again and to plant a post in the ground to say here we are and here we go from here. An ebenezer. A stone to remember.

I grew up with God. Church every Sunday (the one day of the week I had to wear a skirt until I said, no more). I grew up with Bible reading notes, Sunday school and the learned daily rhythm of having a set apart time with God each day. I grew up with biographies that blew my mind, the Spirit transforming gangland New York (secretly I wanted to be in the gangs), prisoners who saw angels at the bottom of their beds and changed their ways. I grew up with ‘the world’ being a potentially dangerous place. I grew up with awareness of a Bigger reality than me. I knew I wanted to give my life to God (whatever that meant). I found God through the example of my parents, their faith, their ways, their perspective on this world. I found God because they introduced me by being who they were. I am forever grateful.

I walked into my teens and found God through long dark days of depression and anger. Through illness and isolation wondering who I really was. I found God in the words to a song only really a handful of people will have ever heard. ‘I long to be of value, I long to have a friend, I long to have a home to go to, when my life should end’. I found God in the Lake District, standing on mountains in wonder and awe, all breath beaten from me as I knew that insignificant me was known and loved. I found God in learning the language of prayer with a friend. Praying together every week gave words to my heart.

I found God in our youth group, in the community of others trying to work out this God thing together. I found God in our church, in the epic sermons of our vicar, renewed by the Spirit, quoting hymns, poetry and exclaiming loudly of the reality of God here and now in Guildford. I found God in the mental overexcited organ solo’s our vicar used to do as he played along with the band on Easter Day praise services.

I found God in the same man who constantly talked of God bringing light into the darkness each Christmas and in the packed out midnight Christmas Eve services of loud unquenchable singing.

I found God in helping out at a cafe our church ran for a few Christmases in a row, serving breakfasts to the harassed Christmas shoppers of Guildford. I experienced confidence I never knew I had waiting on tables and being part of a team. I found God when I went under the waters and rose again to new life at my Baptism. The physical sacrament bringing deep reality in my soul.

I found God in the writings of Adrian Plass who seemed to offer the example before me to make the world a gift of weakness and know God at work through broken messy people, of which I was definitely one.

I found God in the shadow of Guildford Cathedral, taking a day off school to figure out what my life was about. The rhyming couplets from an 80s chorus have guided me on since, ‘tell my people I love them, tell my people I care, when they feel far away from me, tell my people I am there.’

I found God through my Nana, unconditional love and grace poured out on me despite my rebellious ways. I found God in those soft wrinkled hands in mine, teaching me to twiddle my thumbs and her shiny nails. I found God in her soft northern voice and in the depths of grief as she died of cancer when I was 14.

I found God many many times at Word Alive/Spring Harvest. Wandering around Butlins chatting to my God was a highlight of my teenage years. (Odd eh).

I found God in many things and various ways.

Life moved on.

I went to University and found God all over again in a different place. I also found a strange undercurrent in this faith thing. The starting of seeing people mark out who was right and who was wrong. I was taught some people were more on track than others, in amongst the zeal of students and the confidence of youth God was at work but there was a new thing alongside that, a subtle desire to work out those who were in and those who were out. There was a call to cling to truth, search for objective meaning, the fight against the scary thoughts that postmodernity seemed to bring.

I still found God, in many and various ways, and always in the Lake District, but the undercurrent remained. Some people were in and some were out. Some needed more prayers. Some had drifted away, some were talked about in sad hushed tones. I rode the emotional rollercoaster of worrying about friends who seemed to be giving up on it all. I wonder now if they were just giving up on a certain way of living with the divine rather than the divine reality.

The idea of faith as linear progression was big. You gave your life to God and then progressed up the holiness ladder to heaven. (Obviously it wasn’t put in those terms but that was the impression I was left with and still battle against)

I still found God in helping people walk on through the mess of life and knew that it couldn’t be as simple as one tribe having the monopoly on the way, the truth and the life (surely only one man really did). But all the time I saw fences going up around me, the battle lines drawn ever tighter about what to think and what to believe. (Never mind that the heroes of the different tribes didn’t always quite match up in having the exact theology of those tribes…).

I found God in the old old verses that called me not to worry all the time about what the ‘right’ belief was or which tribe I belonged to but whether I was trusting in, paying heed to God, seeking God, asking for the ancient ways, waiting for God to work, asking where God was, turning from broken cisterns and accepting the ways of overflowing everlasting patient love.

I abandoned my ship of fulltimepaidchristianministry, got married, ploughed into the parched desert of early parenting and clung to the heart of what I believed. God was here, I was stripped away of any kind of active involvement, offering little faith or activity of my own but as I nurtured my boys I felt God nurture me, constantly love and hold me through the long dark nights.

I found God in the cot, at my breast, in dancing around the kitchen with a small one in the sling. I found God in doing the same things over and over again, I found God in ordering the chaos and in the long walk home.

As I come out of those early parenting years I’m starting to look around more and see what faith looks like here. I can’t abide the tribal barriers anymore. I can’t be bothered with the people who have the time to draw up long lists of who is in the club and who is out. I can’t deal with the emotional weight of worrying that if someone alters their theology on one detail that they are thrown out. It doesn’t feel very Jesus like to me. The man who made the way abundantly open and as narrow as it could be. Who did that according to who he was talking to at the time. Who tenderly loved the outcast and reserved his anger for the whitewashed tombs who put the external barriers too high for anyone to get over.

