Multi-Sensory Prayer – Part 1 – Creating an ambient worship space for personal prayer and reflection

Confession. I pray with my eyes open. If I shut them, my mind dances off into fairyland. And I don’t very often bow my head. Or get on my knees. Praying at night in my bed is a great getting to sleep technique – not a good way to pray. Every time I start a morning routine of praying as the first thing to do before I get into my day  – it lasts three days at the most. I don’t really like praying out loud. Actually, I don’t always like praying with words. Mostly I need to look at something or touch something to stay focussed on praying. Yep, on paper this looks like I’m not going to pass any test on being a praying type!  But I pray. A lot.

I believe in prayer for lots of reasons. Firstly, prayer is my communication with God and God’s communication with me. How can I expect to have any relationship with Jesus if I’m not going to communicate? Secondly, prayer changes things. Prayer changes situations and it changes my approach to situations. Things happen when we pray. God intervenes. Thirdly, prayer gives hope. In the face of difficulties, hope is everything. When it feels like nothing we can do is going to help a situation, then prayer is the something that we can engage with to bring hope.

I will pray anywhere and at anytime. For me I find looking at a tree, the sky, the grass, the sea, a bowl of fruit, a bunch of flowers… these things make it easier for me to start talking to God. Instead of being distracted by what I’m seeing, they soothe my mind and bring me to a state of peaceful flow as I talk and sit with God.  Even better, if I have something to fidget with in my hands I’ll stay even more focussed on my prayer. A fidgety praying type came up with the idea of rosary beads I’m sure!

Increasingly in our world today as we are bombarded with noise and bustle, images and sounds, people are realising the importance of what is trendily called, “mindfulness”. Tools and tips to develop mindfulness are everywhere. Essentially, mindfulness is a state focussing on the present moment and calmly acknowledging and accepting without judgement what is going on in your thoughts, feelings and actions. There is hunger for this mindfulness and people are responding to needing it in their lives. There is also an increased awareness of spirituality in our culture, not neccessarily Christian, but an underlying acceptance of a creator, a powerful life force, something beyond ourselves.

Thanks to the age of technology we are also more visual than we’ve ever been before. Social media, particularly Instagram and Pinterest are full of beautiful images and millions of people all over the world share and participate in the visual experiences of others via these platforms. Souls hungry for being fed with visual image can feast on a daily stream.  There is an increasing openness to a ‘sabbath’ like approach to the week, taking some time out and resting and this is reflected in social media.

We’re also more tactile. We like things that have some hands on action to them. We hunger for experiences. I was interested to read last week that makeup sales in NZ have increased by 16% last year. I’m guessing that this is because people are being photographed more, out experiencing things, and subsequently sharing it on their social media. These experiences going out and about are not just about photo opportunities. Around us, we’re putting more effort into how things look and feel, and not just in relation to personal appearances Take a walk around any city and find the trendy cafe spots. They’re destinations as well as places which serve food. Fairy lights, funky art, rustic mismatched chairs and crockery, dog water bowls, colouring pencils, blankets, lanterns, heaters, ivy covered walls, hanging plants, eclectic ornaments… these are places where people want to hang out. To be. To live. To breathe. To engage. Possessions aren’t so important anymore. People want experiences.

What a great time we live in to experience prayer in new ways. I’m pretty sure I would have survived the prayer trappings of any other period of Christian history and retained my faith, but I sure am glad to be able to live out my faith in today’s world. It’s rich and varied and visual and tactile and responsive.

I’m going to blog about some of my multi-sensory prayer ideas over the next few weeks. But today I thought I’d blog about setting up a personal prayer and reflection space. I probably should start with a disclaimer. A pretty place to pray is not essential to prayer. We worship a God who comes right to where we are and understands us! We don’t need to gussy up ourselves or our surroundings for God to intervene in our lives. Omnipresent and all powerful, full of love and grace and forgiveness and acceptance – we worship a mighty and awesome God who loves and accepts us just the way we are.  So it’s not for God I’m suggesting these ideas – it’s for people like me, easily distracted if I shut my eyes, like to keep my hands busy, get inspired by visual surroundings, multi-tasker, appreciator of creativity and a strong believer in prayer being able to change things.

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So here’s my ideas on creating your own private prayer and reflection space.

  1. Finding the right spot – Where do you feel inspired and settled? Choose somewhere warm and light filled. It might be a chair on a porch or deck or in the garden, or maybe in a bedroom, a study or a lounge. If there’s not enough natural light, think of adding a lamp or a set of fairy lights or a candle.
  2. Set up a comfortable seat – What do you like to sit on? A deckchair, a beanbag, a rocking chair or a comfy armchair? Why not add a cushion? What about a cuddly rug to throw over your knees?
  3. Using your sense of smell – What smells make you feel refreshed and awake? I believe we totally underestimate the power of the sense of smell.  There are lots of ways you can add fragrance to your space such as a bunch of fresh flowers, a scented candle, a scented oil diffuser, a sliced lemon, a potted herb such as mint or a container of freshly ground coffee.
  4. Using your sense of touch – What could you do with your hands to maintain a prayerful state? Maybe you could keep a basket or box with some things to help you in your praying such as play-dough or silly putty, a stress ball, a fidget spinner, a smooth stone or pieces of different textured fabric to stroke.
  5. Using your sense of sight – What will your eyes see when you look around? You want to focus on things that will help you stay focussed on your prayer not distract you. A basket of shells or pieces of driftwood, a pretty plant, a painting or photograph, candles, fairy lights, a simple ornament.
  6. Using your sense of taste – What better way to sit companionably with someone than over a cup of tea or other favourite drink? So why not sit and sip your drink as you pray. Make yourself a jug of fruit infused iced water or a pot of coffee or tea. You might even like to pray with a glass of wine in your hand.
  7. Using your sense of hearing – What will fill your ears as you sit and pray? Maybe you’ve chosen a place where you can hear birds or insects or the sound of children playing or traffic or the sea. The setting might provide enough sound in itself. But if not, why not play tracks of background music or sounds of the sea or birds or water rushing. You can find all kinds of these things free on the internet or on apps for your phone or buy a CD.

