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  • First Week in Advent: Wednesday

    Today's readings, according to the Northumbria Community cycle for prayer are

    Psalm 116:7

    Isaiah 49:15-16

    2 John 12

    Of these, the one which seems to speak most obviously of hope is the Isaiah:

    "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!  See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me."

    It is one of the most misappropriated verses of scripture, all too often read as applying to an individual...  both Charles Wesley (Arise my soul, arise) and Charite L de Chenez (before the throne of God above) mistakenly understand this as "my name is written/graven on his hands".  Actually the words refer to Zion, to the People of God, and read in its wider context a different sense emerges...

    Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
    But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me."
    Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
    See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
    Your builders outdo your destroyers, and those who laid you waste go away from you.
    Lift up your eyes all around and see; they all gather, they come to you. As I live, says the LORD, you shall put all of them on like an ornament, and like a bride you shall bind them on.

    Isaiah 49: 13 - 18 NRSV

    It is not that God has scrawled 'my' name in the divine hand with a cosmic biro in order to remember to bless me... what a rubbish God that would be!  No, it is far more powerful than that.  Grave, inscribed, carved, gouged... you begin to see how people read this across to the nails of crucifixion (not entirely justified but even so).  God is incapable of forgetting any detail of God's people... symbolically the city or nation is indelibly marked on God's hand.  Perhaps if tattooing wasn't proscribed by OT Law, that would be an appropriate contemporary image. ;0)

    Can a mother forget the baby that is suckling from her?  Of course not!  So, says God, it is with me, but more so.  No matter what, I will never forget you, abandon you or lose interest in you.

    And so we find hope... not that 'my name is written on God's hands' in some individualist way, but that no matter what life throws at us, God is there, incapable of forgetting us, or anyone else, because we are all indelibly marked on God's very self.

    "I will never forget you" - Lord can it be so?  Never, ever forget us, forget them, forget even me?

    Grant us all the assurance of your eternal remembrance, hope for our darkest hours


  • Just Plain Weird

    As I have an evening meeting, I decided to stay at church and grab a bite from M&S for tea.  One item I bought was their new 'Christmas Pudding Smoothie'... Well, I thought, no soy, no peppers, give it a go...

    Imagine drinking liquidised Christmas pudding... W.E.I.R.D.

    It's for a good cause, supporting Shelter, but I don't think I'll be buying another one.  I'll stick to tea!

  • Would You?

    Today's PAYG used this song as it's way in to a reflection on part of Isaiah:

    In my dream when I'm asleep
    I' m running through the streets
    Searching high and low
    And when I find the One I love
    Hold the One I'm dreaming of
    I'll never let Him go

    I give the years away
    For one golden day
    Cause all I long for most
    Is mine when He comes close to me

    Music calling from the sea
    Washes over me
    And almost gets me there
    I'll let the wild wind carry me
    Beyond the things I see
    Yeah I'll go anywere

    I'd give the years away
    For one golden day
    Cause all I long for most
    Is mïne when He comes close to me


    If I'm honest, I struggled with the idea of "giving the years away" for "one golden day"

    So I wonder, for whom or for what would you give it all away, if indeed you would?  I guess it reminds me a bit of a saying from Stanley Hauerwas that stuck in my mind to the effect that 'if nothing is worth dying for, in the end you die for nothing'.  So perhaps the song is a reminder about priorities, about what really matters, and about how we spend the time and energy we do have?

    What do you think?

  • First Week in Advent: Tuesday

    Today's readings are

    Psalm 45:1

    Leviticus 26: 2 - 4

    Romans 8:26

    It is the third of these that I find most readily links, for me, with the concept of hope:

    In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit herself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. (Catriona's Hebraised Edition)

    Sometimes it is nigh on impossible to pray.  If we are exhausted.  If we are unwell.  If we are anxious.  If we are angry.  If we are bewildered.  If we are overwhelmed.  The list is - I suspect- endless.  This is not about making excuses for not praying, for deducing it really doens't matter because God knows anyway.  Rather it's a source of hope, a glimmer of light in the darkness of our fatigue, sickness, ire, confusion, lostness, a promise that God's Spirit helps us, a promise that when words or concepts fail us the Spirit steps in and prays on our behalf - a go-between Spirit, an intercessor, a breath of life where all seems dead, a fire to consume the darkness, an oil to soothe...

    Sophia, Wisdom of God

    Pnuema, Breath of God

    Ruach, Wind of God

    Paraclete, Comforter, Helper

    Spirit of Hope

    Pray for Us


  • Virtual Advent Pauses

    Lots of people are incredibly busy and can't get to any special Advent worship, studies, prayer times etc.

    Here are some possibilities that take only a few moments, and can be done at a time to suit you...

    The Northumbria Community have some podcasts here

    GRF Christian Radio have audio shorts here (you have to register to listen/download but it's free; type advent into the keyword search and off you go)

    There is the emerging church prayer lava lamp here, just follow the instructions

    And, pinching an idea from someone else, I have set up a 'group' candle stand at gratefulness.org here.  Simply click on the 'light a candle' link on the left side of the screen.  Then click the search menu at the top of the page, type PIA (Pause in Advent) in the group search box and it will take you there.  Then just follow the instructions.  I suggest that you avoid any full names, using first names, pseudnyms or initials only if you want to pray for people, and that you mask your own identity too.  This is all free, and you don't have to add any details - I won't know who visits.  The 'candles' last for 48 hours, if they all burn out the stand vanishes, but can easily be re-made simply by lighting a candle from the general candle page.

    So, four possibilities, from under a minute to about fifteen ... hopefully something will work for you.