At the moment we are part of a church where there is room to breathe, to explore and question, where there isn’t a line in the sand to adhere to. I find myself, in this freedom, more certain than ever that I belong to the Maker of the universe, that God is at work in the world and that Jesus calls us to love and care for this beautiful mess of a city we live in. I find God on the school run, in the conversations I have with others, in the light on people’s faces, in the daily plodding on. I find God in the world around me, the slow never changing transformation of the seasons. I find God as I explain the world to my boys and marvel at how they are trying to figure it all out.

I find God in the tears of those who’ve been rejected and excluded finding a home. In the freedom of being loved and known. In the constant joyful knowledge that I don’t have everything neatly sorted out, and that no-one ever has in the whole of history. And still God works patiently with us. I find God in the wonderful knowledge that God is at work through many people and in various ways speaking constantly of Jesus. I find God in the knowledge that here we see dimly and in darkness but one day we will know fully and I can joyously wait for that day. I find God in the knowledge that all of us are loved, so loved, whatever we believe or not today.

I still find God at Christmas, moving in to abide with us. Our Immanuel. Our hope in the face of blackest dark. Our everlasting light when all other lights flicker and fade. I cannot wait to one day know fully but for now I trust that I know in part and God can take care of the rest. I don’t need this all figured out. Someone else has. I can rest in the God who is slow to anger and rich in love. Who comes with tender mercy and welcomes all who would come in. Phew.

Ebenezer planted.

On we go.

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Advent 10

I’m too tired to write about the wonder of today, I’m sure there was some but I am in need of my bed and so the wonder of my shiny new metaphor (and you know how I love a metaphor…) will have to wait for a couple of days whilst I process it.

Until then, here’s some of Isaiah. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. Phew.

Isaiah 9:

“1 [a]Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.”

 

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Advent 9

It’s Sunday.

It’s a day for a song.

This minor key rendition of O Little Town of Bethlehem is good for soothing the soul, whether we are feeling the joys and wonder of Advent today or not. The hopes and fears of all the years are held and met and known. Our Lord, Immanuel, has come to abide with us. We are known. In our joys, in our sorrows, in our unknowns, in our brokenness, in our doubt, in our shouting from the rooftops faith. God has stepped in and pulled back the curtain to reveal, in Jesus, the reality of all that God is.

Let Gareth Davies-Jones soothe your soul and remind you of that tonight:

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Advent 8

Another day. A fresh start.

Christmas craft with the boys.

Running with no fear of what I would return to when I got home. (I’m beginning to believe in this period of better health for husbandface.) Big grin on my face.

Enjoying sun again and the gentle rhythm Christmas music caused on my feet.

Brunch with old friends. Lovely to hang out and share life again. Reassuring and refreshing.

Speedy Christmas fair visit.

Christmas open house and then the putting up of the Christmas tree. Mince pies, clementines and many mugs of hot tea.

I might need to shout ‘It’s Christmas!’ very loudly soon.

Sitting in calm at the end of the day. Grateful. At peace. Enjoying some still waters.

Glad of these lines. ‘Blessed are they whose help is in the Lord’. Endless love, compassion, care, faithfulness and a lifting up of those who are bowed down. Today that gentle tender touch feels so near. I am glad.

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Advent 7

Big waves.

That’s all I’ve got.

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Advent 6

I’m in London.

Wonder is found in the faces of old friends.

In pottering around twisty London back streets admiring the architecture of this crazy place.

In retreating to a safe place when it all got too much. There is something immensely soothing about sitting in a library surrounded by books.

The wonder is found in the parting of the clouds, in hope, in a tentative noting of a new kind of grounded reality and smile on the face of my favourite and best.

The wonder is found in sleepy sitting and good friends who know me so well.

I am grateful and glad of all these things. I smile into the sky and hug knowledge tight of the One who gave me all these gifts.

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Advent 5

Tonight I read Son1 the story of Pandora’s Box (the child friendly one). The end hit me all over again. A tiny creature called Hope is left at the bottom of the box. Hope is then let loose into the world.

I am grateful for the reminder. Hope is still here even in the monstrous dark. Being a believer in One who made this world and came into it I’m pretty sure that there is a deeper hope that holds this world together. This hope is found in the coming of Jesus, the longing for his return and in the real presence of someone right here with us in the mess.

The one who was. Is. Is to come. Who was and is and shall be forever more. I love that we live tucked in the middle of that big narrative. Our lives are wrapped in a big story of hope, redemption and light where we can’t see anymore.

As Carrie Fisher put it so well this time last year:

“Hope is like the sun. If you only believe it when you see it you’ll never make it through the night.”

This year has been full of holding to hope. Some days I’ve done that better than others, but as I start to reflect on another year gone in our lives I can see the trails of the One who has held our hand, whose hope burns strong in us and has not let us go. I’m more convinced of the wonder of Jesus at the end of this year. 2 years ago when we felt the storm waves almost capsize us I read words that I clung to, words of asking to know more of God- if this was to be what we had to face.

I wanted to know deeper. I think I am starting to. I think I know more of what it is to sail on in the dark held by the One who will not let go of the boat. I am glad. I hope for more of that. I hope.

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