So here’s the thing.  These ideas might not resonate with you at all.  And that’s okay. Because everyone is different and I totally respect that most people are not like me! But I know that there are people who are like me and that these ideas might just help, so if they do, and if you’ve never tried to create a prayer space for yourself but you think it might make a difference to your prayer life I’d encourage you to give it a go!  And message me and tell me how it’s working for you! I’d love to hear your stories.

Wallowing in the Light

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.”  Matthew 5:14-16 The Message (MSG).

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Jesus used metaphors to explain hard to explain stuff. I like that. A metaphor is so much easier to understand. It gives me a picture I can relate to and understand.

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This has been a season for me of being a light-bearer, a holder of light in the darkness. Bringing out the God-colors in the landscape of daily living.

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I’ve always been both a words person and a visual person. But for most of the time, given a choice between my paintbrush or my pencil, I’ve picked up the pencil first. Right now words are hard.

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Where to begin? How to write? What words do justice to what I want to say? Sometimes, words just don’t cut it. My time for that is now.

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I’ve been wanting to share something of my journey in the last few months and it’s been hard to begin to know where to even start, let alone have the time to get organised to blog.

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I’ve been a ‘light holder’ for my daughter who has been battling major depression.

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It’s been a tough time and yet a time of privilege.

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Yet again, faced with difficulties my faith has been a comfort, a support and a guide.

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I don’t know how it goes for those without a faith who are coping with the darkness of depression and for those who are supporting a loved one through such an ordeal. I can only imagine how hard it must be.

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For the last seven months I’ve been living and breathing a daily neverending prayer conversation both spoken and unspoken to Jesus, Light of the World.

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And I’ve been so grateful for the presence of God.

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Hope…

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Stillness…

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Patience…

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Calm…

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Peace…

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Reslience…

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Love…

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Endurance…

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Presence….

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Encouragement…

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Faith…

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These are the names of the paints I have been using to show the light.

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Almost every day we go for a walk to our local beach and we enjoy the light reflecting on the water.

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It gives us hope and confidence in better times ahead.

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Even in the darkest moments The Light has been with us.

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The Light is always with us.

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I thought I’d share some of my light photos with you from our beautiful Whangaparaoa Peninsula.

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It’s interesting look back at these photos from the last six weeks. The most beautiful light photos are when there are clouds or rain… it’s almost as if God is reminding me right now that The Light is even more present and beautiful in the tough times.

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A picture really is worth a thousand words.

Unless you are like a child

Andrew and I lead Avenues Church, an all-age, all-stage worshipping community.  We’ve long since passed any need to justify this venture or prove anything to anyone.  Avenues works for the people who come.  It brings meaningful interaction into our participants’ lives and faith journey.  Invariably, when people hear ‘all-age’ they translate this to it being a children’s church and when people hear ‘all-stage’ they often translate this to being age-based.  If you’re young you’re at an earlier stage, the older you get the further up the stage stairway you progress.    That’s not quite how we see it and how we’ve experienced it in the last fourteen years with our Avenues church and prior to that when we were exploring all-age worship within the context of a regular worship service.

People come to our Avenues Church from all walks of life.  They have had different experiences, different upbringings, different faith experiences and they are all ages.   Together we journey, and try to create a place where no matter what stage of faith you are at, you are welcome to join us on the journey.   The structure created by our education system of age-based learning, and duplicated across most mainstream churches, is not engaged here.  It’s all mixed up.   It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at in your faith.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, there’s no expectation that by a certain age you will be at a certain level and therefore ready to process a newer, harder faith concept.  No, it’s a full-on free for all!  It’s ‘come as you are’ church.

Sometimes when someone who is involved in a mainstream style church hears about Avenues they assume that it is a church especially for children. What can appear to make it a children’s church is that we are tactile.  We call our worship, “Discovery Worship” and it is hands on, colourful, interactive and fast moving.  This means while children can fit in with ease, it is also welcoming for adults with short attention spans, adults who struggle to learn by reading or listening, adults with no prior experience of the Christian faith, adults who have English as a second language, or have learning difficulties and so on.  What can be surprising to people when they ask, is that we also have highly educated people in our Avenues Church.  Right from the beginning we’ve had well qualified academics and professionals join us in our journey.  Perhaps from their own lives they know that just because an idea is presented simply, it does not make it a simple idea.

We don’t exist just to appeal to children.  If we didn’t have children attend, we’d still carry on the same way with our worship.  But I think our regular worshippers would agree that something would be missing if we didn’t have children on a regular basis.  The involvement of children just makes it so much more real, simpler, more challenging and more inspiring.

Here’s just a handful of reasons why I like to worship with all-ages together and have the wonder of a child’s voice in our worship experience.

Inquisitive – the art of asking a good question  

I’ve observed that something happens to our questioning ability the older we get.  Instead of focussing on a good question, we tend to focus on finding the right answer.  Perhaps this is why we appeal to academics as well as children.  Children are brilliant at asking questions and academics have learned that the more you find out about something, the more it shows you what you don’t know.  Children can cut right to the heart of things.  They pull no punches, and they persist.  “Where does God live?”, “Who made God?”, “Why did Jesus have to die?”, “What happens when we die?”…. are typical four year old questions, and any parent or grandparent who has experienced a full-on question asking pre-schooler will know that more often than not, these kind of questions can leave you flummoxed and embarrassed with your own inability to provide adequate answers.  Jesus disciples were great at asking questions, and you can hear Jesus gently guiding them, often by a return question.  Asking questions is a wonderful part of faith journeying because it moves us forward to seeking more.

Mystery and wonder– the art of appreciating something bigger than our understanding

There is a point somewhere in our faith stages where we appreciate the question to which we just can’t get answer.  That there is some mysterious explanation beyond our human understanding is in itself an answer.  Children have a sense of mystery and wonder.  Have you ever watched a child, out of bed as a special treat, on a dark night looking at the stars?  Their sense of mystery, wonder and delight at what they see is inspiring.  Children don’t have to know all the details about why and how and when and who… to appreciate that there is something going on that is bigger than their understanding.  A sense of mystery and wonder is a delightful part of faith journeying because it moves us forward to seeking more.

Honesty – the art of being frank with ourselves, with others and with God.

