Friday, 26 February 2016


When I was a teenager, from time to time, I went with the Boys’ Brigade on what we called an ‘expedition’. We went walking across the hills carrying everything we needed for a couple of nights - tent, sleeping bag, food, cooking utensils, change of clothes etc. It was heavy – and, though I enjoyed those walks, that is usually my first thought when I hear someone talking about a burden. A burden is something that is heavy. It weighs you down. I wonder what things are weighing us down, both individually and corporately, at the moment? What are the things that feel so heavy, the things that make us wonder if we can cope?

Lent is a good time to think about struggling – but, of course, struggling isn’t great if you get stuck and can’t emerge from the struggle. As Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones reminds us in “Never Said a Mumbalin’ Word”, “The best way to stop carrying a burden is to put it down.” I do fear that sometimes our struggles are because we just refuse to put down the burden. We think we have to keep carrying it – and we don’t. Don’t get caught up with all that stuff you are carrying. Instead, look for what God is calling you to do now! As Bozzuti-Jones also comments: “The best way to do something is to begin it.”

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Finding God in the Ordinary

I recently read Gerard Hughes' "Cry of Wonder", a fascinating exploration of God engaging with ordinary lives, and so a reminder that God looks to relate to us. As Hughes says: "God is to be found in the ordinary, in the earthiness and messiness, the chaos and strife of everyday living. We live today in an environment where such thinking is not fashionable.  Self-preservation has become our God: it masquerades as peace and imprisons us in spiralling violence. The violence has its source in our way of thinking. Every individual is being invited to contribute to peace for all. We are created for glory, not for annihilation."

We need need to learn not to just be looking out for self, but seeing how we can share the light and love of God. That way the glory of God can be found in the everyday world. 

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


The question as to what constitutes greatness is an interesting and challenging one. Jesus' first disciples famously argued about this particular matter. Conventional wisdom is clearly very different from Jesus' approach of promoting the way of service. It is also worth thinking about what it is that drives us, what are the things that really matter to us and what are those that really bother us.

In his reflection for the first Sunday in Lent in "Never Said a Mumbalin' Word" Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones asks an interesting question and makes an interesting point:

- What gives you a feeling of greatness in your life as a Christian?

- Remember that Jesus began his ministry after facing his demons.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016


There was a fashion a little while ago to offer free hugs. I guess it was a reaction against the sense of isolation that so many feel these days. I remember seeing someone with a sign offering 'free hugs' as I was walking through Birmingham city centre one day.

I was reminded of that recently when reading Padraig O'Tuama's inspiring and challenging book "In the Shelter". In the book O'Tuama gently reflects on some of the key ways in which we engage with life. He points out some of the many questions that we ought to be considering. Life is full of questions with which we should engage.

However, I think that possibly my favourite little section of this book is a paragraph about hugging. O'Tuama writes: The Ireland I grew up in was not an Ireland that knew much about hugging. Maybe it was particularly true for Irish boys; I don't know whether it was different for girls. One Irish way of saying 'hug' is duine a theannadh le do chroi - to squeeze somebody with your heart. It's lovely but I never knew it. That first time I was asked for a hug and I got one - even though I didn't know I had one to either give or take - I found myself thinking 'So this is what arms are for'.

Who might you squeeze with your heart?

Monday, 22 February 2016


Saints are often regarded as really special, and so they are - but most saints are also ordinary people. We are all called to be saints and, with God's help, we can manage just that. 

During Lent I am reading Graham James's "The Lent Factor" in which he shares the stories of forty people whom he has found to have something really helpful say through how they lived. He makes the point that we all have our part to play - whatever it is that God has called us to do. Saints are special, but they are not perfect. He comments: "I recall one definition of a saint as 'someone in Christian history whose life has been insufficiently researched.' That's a reminder that saints are also sinners like the rest of us. Those who inspire faith in others, or lead us to want to imitate their best qualities, are not without blemish. " 

In other words, you are a saint! We all are special and we can also do stuff for God.

And wouldn't it be interesting to make our own list of forty people, some known to us personally, others not so known, but all folk who have really inspired us?

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Glimpsing God

In many ways God is hidden. In many other ways we can a glimpses of God and that is terrific. I have been reading Rex Chapman's "A Glimpse of God" (SCM, 1973). Although written over forty years ago, and so in some ways in the language of is time, it offers insights that remain highly relevant. The first chapter deals with the matter of doubt. We sometimes see doubt as the opposite of trust, but that is not so. Rather doubt is a crucial part of trust. Faith is far more resilient than being something that cannot cope with doubt. As Chapman says: "To limit God's grace to those of us who are so sure of our faith and so clear in our decisions would probably be to price most of us out of the market. Like the kingdom of God faith the size of a mustard seed has hidden potential."

He comments about the place of the "doubt that makes us wonder what what on earth God is going to get up to next." We need to allow doubt to contribute constructively to what we do and are. There are many places where we can catch glimpses of God. When that happens we will be inspired, even if we have been struggling to catch that glimpse.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Getting Dirty in Church

Today is Ash Wednesday, and so Lent begins. One of the things I am reading for Lent is a series of Lenten meditations entitled "Never Said a Mumbalin' Word" by Mark Francisco Bozzuti-Jones. It is a series of reflections on the spirituals.

In today's meditation he comments: "Ash Wednesday offers the only time throughout the year when we get dirty in church. We are marked with ashes. Can we find the words in our hearts that speak to a condition of ashes?"

Of course, the marking with ashes is not common in some traditions, like my own - but the idea of facing up to the challenge of what the Church can and should say to a messy, chaotic, suffering world raises important questions.

What will they say, in time, about how we have answered them?

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Francis of Assisi

Francis lived in the 12th century and is known for his embracing of poverty. He wanted to stand alongside the marginalised and the vulnerable and demonstrate the love of God to them. I have just finished reading Murray Bodo's "The Way of St Francis" (Fount, 1984) which offers a reflective account of the way in which he embraced a practical spirituality. As Bodo points out: "For him poverty was never an end in itself, but a means to the indwelling of God and a way of life that makes present the Kingdom of God" (p. 21).

Francis always want to focus on peace and sees a generous approach to life as something that makes the difference it should.  Bodo comments: "Francis' antidote to war is poverty, which frees him and his followers to embrace and include and give. They have no need to be defensive because they have nothing to defend. ....An extreme greed can only be countered by an extreme love, not by a watered-down mediocrity" (p. 27/8).

We find that to which God calls us when we take the risk of trouble of going to the unlikely places. Bodo again: "Life among the "lepers" is always madness to those for whom respectability is holiness and safety is the norm..  True poverty of spirit is never in safety but in the risk of looking for God where He said He was to be found, among the least of His brothers and sisters" (p. 89).

May the example of Francis inspire us to abandon the world's conventions of grabbing what we can, and exchange them for that generosity of giving which truly reflects the Jesus whom we are called to follow.