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Given Not Taken

A Good Friday like no other – the world fights a pandemic. Here in the UK, as in many nations, we are in ‘lockdown’ – adjusting to social distancing and self-isolation (terms with which we were perhaps unfamiliar just a few weeks ago).

For Christians this has meant, among many other things, the closing down of churches and normal church services, and has presented huge challenges, now being faced with creativity and resourcefulness.

Good Friday stands as one of the great pinnacles of our Christian faith. It marks the point in history when Jesus of Nazareth suffered the ignominious and brutal death by crucifixion at the hands of Roman soldiers … The details are faithfully recorded by all four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – occupying large sections of their work, and betokening the profound nature of this event.

For none of them did the Crucifixion come as a surprise, nor was it viewed as an accident. Indeed, Jesus alluded to His sufferings on numerous occasions during His ministry – saying, for example, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn Him to death and deliver Him over to the Gentiles (Romans). And they will mock Him and spit on Him, and flog Him and kill Him. And after three days He will rise.”

I’ve been pondering some words, recorded by John in his account, in which Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep … For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:11,17-18

Whatever interpretations and explanations there may be of Jesus’ sufferings and death, this for me, is the ultimate – Jesus life was GIVEN and not TAKEN. Yes, there is the human element of betrayal, arrest, trial, torture and execution – BUT one has the sense that throughout it all JESUS is in total control. Here is someone fulfilling a destiny, and until this point in time He was ‘indestructible’ – indeed several attempts to take His life are mentioned by the gospel writers (Luke tells of an attempt in Nazareth, early in Jesus public ministry, and John relates an occasion when opponents took up stones to stone Him.) The reason they did not succeed, announces John, is because “His hour had not yet come”

When that ‘hour’ did arrive eventually, Jesus unflinchingly set His face to go to Jerusalem, where He knew what ‘fate’ awaited Him. In a remarkably transcendent episode (The Transfiguration) He meets with figures from the past (Moses and Elijah) and discusses His approaching ‘exodus’ which He was to ‘accomplish’ at Jerusalem.

So, Good Friday marks the appointed ‘hour’, quite deliberately coinciding with the Jewish Passover Feast, when Jesus voluntarily lays down His life, as the antitype of the passover Lamb. Knowingly He submits Himself to a ‘baptism’ or immersion in suffering, to drinking the cup offered by His Heavenly Father, and, as Paul later wrote: “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross”.

The British worship leader/songwriter, Graham Kendrick, so beautifully expresses this self-giving of Jesus in his much-loved song entitled “The Servant King”

Come see His hands and His feet
The scars that speak of sacrifice
Hands that flung stars into space
To cruel nails surrendered

Given Not Taken – was the life of Jesus … and NOW, having taken up His life again, in resurrection, He offers that life to all. Perhaps as you read this you may hear His Voice calling to you: “It was for YOU that I was pierced, that I died – in order that you might receive My life – abundant life, eternal life” – yes, it is His gift, offered to you. I pray you will freely take His Gift today.

God bless you, this Eastertide.

 

Several months ago my wife & I handed over our cherished foster child to another carer. He’d lived 12 months with us. An extremely energetic little soldier, he’s battled through seemingly insurmountable difficulties in his short life. Months before coming into our care (August 2018) he was fighting for that life. We feel so privileged to have contributed to his recovery and early development. Writing is something of a catharsis for me and I hope my readers will understand, even forgive, for posting this raw piece on social media. I could designate it: “my bitter sweet symphony”.

DISTRESS – The Bitter

Reading in the Psalms pulled me up sharply days after his departure, accurately describing my feelings (as only Scripture can do, when we discover it reading our hearts) – “I am distraught…” moaned the psalmist, and I responded, “Me, too”. Here’s why:

Yes – distraught that we had to prematurely terminate the placement, and let him go.

Yes – distraught that my wife’s health – an injured hand (that made handling a strong toddler too painful to manage) and experience of severe chest pain – contributed largely to the placement ending

Yes – distraught by a 14 month dither within our legal system – preventing earlier movement towards adoption.

Yes – distraught by the abruptness of it all once we’d reached the decision that we simply couldn’t carry on – a decision I’d assess as among the worst in my life, and which has haunted me since.

Yes – distraught by his absence from our home, whilst seeing/hearing/feeling him all around and remembering many scenarios we’d been through together

Yes – distraught by subsequent reflections – a sense of failure, of abandoning, even betrayal of such a vulnerable child, of letting everyone down – perhaps most of all, of not fulfilling what I believed to be a ‘special’ assignment – and failing to find strength in God to carry on !

Along with this distress other thoughts surfaced, as if from nowhere – painful recollections of my past failures to see through specific assignments/projects – leaving me utterly broken inside, and mindful of a bitter lament I wrote some years ago:

https://stryka66.wordpress.com/2013/10/25/a-lightweight-laments

So, yes, “I am distraught…” does capture this miserable episode, with tears a-plenty, resonating with yet another Psalm, where the writer emotes: “I have mingled my drink with weeping”. I can only liken this to the grieving process, comparable with numerous bereavements over the years. An emotional roller-coaster of grief, anger, confusion, disappointment, regret, and forlorn hope. Hope that we may get back to ‘yesterday’ – but forlorn, because it’s just not going to happen. A further aggravating factor must be mentioned here: that well-known human propensity for wanting to take control, to be a Mr Fixit, and organize a way out – which, in this case, has only served to feed the grief.

https://www.collinsdictionary.com/data/images/width610/shutterstock-296041322-536.jpg

DISCLOSURE- The Sweet

All of this ‘stuff’ occurred around and within me at the same time as reading through the Gospel of John. Working through the last 8-9 chapters, which detail Jesus’ intimate, emotionally-charged last moments with his disciples, it slowly began to dawn on me that, in a small way, my feelings might well mirror in miniscule form what transpired 2000 years ago, as the Father loved and gave the Son, and as the Son gave His life for our sake. Especially, I pondered how the Father had observed at such close quarters:

