Wednesday, 20 January 2016

Receiving from God

There are many passages in the Bible that say things about God's generosity and what we receive from God. It is important to know that God loves us and looks out for us.

One of these passages - Ephesians 3:14-21 - indicates how God gives from the treasures of glory. God gives inward strength and power - and so we can have faith. Faith brings me close to Jesus, who makes me strong. There are so many things that make us feel vulnerable, marginalised, weak. Jesus provides a firm foundation.

How wonderful that, as this passage reminds me:
- I can know the breadth of God's love.
- I can know the height of God's love.
- I can know the depth of God's love.
- I can know the length of God's love.
God's love is beyond knowledge - yet I can know it!

I can be filled with the very fullness of God, who is at work in me, God who can do so much more than we can imagine.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Encountering God

God is beyond our words and descriptions - but it is only human to think of God in particular ways. None, of itself, is entirely adequate, but different images and descriptions helps us to discover different aspects of the immensity of God. The question of how we see God is an important one, and the answer will vary at different times and stages.

Daniel Munoz, in his book about St. John of the Cross, "Transformed by the Beloved", points out that: "Jesus himself used stories to paint different pictures of God - as a running father (Luke 15:11-32), a rejoicing woman (Luke 15:8-10), a caring shepherd (Matthew 18:12-14), a hidden treasure or a precious pearl (Matthew 13:44-46)." He adds that St. John does the same - "God is depicted as a running fountain, a living flame of love, a hiding lover, and a protective bridegroom."

Some of these images are of people in particular circumstances, while others are of inanimate objects - but each has a special bit of 'light' to shine, just like a photograph taken from different angles, or perhaps at different times of the day. Each has something to add.

John, Munoz suggests, has four particular ways in which we might usefully think of God.

God is the relentless seeker.  God comes looking for us "eager to meet us, to embrace us and to lavish his love on us."

Second, there is God as the 'exalter' of human beings. Recognising our value, God wants us to fulfil our potential.

Third is the concept of God as one who loves us. The most relevant image here may be that of a mother.

The fourth of these is God as the 'God of surprises'. We should not make the mistake of thinking that we know what God will do.

We need to be sure that "our images of God are not too small, too limiting, or too constraining. ... God will always be higher and deeper than we think, and always full of new things, ready to surprise us."

If you were to draw a picture of God at this moment, what would it look like? What would you draw - and what does that say about who God is to you at the moment, and also who God is challenging you to be, what God is challenging you to do?

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Avoid Dehydration

More from Munoz and his book about St John of the Cross -

He stresses the importance of avoiding spiritual dehydration - being dehydrated makes you grumpy! "The Bible is full of examples where water is used as a metaphor or symbol of spiritual life." John of the Cross uses water as a powerful symbol of divine life and spiritual hydration. The essential thing is that we need to connect with God.  Is that happening? Are we drinking at the "well" which provides us with the water of life?

Saturday, 2 January 2016

Decluttering the Soul

New Year is a time for resolutions - and often, if we are honest, for wondering how long they will be kept.  It can be a time for, both literally and metaphorically, clearing things out.  Daniel Munoz, in "Transformed by the Beloved" which reflects on St. John of the Cross's Dark Night of the Soul, refers to John's giving attention to what we might call decluttering the soul - "We need to take time to identify and understand all the clutter in our souls."  

What are the things that really matter to us?  What are the things that drive us?  Where are our priorities?  Attachment to things or relationships can be a barrier to spiritual growth, and so "John invites us constantly to watch our motivations and our relationships to all that is around us as we engage in the process of inner decluttering."

One example that is quoted in the book is of the Israelites leaving Egypt.  Moses led them out of Egypt away from slavery so that they could go to the promised land; but for quite some time the people looked back to the things they missed about Egypt.  They had not really moved on.  "Someone once said that it was easy for God to get the Israelites out of Egypt but much harder to get Egypt out of the Israelites."

One of the ways in which I think this translates into current church life is when we face questions around what God is calling us to do.  We can see new challenges, though sometimes we struggle as we can't see where we will find the resources to meet them - but one of the answers is possibly in considering what we should be giving up.  We are much better at taking things on than we are at giving them up.  Sometimes we need to look and see where God is calling us on and leave behind something (that very likely was once somebody's great idea, but that has now had its day.)

Friday, 1 January 2016

The Shepherd's Life

"The Shepherd's Life" by James Rebanks - which I have just finished reading - is, somewhat unexpectedly, one of my favourite books of the last twelve months.  I really enjoyed reading Rebanks' account of the life of a shepherd in the English Lake District.  His family have farmed there for generations and he offers a descriptive of both the changing and unchanging aspects of that life. Earlier generations would not have got around by quad bike, but would have engaged in the same searches through the snow for lost lambs. It is not an easy life and yet, even before reading the final eight words of the book, it is very clear that this is the life for him. Those words, by the way, are - and I don't think this is a spoiler, if you haven't read it and want to - "This is my life. I want no other."

Rebanks writes of the changing seasons and their impact and carefully conveys the different challenges that come the shepherd's way. He had me there on the hillside with him more than once - and I judge that to be the mark of good writing and a good story.

But the book also reminded of the different lives that we all live and yet, as he has discovered, there is a right place and a right role for each one of us. That may take us down different paths of exploration, but the important thing is to fulfil whatever it is that is right just for us.

It, of course, also reminded me of the various ways in which shepherds, and the use of the image of the shepherd as a means of describing God to and for us, appear in the Bible. The call of Moses while looking after his father-in-law's sheep, David the shepherd boy turned king, the appearance of the heavenly choir to the shepherds in the fields, the story of that lost sheep, Jesus' describing himself as the good shepherd - all have much to say to us as we consider the call to be the church and to reflect the light and love of the one who, as the 23rd psalm has it, is my shepherd.