Lincoln Advent: 6 December

Advent Prayers, 6 December
Community Work, Stamford

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
We bless you from the house of the Lord.
Psalm 118.26

There is a man who sits on the High Street. The first time I saw him – I confess – I tried to walk past him. Sometimes I speak, sometimes I bring coffee, but sometimes I walk past: choosing my plans over the unexpected moments of the streets.

Everyone was walking by him – not with the hurried, blind steps that say “I will not see you”, but in a wide wary arc, going far, far around. I tried to do the same, but as I passed, the air changed. All around him, there was a deep and compelling sense of peace. I found myself turning back.

It turns out he was praying. He smiled, and welcomed me in. He spoke of his life and the people who changed it for the better. He spoke of his regrets and the people he had hurt. He spoke of the grace of God, kindness and generosity, the beauty of light, and the tiny pink blossoms on winter trees. I got him some food, I think – but he was the one with riches. He was the one sent by God.

Vincent Van Gogh once wrote to his brother: “I cannot help thinking that the best way of knowing God is to love many things.” To act as Christ today, there are many things we might do: give food, give time, get involved in a local project. But it is possible to do all these things and never let ourselves be changed by them. It is possible to walk a wide arc around the people we meet, even as we convince ourselves otherwise. To change – to become Christ today – it is not that we need to do many things, but to love many things. God invites us to love the moment we find ourselves in, the conversation in the street, and the prayer unexpectedly given by the one sitting on the ground. We may not always know how to help – or know whether we are being asked for help or given help – but if we can respond to the invitation to love, we will be changed; and through us others will be changed too.

Today we pray for the Community Work of Christ Church, Stamford: pray that those involved will learn to love many things deeply and find God in all they do.

the original post is here.

Lincoln Advent: 5 December

Advent Prayers, 5 December
Space4U, Spalding

“I know the plans I have in mind for you,” says the Lord,
“plans for well-being, and not for trouble, to give you a future and a hope.”
(Jeremiah 29.11, New Living Version)

Zechariah had it all planned: it was his turn to enter the sanctuary and offer incense to his Most Holy God. He liked it when it was his turn. He liked the ritual of it: preparing the fire, heating the coals, dropping the sweet sticky grains of perfume on the coals until the smoke danced high on a shaft of light. He liked waiting in silence until the darkness shimmered and God was all in all.

Afterwards, he would return to Elizabeth – to the one who shared his life. Long ago, he had hoped that others would share their lives too: a son, a daughter, a child to give delight. But that was long ago. He’d watched that hope burn on the coals until he was at peace with what he had.

His plans were simple now: he would light the incense and pray, then he would go home to Elizabeth. There they would eat and talk and laugh their way through the long evening.

Gabriel, however, had other plans. He watched as Zechariah bent over the coals. He wondered at the oddity of God’s choices – these strange people God chose for his plans. He waited for an hospitable cloud of smoke; then he stepped out of shadow and scared Zechariah half to death. (Ah yes. Gabriel liked it when it was his turn too…)

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah. God has heard your prayers. Elizabeth will bear a son and you will name him John.” Zechariah floundered as God’s plans eclipsed his own: “… a son? But how? How can I trust what you say?” He missed all the warning signs as Gabriel blazed brightly and rose in outrage.

“I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to give you good news. But now, because you would not believe my words, you will stay silent until these things come to pass.” Zechariah tried to protest, but he choked on his words. Gabriel gave an arch smile, bowed, and left Zechariah to his duties.

And so it was that Elizabeth spent nine happy months: preparing for her son, rejoicing with her cousin, and laughing (kindly) at the silent fury of her much humbled, much beloved husband.

Today, we pray for Space4U : the Spalding centre for listening and counselling. We pray for all whose lives are thrown by the unexpected, and those who help them to make sense of it.

the original post is here.