Children have an honesty that can be breath taking.   They haven’t yet learned all the social etiquette and rules about what should or shouldn’t be voiced.  They see things through a simpler lens than the lens through which an adult views the world.   An adult’s world has had far more experiences and voices.  While the wisdom and knowledge gained may help make a better, informed decision about appropriate action, a child’s view can often provide great clarity on the presenting issue.   A typical example is when children are hearing about poverty in two-thirds world countries.  Their response will often be starkly honest.  “There shouldn’t be hungry people. Can I give them some of my food?” says the child.  They’re disturbed that hunger should exist and see the fixing of it as a simple act of provision.  A sense of honesty is a refreshing part of our faith journeying because it moves us forward to be more genuinely honest with ourselves, with each other and with God.

Power – the art of destructing our stereotypical structures and giving voice to the powerless

It is almost impossible to have any people orientated system that does not have power.  It’s a natural way in which we organise ourselves.   Whether the power is in individuals or by committee, whether it’s in the local church, or in the group of churches, power is inevitable.  Giving a voice to the powerless is structurally challenging.  When I’ve talked to other pastors I can hear the struggle they are under in leading their church.  The idea that a child could contribute something of more value than a theologically qualified professional is not a popular thought.  On more than one occasion we’ve had an adult visiting Avenues who has some theological training.  When a child offers something that us Avenues regulars might view as a valuable contribution itself, our visiting adult wants to chip in to round it off, to clarify, to add some additional words.  A sense of lack of power is a significant part of our faith journeying because it allows us to see God at work in each other.

Generosity – the art of giving from your best

We seem to unlearn giving as we get older.   A baby will take their soggy biscuit out of their mouth to share with their mother, a toddler will give hugs to complete strangers, a pre-schooler will spontaneously pick a bunch of weeds to give to someone they like, a five or six year old will draw picture after picture and give these away to everyone around them.  The more we know about life, the more our generosity shrivels to be given from our excess, not from our all.  Children haven’t learned this yet, so whether in physical acts such as hugs or giving drawings or cards, or verbally by giving words that come straight from the heart, a child leads us to God’s heart and generosity.  In our worship, a child will often say out loud their generous feelings or response to a situation that makes the rest of us nod and take note.  A sense of generosity is a significant part of our faith journey because it allows us to interact with the people whom God loves.

Sorry – the art of confession for wrongs

Children learn right from wrong fairly early on in life.   A toddler who has just learned the word, “No” will be reduced to tears on hearing it.  When a child does something that they know is wrong they project their guilt and their need to be forgiven, getting very upset over their ‘wrong’.  Children have an enormous capacity for feeling sorry and an enormous capacity to forgive.  You have only to watch pre-schoolers playing in the sand to see this in action.  Watch the child get in a fight in the sand pit over sharing a toy with another child, they will be enemies one moment, then with some intervention, and a chance to say sorry, they’re friends the next moment.  At Avenues we often have confession prayers which are typically interactive.  The practice of confession is freeing and liberating and sadly often overlooked in our ‘smug goodness of being a Christian. We all do things wrong, whether deliberately or inadvertently.  So at Avenues we might be thinking out loud some examples that a child can relate to, such as “Was there anyone you said something horrible to this week?”  While it will likely relate to children who’ve been playing with other children, we find ourselves challenged. Did we offend someone this week?  Such wrongs can seem small and simple, but they are very real and they are blocking our way to be more like Jesus.  A sense of saying sorry is a significant part of our faith journey to become more like Jesus.

This is just a handful of thoughts that I’ve had over the last week about why I love to worship with children as an integral part of our worshipping faith community.  It’s almost selfish actually!  I’m trying to decide if I get more from the children than I give to them?  Life is a journey and faith is a journey.   For myself, my faith is strengthened by the presence of children and if that means I become like a child mysef….  well hey, that can’t be bad, it’s what Jesus told us to be!

About this time the disciples came to Jesus and asked him who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus called a child over and had the child stand near him. Then he said:  I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. But if you are as humble as this child, you are the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And when you welcome one of these children because of me, you welcome me. Matthew 18:1-5Contemporary English Version (CEV)

Perform a u-turn whenever possible

Last week in morning peak hour traffic, I had to drive our youngest daughter across the city for an exam.  It was a last minute panic, as she’d assumed her exam would be in the city, and had she known it was at a different campus she would have stayed in the city, rather than coming home to Whangaparaoa for the night.  I knew roughly where I was going, but thought I’d better rely on the GPS just in case!  I set the route before I left home but didn’t push start until we were near the motorway off ramp I was expecting it to tell me to take, as for the first hour of our journey we were on the main highway south and didn’t need any help.

After I pushed start, but before we got to the off ramp it wanted me to take, we passed a couple of other off-ramps and the GPS obligingly said, “In 200 metres continue straight” and “In 500 metres continue straight.” We remarked on this together, the way that the GPS doesn’t talk in negative language.  It doesn’t for instance say, “Do not take the next off ramp,” and interestingly, it doesn’t ignore the off-ramp.   I wonder if the inventors worked on giving it positive language?

When we neared the university campus, I started to ignore the GPS altogether.  It was a reasonable sized campus with roads inside of it, so I assumed the GPS was targeting somewhere in the middle, whereas, we had a fair idea of the location of the building of the exam so I could drop her near there.   The GPS did not like this behaviour of mine and as I dropped daughter off, the GPS was intently advising me to, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible”.   I continued to ignore it, fairly sure I was on a loop road and if I followed it I’d come out back on the road again.  The GPS continued telling me to perform a U-turn until I was back on the road, when it started “Recalculating route” and adjusting its instructions to match my new location.

With a good second hour in the car ahead of me, I began to muse about the metaphor of the GPS and its positive language.  It was the, “Perform a U-turn as soon as possible” that got me thinking about repentance.   The Contemporary English Version of the Bible uses the words, “Turn back” instead of the word, “repent” that is used in some translations:  eg. At the start of his ministry in Matthew 4: 17 “Then Jesus started preaching, “Turn back to God! The kingdom of heaven will soon be here.”  Turn back, repent, perform a u-turn… these are the same thing.  Change your ways, change your direction, get back on course… repent!

When we have our eyes on the goal of God’s kingdom, our destination is ahead of us, but our path to get there involves both the familiar and unfamiliar.  We will go down roads that we understand and don’t need any navigational help.  We’ll go down other roads where we need all the navigational help we can get.  We know there are many routes to choose from, many different ways to get to where we are going.  Sometimes we’ll make a wrong turn and God will gently nudge us to ‘perform a u-turn as soon as possible’.  Sometimes we’ll listen and other times we’ll go so far down the wrong route that God will help us recalculate the route that we’re taking.

