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Another Wave

It’s 3 weeks since my brother passed away and I miss him like crazy.

The grieving process for me has been deep, as waves of sadness sweep over me at unexpected moments, and for no apparent reason other than they’re inside & need to get out.  Of course, the ability to express grief through writing has been immensely important and therapeutic, which is why I’ve not hesitated to share my experience through Ready Writer – also I guess if it can help one other person on their painful journey, then the exercise will be doubly worth-while.

This morning, during early devotions, another wave crashed onto the shore-line of my broken heart. As it surged over me, somehow I was able to recall and hang on to words which have been sustaining me during this period – “Into my grieving I weave …” Here’s a link to a previous post entitled: Into-My-Grieving

Now, reading in the Psalms has proved such a solace over many years, and today was no exception, for Psalm 107 ministered deeply, bringing re-assurance of God’s ‘enduring love’ and the knowledge that He delivers from distress those who call on him in trouble – the refrain of verses 6, 13, 19 and 28.

Furthermore, verses 29, 30 of the Psalm spoke directly to my heart with the following words: “He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven” – reminding me of Jesus as He stood in fishing boat on Lake Galilee and ordered wind and waves: “Be muzzled” – Oh, the peace my Saviour brings.

If that was not sufficient I also found my way to some incredible words of Celtic Daily Prayer (in Book Two) as follows:-

Declaration of Faith

Lord, I will trust You, help me to journey beyond the familiar and into the unknown

Give me the faith to leave old ways and break fresh ground with You

Christ of the mysteries, can I trust You to be stronger than each storm in me ?

I determine amidst all uncertainty always to trust

I choose to live beyond regret, and let You recreate my life

I believe You will make a way for me and provide for me, if only I trust You

I will trust in the darkness and know that my times are still in Your hand

I will believe You for my future, chapter by chapter, until all the story is written

~~~~~

I believe God’s sustaining grace is enough and more than enough.

Changing to another metaphor, I’m profoundly grateful that the Good Shepherd is with me even as I walk through this dark valley.

Thank You, Jesus

 

 

 

 

 

When The Big Dipper Dips

TO MY TRAVEL COMPANIONS:

~~~~

John Baptist is an outstanding New Testament figure – a prophet and herald (or fore-runner) of Jesus. He presided over a huge ‘revival’ among the Israeli people, baptizing crowds of them in the River Jordan, as a sign of their repentance. Remarkable, heady days which peaked with a visible manifestation of the Spirit (in the form of a dove) and an audible voice from heaven at Jesus’ baptism ! Check out the story in Matthew 3 or Luke 3.

And yet … Matthew 11 records a distasteful moment of uncertainty in the later life of  “The Big Dipper”.

Then, a prisoner of King Herod, John learns of the miraculous ministry of cousin Jesus – news which arouses significant questions in his mind … “Is He really the One I proclaimed Him to be – the Lamb of God, who takes away the world’s sin ?  Can this really be the long-anticipated Messiah of God?” I wonder if he may have reasoned: “If Jesus is the One I claimed him to be, then why does he leave me to languish in this prison ? Could he not do something about my predicament if he really is our Promised Deliverer ?” – perplexing trains of thought which haunted & taunted his mind.

Alexander B. Bruce, a 19th century Scottish theologian, surmises that John’s imprisonment may have lasted “long enough to develop a prison mood”, while Adam Clarke in his commentary suggests: “It is very probable that John now began, through the length of his confinement, to entertain doubts, which perplexed and harassed his mind; and he took the most reasonable way to get rid of them at once, viz. by applying to Christ himself.”

Whatever the case, in many ways I find it strangely re-assuring to find such a prominent biblical figure experiencing what looks suspiciously like a ‘crisis’ of faith.

We might say: “The Big Dipper Dips”. 

As a lesser mortal I am spurred on by reading how great giants of faith negotiated their disconcerting moments, finding strategies to overcome their challenges, and so moving them home-ward. The spiritual journey is certainly not a level path to glory – more like a rough, roller-coaster ride, with myriad ups and downs, twists and turns, thrills and spills (all-too-frequently in my case) and we can learn so much from those who have travelled before us.

Here’s John’s strategy: sending a delegation of his disciples to Jesus, the Baptist pours out his misgiving in earnest inquiry: “Are you really the expected Messiah, or should we be looking for someone else?” Expressing his doubt by turning directly to Christ, as the Baptist did, meant going to the Source for answers. In my own case, sadly I’ve often looked in the wrong places for the resolving of my inner conflicts, although I have in recent years, been inspired by the words of Bohemian-Austrian poet, Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Thankfully, I observe that Jesus did not send a thunder-bolt, striking John dead for his doubting, rather gently directed him to ponder His words and His works: “Go and tell John what you hear (my words) and see (my works): the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.”

We’re not informed of the effect this response had on John Baptist – sometimes the Scriptures are silent, and our speculations can only be subjective. However, for those of us who experience similar moments of painful uncertainty, doubtless we may find here a compelling reason to follow John’s example – i.e. to quickly and directly have recourse to the Author and Perfecter of faith. There we will discover how Jesus, through His Spirit, points us time and again to His Words (‘what you hear’) and His Works (‘what you see’) as credentials of His Messiah-ship, as infallible proof of His Lordship, as firm foundations for faith. Yes, in weighing His words and works carefully and prayerfully, it will be possible to experience fresh faith rising up inside, strengthening us to press on with the remainder of our turbulent journey.

