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  • Sad isn't Bad - A Response to Psalm 22

    This morning our service centred around Psalms 22 and 137 and the question, "has God foresaken me?" (the answer is 'no' btw).

    The sermon began with a name check of people who had hard 'dark night of the soul' type experiences:

    Charles Haddon Spurgeon, John Wesley, Mother Theresa of Calcutta, John of the Cross, writer Jennifer Rees Larcombe, Rev Dr John Colwell, the prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, King Saul and possibly King David, Job and Jesus of Nazareth.

    And towards the end, I included this quotation from John Colwell' book, "Why Have You Forsaken Me" (Paternoster 2009, page 99)

    The cry of abandonment that Jesus cries is nothing less than our cry of abandonment: his cry is the cry of the child murdered by Herod’s soldiers; his cry is the cry of the abused slave; his cry is the cry of the woman being raped; his cry is the cry of terror from the gas chamber; his cry is the cry of despair from the one contemplating suicide; his cry is the cry of lament from the psalmist, his is the desolation of every man and woman.  Every human cry of despair is unique and particular – the particularity of individual suffering is not abolished at the Cross – but every human cry of despair is echoed in his cry, he enters fully into our desolation, our sin, our pain, our abuse, our dying, our death; he becomes what we are, that we, through his entering into this desolation, might become what he is, the true humanity that is our destiny and calling.

    The aim of the sermon was, essentially, to name the fact that so often we put on a 'happy Christian' mask when we are hurting or doubting or questioning or whatever, because we fear ridicule or rejection, to normalise such experiences and to offer a little bit of hope, a candle in the darkness.

    Challenging stuff to reflect on, but worthwhile.

    I ended with this prayer from John Colwell's book )p 75):

    Dear Lord,

    In a world characterised by so much pretence

    It is such a relief to pray to one who honours honesty.

    You know our hearts, in any case;

    You know the pain we carry, the fears that oppress, the despair that engulfs;

    You know the disillusionment that would mask your light and leave us in darkness.

    Forgive us, dear Lord, for every attempt to hide from you.

    Thank you that you are more than sufficient to handle our fears, our anger, our desolation.

    Without shame we turn to you again

    In the name of Jesus, the one who cried out in honest forsakenness


  • Another Taboo Topic...

    100% of women will experience menopause, some naturally, some surgically, some chemically and some (me!) all three.  Some will glide through it with few or no symptoms, others (me) will have a lot.  Yet, generally speaking, we don't talk about it.

    For women who are ministers, there is an additional, if unspoken factor, thankfully not present in my congregation, which is that, theological objections aside, menstruation, childbearing and menopause each render women unsuitable for the pastoral roll.  Afterall, a minister who gets moody or broody or whatever is (evidently) no use.  Unless you are a woman who happens to experience some of the same things, in which case it might be remarkable helpful.

    So I was pleased last night when BBC2 Scotland aired a programme called "The Insiders' Guide to the Menopause" available here until 16th March 2017.

    I was plunged into effective menopause in 2010 by chemotherapy, which was then maintained by Tamoxifen.  In 2016 surgical menopause was added and, as my GP observed, you are about the right age now.  So a quadrauple whammy really. Over the last year the menopausal symptoms have continued to get worse, so much so that I recently described myself to my breast consultant as 'a menopausal monster'.  He, being the amazingly supportive man he is, went to great lengths to normalise this even saying, "we did this to you", and talking about the importance of quality, as well as quantity, of life.

    For women who have had breast cancer, the options for treating menopausal symptoms are very limited, and GPs tend to opt for low doses of antipdepressants as these (allegedly) reduce flushing and help even out mood swings.  A week ago, my own GP prescribed a low dose of citalopram and I'm waiting to see if it is going to work for me... at the moment I have a lot of physical side effects and no obvious benefit (unless having almost no emotions is better than being irritable and snappy, not entirely convinced!) but we'll see.

    I suppose then, there's a double taboo going on here - menopause and antidepressants...

    So, true my open and honest, stubborn self, I've chosen to "out" myself as someone for whom menopause is difficult and long lasting (six and a half years an counting... at least another four to go) in the hope that, just maybe, someone who reads this will be reassured that she is not mad or bad, that it is quite normal and natural to feel like this, and that there is help out there.

    For anyone who is experiencing menopause, there's a good website called menopause matters

    For any brave men who have read this far - thank you, just by doing so you are helping your partners, colleagues and friends.

  • Timeless...

    This morning as part of our response to a reflection on Psalm 20, we sang this which has copyright dates of 1987 and 2002.  Written thirty years ago (!) and presumably updated fifteen years ago, yet could equally have been written this week.  Sung to the Geordie folk tune "The Keel Row" it is thought provoking, if not exactly beautiful poetry.

    Power stalks the earth both by purpose and accident,

    filling with pride those it does not fill with fear.

    Power may be hidden or power may be evident,

    macro or micro, far off or very near.

    Look to the one who has chosen to live without

    power to seduce or corrupt or to repel;

    learn from the one who refuses to scream or shout,

    yet can convince that with him all will be well.


    Power of computers to file information may

    keep for the few what the many should be told.

    Power of the party which governs the nation can

    seldom be questioned and rarely be cajoled.

    Look to the one who embraces the frightened folk,

    those more aware of their wrong than of their right;

    learn from the one who will speak for the silenced ones,

    hear for the deaf, and provide the blind with sight.


    Power of the privileged in talent or parentage

    discounts whoever it cannot understand.

    Power of the bureaucrat, anxious at every stage,

    struggles to keep what's unstructured close at hand.

    Look to the one who forgoes his advantages,

    sits on the ground with whoever cannot stand;

    learn from the one who has known our predicament,

    baffled all systems, and lived from mouth to hand.


    Power of the press on the button or media

    kindles the fuse to a scandal or a bomb;

    power of the keeper of secret or confidence

    suspects the ones he must keep the secret from.

    Look to the one who speaks peace unpretentiously,

    defuses hate and is antidote for fears;

    learn from the one who accepts, unconditionally,

    those whom he summons to share his joy and tears.


    John L Bell (born 1949) and Graham Maule (born 1958) © 1987, 2002 WGRG, Iona Community, 4th floor, Savoy House, 140 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2 3DH, Scotland