I was thinking about the positive language of the GPS and the way that God gently guides us and forgives us when we stuff up.  We don’t see Jesus coming alongside people in the gospels and giving them a long lecture of all the things they’ve done wrong before he heals them.  We see Jesus showing compassion, love and kindness towards people, as well as preaching to people about doing some really tough stuff… such as looking after the poor and the sick and the needy.   We see gentle and challenge in the same stories.

There is something rather tricky about repentance and forgiveness.  It is God’s grace that keeps on forgiving us, time and again, recalculating our route for us, and doing it all gently, lovingly and kindly.  And for some of us there is a temptation to keep on going our own way, knowing that forgiveness is available.  But if we have truly repented and truly felt ourselves forgiven, if we’ve performed a u turn and are on a recalculated route, if we’re trying our best to follow God, then even if we make the occasional wrong turn, our hunger for staying on God’s route increases.  So while we might hear someone saying that they can keep on doing their own thing because God will forgive them, we know that they’re travelling a route that is not going to a Godly destination, it’s lacking, unsatisfying and may not get them to their destination at all.

There is always the need for repentance for all of us, there is always the frailty of our human nature, our selfishness, greed and pride, the things that keep getting in the way of us being like Jesus Christ.   Even when we’re pretty good at following God’s route, we still need to perform u-turns.  We also need to watch out for others on the journey, to help others perform u-turns and to be there to forgive and help them to make choices on the journey that will take them closer to God’s will for their lives.  We want to introduce them to our God, who is loving, just and merciful.  Just like the GPS that won’t be negative, there are no choices that we’ve made, no terrible things we’ve done that can separate us from God.  God is waiting with open arms to embrace the people of this world to perform u-turns and come back to him.

Farm Fresh Organic Eggs and the Still Small Voice of God

‘If you could choose only one food, what food would you choose to not live without?’  That seemingly lightweight question that people ask sometimes for fun… and for most of my life, ‘chocolate’ would have been the first word on my lips, but with my recent health challenges, I’ve had to radically rethink my answer.

Since last November my diet has been lacking in variety.  Amongst a few other things, I’ve been eating eggs! I’ve always liked eggs, but I would never have thought them to be my ‘can’t live without food’.  How things change.  Currently they truly are a super food to me!

I’ve become obsessive about them, and very particular!  They have to be fresh and they have to be free range.  It’s all about nuances and subtle differences – I mean we’ve never stocked our pantry with reject eggs!  But as eggs make up at least one of my daily meals I’ve become a fussy egg connoisseur.  Does such a thing exist?  You hear of wine connoisseurs, but eggs???

I had such a special gift a couple of weeks ago.   Andrew was leading a church service at the country church in his parish and they had a harvest festival.  When he came home with six eggs, freshly laid that morning I was extremely elated, causing a lot of laughter in our household as I made it clear to the family (and a guest we had staying), that the eggs were mine only so hands-off everyone!!

It set me to thinking that by simplifying my diet and focussing on eggs, I have been able to notice the subtleties of eggs so much.  Whether it’s, the way the egg poaches, the size or softness of the yolk, the colour of the yolk, the flavour when I eat it – I notice it all now.

I can hear my children groaning, “Here comes Mum with another metaphor!”  So I will not disappoint them!  Yep, I can see a metaphor for our own God journeys.   In this case, I was thinking how my new found appreciation of the subtleties and nuances in different eggs, is a bit like our conversations with God.   When we’re surrounded by a cacophony of noises, hearing God’s voice in our lives is hard work.  When we’re only talking to God occasionally on a, ‘I need something from you now God’ way, it’s almost impossible to know what is God’s voice and what is our own voice reverberating in our heads with our hopes and dreams.

My Aunty Ada was a distant cousin on my mother’s side.  When I was a teenager she used to visit us to stay sometimes.  Having an elderly guest in a house full of energy and the teenage activity of me and my three brothers might sound like a problem, but Aunty Ada was a welcome guest.  She was a very little lady with twinkling mischievous eyes, a sense of humour and a wicked laugh.  She was also a ‘rebellious nun’ (her words).   By rebellious I think what she meant was that she didn’t like being obedient within the institution of the church if it didn’t make sense to her and she as always looking at ways to challenge things.  It wasn’t that she was rebellious against God.  Having lived a very secluded life, she was amazingly knowing, intelligent and insightful about people. The power of prayer was strong in Aunty Ada. She prayed about everything and when she talked about God she sounded like her entire everyday life was one long conversation with God.   She always wanted fresh things to pray about and to know that she was praying for you was an extremely good feeling.  She was one of those rare souls who really ‘walked with God’ and her answers to prayer were amazing and breathtakingly spot on, time after time.

Eileen was also a little old lady, married to an energetic and extrovert Irishman.  With rosy pink cheeks and a warm smile, she was the quiet one.  Her husband, a church elder, was active and busy both in local church life and in para-church organisations.  He never sat still, and wherever he went, Eileen went with him, quietly supporting him in all that he undertook.  While her husband was often in upfront roles, including leading worship on a regular basis, where we were treated to upbeat rousing hymns sung with gusto and energy, Eileen was always the unassuming and quiet one.  But Eileen was neither invisible nor overlooked.  When Eileen spoke, people listened.  Because Eileen heard from God.  Often.  Sometimes Eileen would say, “I believe the Lord is saying…” and there would be a collective intake of breath, the hairs on the back of the neck prickling sensation around the congregation.  Eileen’s words from God were so carefully given, and so amazingly spot on.  She was also a woman who ‘walked with God’.

It is interesting how often in the scriptures we see God talking in the stillness and silence.  I loved the story of Samuel as a child and young teen.  The idea that God was calling out to Samuel in the middle of the night and eventually Samuel responds, ‘Speak Lord!  Your servant is listening.’ (You can read it in 1 Samuel 3 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Samuel+3&version=GNT ) God spoke to Samuel and Samuel listened to God.

I do believe that God can speak to any of us, but I also know that life is noisy and finding time to listen to God is all too easy to reduce to the times when we want something from God.   We fill our days with a multitude of voices, and it can be hard to hear God’s voice amongst the competing noise.   It’s not that we don’t want to hear God, or even that we can’t hear God.  But in the same way as my change in eating habits has made me an egg connoisseur, hearing God’s voice requires regular prayer and times of silence when we stop to listen.