Lincoln Advent: 3 December

Advent Prayers, 3 December
Community Chaplaincy, Skegness

Reveal among us the light of your presence,
that we may behold your power and glory.
(Common Worship, prayer for Advent)

When I was a child, the biggest hint of God’s glory was hidden behind the numbered squares of an Advent Calendar. The glory was glitter, not chocolate, and it magnified the delight of carefully cut windows, painted pictures, and layers of beauty yet untold. I see now that the magic of an Advent Calendar – of the old fashioned kind at least – is the way one world lies hidden in the other. Bit by bit, the snowy street-scene opens itself up to the presence of trumpets and candy-canes, stars and bright angels, till at last we come face to face with the new-born God.

In Advent, we are asked to believe that the glory of God lies hidden in the scenes of our streets. It is there behind darkened windows and closed doors. It is there behind stressed faces and hands trembling in fear. Advent teaches us to search for a world yet revealed – to long for and expect God’s glory to emerge from the hidden places, the hard-to-get-at places, in the very last place we would expect.

Today, we pray for Community Chaplaincy in Skegness. We pray that the beauty of God will be revealed in the work that they do, the relationships they form, and the glory they uncover in the lives of those they meet.

the original post is here.

of blessed memory

I can still remember the way the light fell on her bed. The eyes that danced between laughter and fear. Her wild brown hair, the way her fingers flashed as she spoke. The deep stillness that came when she ran out of words and had told her story enough times to hear the truth of it: love is stronger than death. She knew it and had said it.

It’s been ten years now since I met her, and ten years since she died. But sometimes I can still feel her, as vivid as ever. We met when I was doing a chaplaincy placement at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. For a few months I got to walk the wards, sit by the bedsides, offer companionship and hear people’s stories. It was one of the most intense and blessed forms of ministry I have known.

Most days, it was hard to say what I had done. Bed to bed — being welcomed or scowled at. Facing the (bewildering) question: ‘Catholic or Protestant?’ Offering the bewildering answer ‘both,’ when I dared. Often it was no more that a break in their day — someone to talk to, a means of distraction. Sometimes they wanted help with something — a magazine out of reach, a cup of water. And often there would be days and days of watchfulness, hesitancy, courage-gathering before they would say, ‘yes, please do stay. I’d like for you to be here.’

It was a precious gift they gave me.

It all came back to me yesterday as I sat on the train to Edinburgh. I was reading Ewan Kelly’s new book: Personhood and Presence. Ewan was my supervisor at the Royal, and the book took me right back to the table in his office, where we would review the day.

Ewan is one of those people whose influence in my life is disproportionate. ┬áHe was my supervisor for only a few months. I was brand new. I knew nothing. We met formally, briefly, and I’m sure he wouldn’t have the slightest idea who I am. But when I remember him, I can feel the angels hovering as we reflected on what we had seen and heard and done.

Most of what Ewan taught me was about seeing the holy. He taught me to wait through the silences, or (harder…) to listen four times to the story, till the person could hear their own words. He helped me have the courage to believe in what I was doing — in what we were there to do — when there was so little to show for it, no way to be sure if it had mattered at all. And he taught me to enjoy it: to accept that when God stepped in, the gift was for both of us — patient and chaplain alike.

More than anything, he taught me– (though I only partially learned) — to accept my limitations. The first day, he gave an instruction: “If you come in and you are not feeling well, if you are worn out or sad, if you find yourself thinking ‘I don’t know if I can do this today,’ then don’t go onto the ward.” Read. Write. Think. Rest. Pray. But don’t go on the ward. His point was that we needed to accept that there were times when we had nothing to give — and that pretending otherwise would always be more about our needs that those we were trying to serve. His point was that when we found ourselves ’empty’, we needed to be filled — and the most responsible thing we could do in our care for others was to accept our own needs and limitations. It’s obvious, of course, and I’d heard it all before; but he made it true in the living of it, and tried to help me do the same.

So, this is a belated acknowledgement. Thank you, Ewan, for wisdom, grace, and shared moments of wonder. You taught well. I am still trying to learn.