– As Jesus’ life developed (30 years in almost total obscurity) before blessing him with affirmation (in Whom I am well-pleased) and anointing of the Holy Spirit (without measure) over a relatively short period of public ministry

– As the insults began to fly – “He’s insane…He’s demonized…He’s a trouble-maker…He’s a glutton & wine-bibber…He’s the friend of tax-collectors and sinners…and so on…”

– As the envy, anger, hatred of the religious establishment grew, leading to plots to get rid of him, many of which failed miserably

– As the betrayal by Judas, the arrest in the Garden, the subsequent trials (before Annas, Caiaphas, Pilate and Herod unfolded

– As the scourging, mockery, abuse of the Roman soldiers kicked in – purple robe, crown of thorns.

– As He’s ultimately condemned to death by crucifixion

How was the Father affected by such treatment of His beloved Son. What was His response to those heart-rending words spoken from the Cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken (abandoned) Me”

What did this do to the loving heart of the Father ?

I recalled a song heard many years ago, and reflected that this was what singer/songwriter, Dallas Holm was attempting to capture when he wrote the following lines way back in the 1970s:

God, it must have broke Your heart to send Your Son away
Knowing all the time the final price He’d have to pay
Left His home in glory and became a common man
And because He did I am what I am

Now I am a man and have a baby of my own
I wonder could I send my baby off and all alone
To help someone, somewhere, somehow to set some captive free
Could I do the same for Him who did the same for me

Yes, how did the Father feel as the Son laid down His life, surrendering His being in those dying words: “Into Your hands I commit my spirit”, as He watches the spear pierce His side and how that mutilated body, marred beyond recognition, is removed from the cross, carefully wrapped in grave cloths, with embalming spices, and laid lifeless in a borrowed, garden tomb for 3 nights in eternity.

Well, we’ll never know or understand fully – BUT as these thoughts poured over my hurting soul, I did fleetingly wonder if what I’ve been experiencing may conceivably have afforded a tiny glimpse into the heart of the suffering Abba (daddy).

https://i2-prod.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/incoming/article16135041.ece/ALTERNATES/s615/0_FRANCE_NotreDame_234342.jpg

(The amazing image of the cross in the ruins of Notre Dame Cathedral – 16 Apr 2019)

 

Season’s Greetings To You All

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The Long And The Short

On a couple of occasions in the last few years our Sheffield Group of the Northumbria Community, has reflected on this thought-provoking prayer at this special time of the year.

Attributed to the Revd. Tess Ward (ordained Anglican priest, retreat leader and spiritual director) and found in her book entitled “The Celtic Wheel of the Year”, it challenges us to think deeply about priorities to be cultivated and problem areas to be eliminated (or certainly curtailed).

It’s also included in the Celtic Daily Prayer – Book II – ‘Farther Up and Farther In’ which is used by the Northumbria Community

I’m sure it will resonate with many of my readers.

~~~~~~

A Midwinter Prayer 

From the rising of the midwinter sun to its setting,

Scatter the darkness with the light of your love, O Shining One.

Make me short on mean thoughts, long on offering words of comfort.

Make me short on being driven, long on paying attention.

Make me short on focusing only on my own, long on looking beyond.

Make me short on obsessive lists, long on spontaneous acts of kindness,

Make me short on mindless activity, long on time to reflect.

Make me short on tradition as habit, long on re-discovery and re-owning.

Make me short on rushing and tiring, long on walking and wondering.

Make me short on false festive jollity, long on stilling and rooted joy.

Make me short on guilt, long on being merciful to myself.

Make me short on being overwhelmed, long on peaceableness as I set forth this day.

~~~~~~

North Wales – January 2019

Walking The Labyrinth

I’m delighted to post this ‘reflective piece’ by my friend, Aglaia, following a group exercise of Walking the Labyrinth during a retreat at the Northumbria Community ‘mother house’, Nether Springs on Saturday 12th October 2019. It was shared by Aglaia the following day and expresses something of her apprehension, yet surprised delight at her experience. Aglaia has kindly given her permission for me to post on Ready Writer, for which I am deeply grateful. I hope it will convey something of the wonder of God’s ways.
~~~~~
The Path will not trick me –
It will carry me in the way I should go.
It keeps me safe –
keeps me focused.
It gives me time –
gives me space.
It changes my views.
It helps me look at where I came from –
 and keeps me moving forward.
The path is not made by me.
It is rock, and soil,
It is green, and alive
It is there – before me, and after me.
For all – even the slugs, the woodlice and nettles.
It is a gift – for me – for all.
To be followed.
Yet it gives me space to move along it,
the way I need, the way I want
Slowly, carefully
Heavily, deliberately
Thoughtfully, purposefully
Care-lessly, lightly
With a sway in my hips
My eyes down, my eyes up.
It lets me decide – how I walk
All the while supporting, guiding, enabling, inviting me.
And today – what a challenge !
Others are on the Path too.
And today – what a surprise !
There is room for us all.
What a delight! – encountering others, negotiating others, connecting with others.
And my fears that there won’t be room for me –
that I will have to let go of myself and pick up the others – fade away.
As joy and delight at those encounters, soothe my anxiety.
And the Path says “There is space enough for all’.
And the Path says: “Love yourself, love others – follow me, surrender to me”.
By
Aglaia Barraclough
~~~~~
I came across this photo of Nether Springs’ Labyrinth in the web’s amazing archive – but unsure of the source or the date it was taken enjoy.
https://www.churchtimes.co.uk/media/5602365/labyrinth-20160503171448444_web.jpg?width=1000