This is of course why retreat centres and health spas exist.  People need to take time out of their busy lives and their ordinary routines and stop.  Stop, relax and be refreshed.  Stop and reflect.  Stop and be.  Stop and think.  Stop and pray.   Hearing God’s voice is available to all of us.  But we have to be ready to listen.  We have to find the time and the space, and (just like noticing the subtleties and nuances of eggs) the more we do it, the more we hear from God.  I love this paraphrase from The Message of Psalm 46:8 https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+46:8&version=MSG

Many Christians past and present have made a regular pattern of prayer in the early morning or in the dark evening.  There is something about the half-light or night light that makes it easier to be soothed and relaxed.   Some people like to walk and pray, or sit in a peaceful spot, or kneel to pray. Others like to pray before they fall asleep at night or when they first awake in the morning.  Whatever it is, having a pattern of prayer and listening to God, means whatever comes, good or bad, in the journey of our lives, we have the time and space as well as the practise of praying and listening about everything that is going on in our lives and in the lives of people near and far around us.   When God speaks we are not only ready to listen, we also hear the subtleties and the nuances.

We live in busy and noisy times, but God is not too busy to listen to us, ever!  While simplifying our lives might not be possible, maybe it is possible to simplify a portion of time in the regular routine of our days and focus on prayer.   A regular routine of speaking and listening to God, through the good, the bad and the average days of our ordinary lives.  And expect to hear the still small voice of God!

(Photo credit: my perfect breakfast)

Wrapped in Bubble Wrap

We all experience times in our lives when we have to deal with tough stuff.  Things go wrong.  Things we didn’t expect to happen to us, do happen and we are hurt, sad and grief stricken.  The truth is that bad things do happen to good people.  Having a Christian faith doesn’t protect us from sour experiences.  But, hopefully our faith when we’re going through tough times helps us cope.

After my dramatic health situation while on holiday in Germany, last year, I’m continuing to experience ongoing health problems.  But despite the fact that it’s now been five months, and I’m still not well, I’m still feeling somewhat cocooned and protected.  I said to Andrew the other day that it feels like I’m wrapped in bubble wrap.  The impact of all the ongoing health problems is cushioned.  It’s still happening, but I’m not bruising as easily as I could be.   I don’t think I’m in any denial about what is going on with my body, the daily grind is impossible to ignore.  So why do I feel so cushioned and safe?  I can only conclude that my faith has carried me through.

I shouldn’t be surprised by this really, given it’s what I believe for myself and for others I guide on their spiritual journey, but it’s nice when it really matters, to know that faith really does help!  And it’s extremely comforting to me, to know that my faith does provide me comfort.

But I know people who are going through difficult times and don’t find the same comfort in their faith.  It’s made me think a bit about this of late and reflect on why my faith has helped me so much as well as hoping that in the future I’ll continue to get the same comfort from my faith.  I’ve been wondering if for me, my current bubble-wrap comfort is rooted in my view of God.  Maybe our view of God, affects what we think God can be and do in our lives.  Two people experiencing the same thing, both cope differently and have a different view of God’s involvement in their lives.

I’ve heard all kinds of things said by people that show how they view God.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Santa Claus’, handing out special treats to good boys and girls, we assume that our ‘goodness’ as noticed by God is rewarded by treats from God. Our interaction with God is reduced to something like us making lists of things we want to receive once a year, while trying to avoid getting on a naughty list meaning we’d end up with no treats.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Fairy Godmother’, waving a wand and fixing things that are not quite right, magically turning our pumpkins into carriages and our rags into beautiful gowns, we assume that God moves in and out of our lives, transforming some of our ordinary into extraordinary and making us feel special.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a cry for help for what we want from God, a cry to change our circumstances and bring us riches and magical moments.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Police Officer’, enforcing rules, keeping the law, looking after public health and safety, we see God as official law enforcers, uniformed and tough, sometimes on our side, sometimes on the side of the other person.  Our interaction with God is reduced to a valiant attempt to keep the laws and be a good citizen, staying out of God’s way, and only involving God’s help personally with our emergency phone call when something is going wrong.

If our view of God is something like ‘God as Judge’,  determining whether by our behaviour we’re guilty or not-guilty and dishing out punishment accordingly, we see God as remote from us, sitting behind a high bench, protected by the legal traditions and processes.  Our interaction with God only happens at times of judgement, maybe when we think we’ve done something wrong or if someone else we know has wronged us, and in our eyes deserves punishment.

There are plenty of other views of God out there, and feel free to post a comment with your ideas. I think the closest I can come to describing my view of God, is something like God as Journey Guide.  You’ll know if you’ve ever been on a tourist tour and had a great local guide, how it helps to really see what is going on in the places you’re travelling through, to get an appreciation of the people that live in that place, their history and customs, to figure out currencies and sort out simple things that become so important on tour, such as great places to eat!  There is also the adventure guide, such as the Sherpas that guide hiking groups up the Nepalese mountains.  I imagine that these guides know the way, know the conditions, know what to do when things get rough, know the unpredictability and uncertainties of the climb.  These guides have experience of such journeys, yet at the same time, each journey is unique and new.  No two climbs are the same, and each brings their own challenges, joys, dangers and achievements.  And of course a journey guide can only lead if people are willing to follow. And as a follower, you can’t opt in and out of parts of the climb, picking out the parts you want, choosing only to walk on the flat bits and somehow jump over the steep climbs and avoid them. You have to follow from the bottom to the top all the way if you’re going to be sure of where you’re going.

To me this metaphor comes closest to my faith understanding of Jesus as journey guide.  One of my favourite things about Christmas is the celebration of Emmanuel.  In the birth of Jesus, the world received Emmanuel or ‘God is with us’.  As Jesus lived amongst people, we have the eyewitness records of what kind of person this ‘God with us’ was, what he did, what he said and what he felt. ‘God with us’ or Jesus Christ as ‘journey guide’ is to me extremely comforting.  Jesus who understands pain and suffering. Jesus who speaks words of peace and love, forgiveness and hope.  Jesus who gives priority to the poor, the needy and the sick.  Jesus who tells us to follow him.  Jesus who shows us the way, the truth and the life. Jesus who faced despair, loneliness, sorrow and grief.  There is such comfort in knowing that God with us, in the person of Jesus is alongside me. And right now he’s got me bubble wrapped because he knows that’s what I need.