We’ll eventually come to agree with Henri Nouwen when he proposes that, Even hard and painful times can be converted to occasions for learning, shaping influences – forming us into the persons we are and leading us to the Source of healing and salvation” and further resonate with the Psalmist as he sings his melody: “…we went through fire and water, but You brought us to a place of abundance.”

~~~~~~~

 

May God richly bless you

 

 

 

Into My Grieving

On September 1st my younger brother, Terry passed away after a titanic battle with prostate cancer – at the age of 61. Days before, I came across this ‘Celtic Prayer’ through which I’ve drawn on sustaining grace, and which I share now for the benefit of anyone who may be passing through a similar valley:

Into my grieving

I weave

the strength of the Father.

Into my grieving

I weave

the compassion of the Son.

Into my grieving

I weave

The comfort of the Spirit.

Into my grieving

I receive

the presence of the Three in One.

~~~~~

Accompanying Terry and his wife on their journey, from the time of the initial diagnosis until his death was a truly unforgettable experience, for which I can sincerely thank God. We shared some special times together during those years – with loads of laughter, regular meals (our favourites consumed at Whitby’s Fish Restaurant in Doncaster), concerns over his treatments, and much re-living of childhood memories – reaching a pinnacle on the evening before he passed away, when Terry asked me to pray with/for him. It was such an inestimable privilege to do so, and absolutely priceless to hear his heartfelt, spontaneous prayer after I ended my brief prayer. Then as we concluded praying I told him how I’d waited many years to be able to share that precious moment together – his response was to flash a typical mischievous grin, as if to say, “And I kept you waiting all that time”.  Kyrie Eleison.

R.I.P. Dear Brother

Mainstay

Reading through the Psalms in the New English Bible of 1970, I came across this phrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” – and though perhaps not a literal ‘translation’ the nautical imagery nevertheless conveys the truth that God is the Chief Support of human life – that apart from Him human beings tend to fall apart, become vulnerable in the storms of life, and are prone to instability & ultimate shipwreck – not glorious prospects.

A stay (on a sailing ship) is part of the standard rigging used to support or stabilize the mast, taking the form of a large strong rope or steel wire/rod extending from the upper end of each mast and running down towards the deck of the vessel. Wikipedia states: “The object … is to prevent the masts from falling down, but the stays also prevent springing, when the ship is pitching deep.” – that is, providing stability in an otherwise unstable environment. Here’s a visual of a typical ship’s ‘stay’:

In general usage, the Cambridge Dictionary defines mainstay as, “the most important part of something, providing support for everything else“, while the Collins Dictionary states: “if you describe something as the mainstay of a particular thing, you mean that it is the most basic part of it.

Therefore, we can infer that the NEB ‘translators’ wished to emphasize, and that Scripture intends us to understand, by this paraphrase: “The Lord: the mainstay of my life” precisely that the Lord is INTEGRAL to humanity – that He’s not an add-on – like some app. to be downloaded, according to our personal whims, in order to make life that bit easier. No, He is to life what hydrogen is to water, and what blood is to the body. He is essential to us being whole, human beings – and we were never designed for life apart from Him. To live our lives without such awareness results in diminishing us to living far below our potential, of being incapable of living human life to the full … so that like a car with spark-plugs removed we’re incapable of firing on all cylinders, and life becomes such a strain, rather than a joy.

Our ‘deadly disconnect’ from God has the most dire consequences: for ourselves, our families, our environment, our world – in fact everything is affected detrimentally. This is the reason why God worked proactively in Jesus to redeem the situation – when Jesus announced, “I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness” He proclaimed the good news that through restored relationship with Him, disconnected and disorientated humanity may be restored to the original and live a fully human life.

Writing much later than the Psalms, St Paul in one of his letters wrote concerning Jesus Christ: “…Who is our life…” This revelation, of Christ as our LIFE – giving and sustaining us in life – is so revolutionary, and raises faith in Christ far beyond mere man-made religion, with its absurd practices, into an all-absorbing, full-time relationship with the Creator, as the very essence of human life, and without Whom we are considerably less than we were ever created for.

There’s an old hymn, which expresses this magnificently, albeit in language that may seem strange in the 21st century. It goes:

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most gracious Lord

No tender voice like Thine

Can peace afford

~~~

Chorus: I need Thee, oh, I need Thee

Ev’ry hour I need Thee

Oh, bless me now, my Saviour

I come to Thee

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Stay Thou nearby

Temptations lose their pow’r

When Thou art nigh

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

In joy or pain

Come quickly and abide

Or life is vain

~~~

I need Thee ev’ry hour

Most Holy One

Oh, make me Thine indeed

Thou blessed Son

~~~

Words by Annie S. Hawks, 1835–1918

“I need Thee, Oh I need Thee” – that’s the cry of an awakened human spirit, equivalent to the lung’s cry for air, or the parched tongue’s thirst for refreshment. In the cacophony of life it’s common, even as followers of Christ, to miss and ignore that cry, resulting in our impoverishment and a sense of spiritual lost-ness. Alternatively, starting each day with a recognition of our need, and asking that we may acknowledge our Mainstay throughout the day, in whatever appropriate way, will set us up for a more enriching, joy-filled life.

I hope you may benefit from this recommendation.