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  • Testimony, Reflection, Story... Hope

    Yesterday evening was the annual service of 'Grieving and Gratitude' at one of our Church of Scotland neighbours, and in which I have participated since I arrived in Glasgow.

    At the moment, there are very few ministers in our C of S parish grouping, so last night was both special and poignant... one full time C of S, one non-stipendiary C of S, and one Baptist, in a service planned by email and with minimal contact.  Built (loosely) on the Kubbler-Ross 'stages of grief' model, each of us was allocated one or two themes to work with.

    Firstly, one of my colleagues shared the story of his mother's death, when he was just 15 years old, and how significant it had been in shaping his life and faith.  It was powerful, moving, profound and gentle.

    Next, I had been given "anger and bargaining" (thanks guys!).  After normalising the reality that anyone may or may not experience either of these, and that all experiences are equally valid, I reflected as best I could on the 'why' and 'what if' and 'if only' questions that may arise, and the scary emotions that may be experienced, with words from Psalm 22 and 139.

    Lastly, my other colleague used the story of Lazarus, a story of a couple adjusting to the birth of a child with cerebral palsy, and some lines from a poem to reassure us that in it all God is present, and that there is no obvious timetable, rather that in God's time, with God's help, we'll find our way through.

    Three very different approaches, and yet, somehow it flowed together as a piece.

    Lighting candles to remember, listening to music, singing, praying... stilllness and openness... and through it all, hope.

  • Church with a (twinkly) Twist

    Yesterday we did church differently.  Something we are getting rather good at, if I may say so... people are gracious and generous in engaging with different things, adapting to different times, places and formats.

    To close out our autumn themes of creation and harvest (and because our usual venue wasn't available) we went to the Glasgow Science Centre where, after coffee and chat, we watched the planetarium show 'wonders of the universe', shared packed lunches and participated in a simple communion service.

    Spending roughly three hours together was inherently good.  Conversations were deeper and more wide ranging.  Rather than just sitting where we always sit (which was impossible) people sat with different people and, with more time and less input, had time to get to know each other.

    There were many beautiful moments which, rightly, could not be captured in a photo.  A parent offering the chalice to a child.  The Lord's Prayer in multiple languages.  The smiles on faces old and young.  The excitement of a woman in her 80s.  The sleeping baby.

    Our church is a messy church, an open, enquiring, Jesus-following, surprised-by-God, Spirit-infused, loving, hoping community.

    I am proud of our church.  Proud to be part of this pilgrim people, learning together, muddling along, being perceived on the one hand as prophetic and on the other as heretical (probably a good combination!).

    All my ministerial life, I've held a secret ambition to organise a "Sunday Fun Day", yesterday (which was organised by others - so even better) came pretty close!

  • Retreating, Reflecting, Reintegrating...

    A Celtic knot, usually understood as representing the Trinity, carved of Wesh oak and mounted on a disc of Welsh slate.  This souvenir, this 'wee minding', is beautiful, precious, fragile and highly symbolic of what the last week has been for me.

    I set off with a rucksack full of books, a Kindle (that seems to have died, but there's an App for it on my fancy phone), hiking boots, colouring books, crayons, a Bible and a journal.  I had no clear idea of what I would reflect on, though a number of thoughts had been bubbling away at the back of my mind for a while.

    I read fiction, but not the (four!) spirituality books I'd taken with me.

    I drew and coloured, but not in the colouring books.

    I walked in rain, wind and glorious sunshine.

    And I reflected in silence, for many long hours (that whizzed by), writing and creating (rather linear) mindmaps, doodling and simply being... I reflected on one verse of scripture over four days - yes, it is possible!  More accurately, I reflected on four words from one verse of scripture over three days, and on the fourth I rested (apart from walking for five hours!!).

    A verse of scripture that returns to me time and again, lifted out of context from Psalm 46: 'be still, and know that I AM God'.

    Many times I have played with this verse, and it never fails to show new things to me.  I don't think what I was doing was technically midrash, but perhaps more that than any other 'method'.

    This isn't the place to share in detail my private thoughts, nor the sketches, doodles, bits of craft-like stuff that emerged along the way, but maybe it is OK to share a few thoughts that may just encourage other tired pilgrims.

    Day one, I pondered the word 'still' and, recognising that in scripture punning and double meanings are widespread, focussed not on stopping or resting, but instead on remaining, continuing, abiding... as in 'I am still here.'  A diversion via John 15, another much loved set of images, focussing on the word 'remain'... meno en mou (Gk)...  I found myself intrigued by the both/and of this word... stopping-continuing ceasing-remaining and so on.  I went for a walk in the rain, ate tea and cake.

    Evening came, and morning - the first day.

    Day two, and I took the phrase 'I AM' applying it not to God, as the capitalisation suggests, but to myself, asking questions of identity: 'who am I?'

    A day for very deep thought in which I focussed on things that have changed for me over the last eight years... the physical changes of, what sometimes seem to be endless, medical procedures; the external changes beyond my control at local, national and international level; the changes in my beliefs and values; the practical lifestyle changes; and in and through it all being alert to emotions and feelings.  A day of two halves, simply because the intensity needed a break.

    Playing with the 'I am who I am' spoken to Moses, and being reminded that, for all that has changed I am still me.

    Evening came, and morning - the second day.

    Day three dawned with clear blue skies and warm sun.  Thoughts of reading were abandoned in favour of walking to a pebbly beach and then back via some very muddy fields.

    And an afternoon pondering the word 'know', another multi-layered word with all sorts of nuances and ideas.  Following an idea from a novel I read last week, I set myself an exercise to write down words about what God 'is' and then draw it, then to write down words about what God is not, and to draw that, then finally to set the two side by side.  Having done this, I pondered what it means to know God - and to a lesser extent to be known by God - based on these ideas.  So this, in words, is roughly what I came up with:





    Intimacy, Relationship, Discovery, Understanding, Learning, Discernment, Wisdom

    head + heart + gut

    body + mind+ spirit

    body + soul

    physical + intellectual + emotional

    faith + deeds

    Within the triune God, the many become one

    More cake and tea (of course)

    Evening came, and morning came - the third day

    Day four was a very, very long walk - much longer than anticipated, at times exhilerating, at times monotonous, at times just ordinary, so a good metaphor for life.

    No active reflection, then, just some time to savour, and the creation of a simple communion liturgy which I shared with my hosts at the close of the day (and which, with a few tweaks I will use on Sunday).

    Packing followed, rearranging to fit everything into my case and backpack.  Bins emptied.  Recycling sorted. Sleep beckoned.

    Evening came, and morning came - the fourth day.

    And then it was over.

    Tea from a proper mug in the old-fangled station buffet in Bangor.  Trains that ran roughly to time, despite horrendous disruptions elsewhere.  Fiction read, sandwiches munched, tea drunk...

    Bags unpacked, cats cuddled, sleep sought.

    Refreshed, reintegrated, rested, restored...

    And evening came, and morning - the final day.


    Some final words summing up all that I have reflected upon and (re-)discovered...


    For all that has changed, I am still me

    I am known, loved and accepted by God, just as I am, and always will be

    I have rested - stilled - myself

    I have been - and I am - refreshed

    I have understood - and understand - myself a little better

    All this is held within the love of God

    Father, Son and Holy Spirit

    Creating, Redeeming, Sustaining

    Love without end