I’ve been thinking all of this over in my head in the last few weeks, and had actually started writing the blog a few days ago up to this point…

This weekend I’ve been quietly sitting with my laptop and formatting our next book, ‘Solving the God Problem’.  It’s written by Brian K. Smith, and is actually a revised version of a manuscript he wrote many years ago, called ‘The Xerox Equation’.    As my eyes flicked over the words, it struck me that this manuscript has been hugely influential in my thinking and concept of my view of God.  In fact it actually surprised me how many of the thoughts and ideas in Brian’s book, are integrally part of my faith, fully permeated through my thinking and have been now for many years.   “Jesus is the Son of God. See him, and you’ve seen the God that nobody has ever seen.” (Brian K. Smith from the ‘Solving the God Problem – John for Today” Due for publication in next few weeks from Kereru Publishing.)

I first encountered Brian’s Xerox Equation when I was running a children’s holiday programme based on the seven signs from John’s gospel about 25 years ago.  Andrew had a photocopy of the manuscript from his time at theological college when Brian was the Principal, and I used it as my base document to build up our holiday programme content.  Over the years I’ve dipped into it many times.  We were very excited when Brian agreed to give it a brush up for today’s world and publish it with Kereru.   And many of Brian’s old students have already expressed enthusiasm to get a copy once we’ve published, so it’s not just us who’ve been influenced and impressed by his thinking. Brian’s commentary on John We see God through the person of Jesus.  Reading the book of John from the bible alongside Brian’s John commentary shows that through understanding Jesus, we get a view of God.

Well this blog did not start out as a plug for our new book, but it is intriguing that the blog post flitting through my head of late and half written until today, should connect so well with my weekend’s work, so I really can’t help giving this a push!  Brian’s book is written for those with little or no biblical background, so fits in well with my ‘all ages and all stages’ thinking and is really a book for anyone. Brian uses contemporary language and metaphors to unpack the gospel of John and things that you read in the bible and wonder what they mean, are explained engagingly and creatively.  In its earlier format it was probably one of the first bible commentaries I had ever read, and reflecting on it now, I see how significant this has been to the foundation of my adult faith, my view of God and my life journey through the good times and the tough times. My bubble wrapping shouldn’t surprise me after all!

(Photo credit: my dress as seen through the bubble wrap)

Light in the Darkness

Our family is using the 25 Stockings book each night at the dinner table.  As well as three versions of homemade ’25 Stockings’ hanging across the room, our 19 year old daughter bought an Advent candle this year. It’s one of those candles with incremental marks down it from 1 – 25.  So each night when we are all together we light the candle as we eat our dinner.  This requires very careful watching because although the candle starts off burning slowly, all of a sudden the wax drips down the side and the mark is reached for the day and it’s time to blow out the candle.

Once we’ve finished eating we read the bible passage. Because our children have always had this experience (I started writing the book when I was 19!) they love the three questions so we have to include that, and then we usually read the reflection and the prayer.

A couple of nights ago we also did the Discussion Time talking about darkness and times when we’ve been in the dark and turned on a light and how this makes a difference and of course how this relates to the metaphor of God’s love.  We had a satisfying conversation about light and darkness and times we’ve each felt God’s presence.   It was nice sitting there in front of a candle and talking about the impact of light that a single candle creates in a darkened room.

Last night I wasn’t feeling so good and although I went to bed early, I was up and down all night.  At first the rest of the family were still all up so while my room was in darkness, the rest of the house was a blaze of light.  By about midnight, 17’s door was shut and I figured he had turned in for the night. But sometime after 1, when I was up again and the rest of the house was this time in darkness too, I reasonably thought everyone else had now gone to bed.  But… around 17’s closed door was a silhouette of light.  (Not that, there was anything wrong with him still being up – he is on holiday)

I was pondering the idea that I had only seen the light around his door because the rest of the house was in darkness.  It was kind of the opposite thinking of our earlier discussion talking about darkness and the difference that happens when a candle is lit.  (Okay, I know it sounds like the same thing but bear with me.)  The light had been on all the time, but I only saw that it was on when the rest of the house changed from light to dark.

So maybe sometimes the metaphor is that we can be like a light in the darkness for others just like a candle lighting up the darkness.  And maybe other times we are part of a larger group of lights, indistinguishable as individuals until we are separated and stand as a solitary light in darkness.

I’ve really liked the metaphor as a follower of Jesus, of being a light in the darkness, or being salt adding flavour to the world.  But I also think there is a balance and when we are being ‘light’ we carry on being true to our call to follow Jesus and be light to the world, by both gathering with a larger group of other ‘lights’ and also living, working and spending time on our own with others who are not followers of Jesus, and therefore hopefully bringing light to their darkness.

It’s a balance that is a struggle and maybe always changing.  There is something wonderful and refreshing for followers to spend large amounts of time with other followers of Jesus.  And maybe at different times in our lives we need this fellowship more than other times.   But if we spend all of our time with our friends from our church groups, then how much is our light shining noticeably to others?  And if we spend too much time with others who are not followers of Jesus, are we in danger of our light ‘battery’ running out or our candle burning until the flame is extinguished.

Anyway, that was my middle of the night musing… instead of sleeping!  Just thought I’d share it.

In another language, in another country, in another space

Well it’s been a while since my last post… and a lot has happened sandwiched between the last entry and this one!  I’m not going to tell you the whole story, but over the next few months maybe bits and pieces of it will gradually be told.  But I didn’t want to leave this blog looking empty and neglected any longer.  The shortened version is that a few weeks ago, I found myself in a hospital in the town of Pirna, Germany, having emergency surgery! Not quite the holiday experience we’d dreamed and planned.  Following the surgery I spent two and a half weeks in hospital, then a night in a hotel, a 40 hour journey home and a ‘lost’ week at home before the NZ specialist sent me back into hospital for a further week.  Now I’m recovering at home… but this is a bit of my story from Germany…

There were a small handful of people who spoke some English among the staff, but for most of the nurses, they had no English and unfortunately I had no German.    It was an interesting experience in learning about communication without words.  While I was in intensive care my two wonderful daytime nurses did have some English and we got by with the odd words and dramatic gestures,  but when I moved to a general ward it was different.  Retrospectively, I wonder if it was deliberate that my first two nurses could speak some English. Once in the general ward, some of the younger nurses or student nurses had some English, but the older nurses had grown up in the days of the GDR and had learned Russian at school.  (No, I don’t speak Russian either!)  The staff were all amazing and I could not get over their care and compassion despite the language barrier.

My surgeon had the most amazing smile. I only met her after the surgery and when she first came in the room, in a group of doctors, I knew immediately that she was my surgeon, even before she’d introduced herself.  She had a glow around her head and I felt such a sense of warmth on sight.  She had lovely long fingers and when she changed my dressings and looked at my surgery she had the gentlest yet confident touch. She had absolutely no English, but she would pre-practice some key words to talk to me and then draw me pictures or gesture.  Communicating with her was a little like playing Pictionary.  I will always remember her as an angel.  She was my first angel.

My second angel was also there when I came out of the anaesthetic, also recognisable by a glow around her head, so I knew she was someone significant,  but it took me almost a week to find out that she was my Lead Doctor and actually the head of the hospital.   On my second day in the general ward I was uncomfortable with bags and tubes coming out of me.  I didn’t know who to ask for, and what I wanted to ask them.  So I just kept thinking of her face and praying that she’d come and see me because I somehow thought she’d know how to help.  She appeared by my bed in her street clothes – I think it was her day off.  I was ecstatic to see her “Oh, I’m so glad to see your face,  I’ve been hoping you’d come!”  She ordered the bag that was going through my nose to come out and stood over the nurse until it happened.  Even so, it was still another few days before I realised that she was the boss!  One day I asked her how many English speaking patients they had at the hospital, and found to my surprise that I was the first ever!

Necessity meant I had to communicate, and with the help of a tablet and German translator app, I had a resource which was frequently in use.  But there were many times when words became redundant, and I was intrigued how quickly I adapted and how well my nurses nursed me without words.  There was one particularly wonderful nurse on my general ward who was my third angel.  She never tried a word of English but she clucked and fussed over me, making me comfortable, guessing my needs and filling me with relief and confidence.  One night I when I was particularly in pain, so much so that I hadn’t thought to push the button for the nurse, she appeared in my doorway, a golden glow around her head.    “How did you know I needed you?”  I asked her.  She soothingly clucked away and came in and tucked my legs so I was comfortable and adjusted my pillows.  Of course she hadn’t understood my question, but by her actions, I was sure that she answered me, saying something like, “I just knew you were uncomfortable, so I came into help you.”   Whatever she replied… I was comforted and back asleep in no time.

Several people have said how much I will want to forget my time in hospital.  I hope I don’t forget it.  It was a time of great privilege for me.  I’ve always hoped that in a time of darkness, my faith would stay strong and this time it did.  From the moment in the A&E department, when the surgeon told me the news that I had to have emergency surgery and didn’t have time to get back to New Zealand, I had an amazing sense of peace wash over me. I had an image of being held in God’s arms.  Both the feeling of peace and the image of God holding me stayed with me throughout my time in hospital.

And words… the currency I deal with for most of my daily life, in both written and spoken form… all became sideshows to the languages of touch, gestures and images and that special something extra that can only come from God.

(Photo credit: the Krankenhaus (hospital) taken on the day I managed the first big walk outside!

Taking a Detour

I always love a road journey and a road journey metaphor is even better.  This weekend Andrew and I and our 16 year old son, headed to Northland. Andrew was preaching at the Bay of Islands Co-operating Parish on Sunday and being the last weekend of the school holidays we thought we’d make it a weekend adventure.  We had planned on leaving after I finished work on Friday, but with the recent flooding up north, State Highway 1 was closed just south of Kawakawa due to part of the main highway being washed away in the floods.

The radio was recommending taking extra time and using detour roads.  There were several options we could choose.  We could go the really long way through Dargaville and add an extra couple of hours to the usual trip length, try our luck with State Highway 1 and hope we might get through or find our own way through the myriad of back roads going North.   The long way didn’t appeal, so we thought we’d try State Highway 1, and trust the road ..  which was fine all the way until we were on the outskirts of Whangarei and reached a sign that told us to turn around and go back to SH14.

The suggestion did not appeal… because we didn’t want to backtrack so far…  so we stopped and bought some Kumara from a roadside stall and asked for the local knowledge.  The vegetable seller was helpful and recommended that we go back to the first set of lights and make a right turn there and follow the detour signs.

SH1FloodDamage

We must have missed something in the translation, because we got back to the traffic lights and made a right turn, but we couldn’t see any detour signs.  Nothing daunted we stopped, rearranged and Mr 16 went in the front seat with his smartphone, we looked at the map, turned on the GPS navigation and set off on our own.

All went well initially, and we progressed for close to an hour without incident.  And then…  then we lost the navigation signal.  However, we could still see the map, so with Mr 16 directing we picked our route and happily drove on.   The tarseal roads changed to dirt roads, and they started to get rather windy, but with our navigator on the job, it looked like we were only about 10 mins from Kaikohe, the town where we were navigating to… when we passed a car that looked as if it had been washed down the road… and then… a road sign and barricade stopped us…  because the road.. was WASHED away!

Okay… perhaps the long way was looking like it might have been a better choice – or certainly a faster choice!  But like intrepid explorers we picked up our smiles, turned the car around, went back about three quarters of an hour to where the road last forked and changed direction.  Dirt road changed to tarseal and wonder upon wonders, we saw traffic!  Could it be possible that we were on the right detour road at last?

With growing confidence we felt that this new road was taking us to the place we wanted to go…  we were heading north, which was a great sign, and every so often coming towards us were a few cars and trucks, giving us comfort that this road was not going to end up washed away. However, after a while we noticed that there was a pattern to the cars coming towards us.  There’d be a dozen cars or trucks in a row, and then nothing for a while, and then another row of a dozen cars and trucks.   Pretty sure now that we would be stopped somewhere ahead and be reduced to one lane.

Sure enough we came upon a queue of cars that were not moving.  We stopped.  We turned off the engine.  We waited.  We waited. We waited. A truck full of yellow clay drove past us.  Another truck of yellow clay drove past.  Hmmm…  were they transporting clay, shifting the slips from the road?

Finally it was our turn to move and single file our queue of cars moved slowly around the bend.  We saw the devastation, the road that had slipped away on the right hand side and on the left the yellow clay dirt that had fallen down from the hillside and was blocking the road.  We saw the machinery, the men, the signs, the activity and action to get this back road detour route operating and allowing people to move north.

After that it was fairly straight forward.  We reached the town of Kaikohe and drove without any further  trouble to Paihia… our journey had taken twice as long as usual but we were there.

We talked as we drove, laughing at our adventure, but also wondering what would have happened if we’d made a different choice about the route of our journey. If we’d taken the long route – would we in fact have got there faster?  If we’d stopped to find the real detour, rather than allowing ourselves to take what we viewed as an easy choice and follow our own path would we have found the right way faster?  Or what if, when we saw the sign telling us to turn around, what if we’d ignored it and carried on down SH1?  What would have happened?

That’s the thing about choices, once they’re made you can’t undo them, you can only try to make the best of them and try to stay on the right path.  And is there only one right way? Is there only one route for each of us to follow, do we have to find the right path that God intends us to take and only follow that path, or is keeping our eye on the destination the more important goal?

Over the weekend we met several people who all had stories of their journey north or the journey of someone they knew, different routes were described and discussed, and it was clear that there were many ways to reach the north.  And it was also clear that time delay was standard no matter what route taken.

But we still didn’t know whether we’d made the right or wrong decisions in regards to our journey.  All we know is that we made our best choices based on the information we had, we made the most of our journey… and we got to our destination.

And life and faith is a bit like that.  We make some right calls and some wrong calls, but we’re never off God’s map.  And sometimes when we least expect it, a detour occurs, but even then, we press on to our destination and we find fulfillment in both the journey and the destination.

(An interesting postscript to this story is that Mr 16 had taken homework with him for his English research assignment.  He’s chosen the topic of Free Will vs Determinism and is using mainly movies as his sources.  So that night we watched ‘The Adjustment Bureau’.  The movie introduces the idea of theological determinism, and seemed an apt end to our day of trying to find our own path. Well worth watching and discussing)   

(Photo credit: Google maps & NZ Herald)

Religiously – imbued with salt and light

The other day I was taking part in a conversation at a meeting which seemed far removed from a religious context.  In my work-a-day construction environment the discussion involved developing a strategy around working with a difficult individual.   Someone present used the term ‘religiously’ to describe a negative characteristic of this individual.  There was a general murmur of agreement to this description.

Afterward I was reflecting on the use of the word ‘religiously.’  What the speaker had meant to convey was the negative idea of an over-zealous, intense individual who was committed to the strict pre-determined routine rather than coming at a problem with an open mind and a creative and flexible approach that would deliver a workable solution.   Hmm…   It made me think about the other times when I’ve heard ‘religious’ used in a negative context… and how a word that should be a positive is often used negatively.

I looked up the definition of ‘religiously’ on dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/religiously and it didn’t really help explain why the word can be used negatively.  I love this defintion of ‘imbued with religion’…  that works for me and my faith journey…  living a life imbued with the Christian faith in every aspect of the journey is something that is always my desire.

It reminded me of another conversation over a cup of coffee when I had just taken a leadership role in a community group a few years back.  I met with a woman who was not a friend at the time and had some influence in the group.  She was a no nonsense business woman and she started our conversation after initial pleasantries, with getting straight to the point.  “I don’t like religious types and I have serious concerns with you taking on this role. ”  Oh great…  now to dig myself out of that hole… “I am religious, but… ”   Fast forward a few months and perhaps surprisingly, I had a new friend.  I’d somehow navigated the path of maintaining my ‘religiousness’ with enough real life authenticity to change her viewpoint on my type of religious type.

That’s just two examples, but when I stop to think, there are plenty of times that I’ve heard about ‘religious nutters’ and the like.  And I wonder, how do I live out my faith in a way that is both true to the Christian religious teachings that are the framework of my faith and conveys a positive impression on those who sit outside of any Christian religious circles.

Perhaps there is a challenge for us in understanding, interpreting and living the word, ‘religious’.  I think for me the images I like to use to define my religious behavior and lifestyle are those of salt and light.   Matthew 5:13-15 says, “You are like salt for everyone on earth.  But if salt no longer tastes like salt, how can it make salty? All it is good for is to be thrown out and walked on.  You are like light for the whole world.  A city built on top of a hill cannot be hidden, and no one would light a lamp and put it under a clay pot.  A lamp is placed on a lampstand, where it can give light to everyone in the house.”

Most of our household likes watching the reality TV cooking shows, ‘My Kitchen Rules’ and ‘Masterchef’.  We get hooked on the competitions, rivalries, personalities and the cooking skills and it makes good winter time television watching.  Invariably and frequently the judges always go on about seasoning…  it seems that even when you’re good enough at home cooking to get all the way through to the finalists, doing something as simple as salting your food can be the difference of a winning dish or not.  I think being a salty Christian is one of my religious goals.  I like the idea of being a flavor enhancer and a preserver of the faith.

Thinking about the image of light, events of this last weekend, come to mind, when we had three nephews and a niece come and stay.  The two older boys at ages 8 & 6 were very thrilled with their sleeping arrangement on a double bed air mattress in front of the TV in the lounge.  The younger 3 year old was not quite as impressed with his mattress in the study next to his sister’s cot.  This might have been why when he woke long before the birds and the sun, he went and jumped on his brothers bed, yelling at the top of his lungs, “Hey guys is it still dark?”  When questioned as to why he’d woken everyone in the entire household up with a question that he could have answered himself by observation, he explained, “Well I didn’t know if it was still dark because I couldn’t see.”  ….  !!  (Okay,  so only the logics of a very verbal three year old could come up with that as an answer!)  That’s the thing with light – even a small glow can light up a large dark space.  A little bit of light cancels out darkness.  Maybe asking whether it is still dark is a question to test our religiousness…  is it still dark… or is the light of our faith, lighting up the way for others as well as ourselves?  It’s a nice picture, the impact of even a little light.

So to conclude this religious ramble…  I think that for the word ‘religiously’ to be viewed as a positive characteristic… it means ensuring our Christian faith journeys must be genuine and authentic experiences of salt and light religion…  and that is always far harder and more challenging than it sounds!

(Photo credit: salt and light on my dining room table)