crossroads

The past few weeks have been charged with significance. Each moment has felt heavy with meaning and joy: being confirmed in Chapel; finishing my degree; launching ‘Rooted’; saying goodbye to friends; leaving student ministry behind me. Endings and celebrations, all moments held now in the midst of grad week and end-of-term tiredness.

 

These few weeks have felt like a pause of a moment, a crossroads. I’ve been standing between what has happened and what will happen, holding in tension memory and hope, past and future, promises confirmed and to-be-confirmed. I’ve been waiting, trying to be patient: it will be a while before the charged significance of these few weeks sinks in and takes root.

In this pause-moment I’ve oft-returned to these Jeremiah-words (also coincidentally and amazingly quoted in yesterday’s post by my mum):

This is what the Lord says:

‘Stand at the crossroads and look;

ask for the ancient paths,

ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.’

They’re from Jeremiah 6:16, and in their immediate context they speak into a crossroads-moment for the people of Israel: will they turn back to God and find refuge? Jeremiah 6:16 beautifully and hopefully raises this question of choice (and, as is the theme in OT prophets, reflects on Israel’s choice not to walk in God’s ways).

In my own crossroads-context these words have acted as a steer for prayer. They’ve presented me with a choice: when feeling the weight and intensity of this significant moment, how do I respond? First, I stand at the crossroads, and look.

 

Amidst the fireworks and glitter of May Week and amidst all the emotions of endings and waiting, I can pause and stand at these crossroads. Being still, I can look, savouring the bittersweet moments: I have spent much time on Clare Bridge remembering and giving thanks for these past few weeks – and these past three years – in Cambridge. I’ve savoured the moments and considered what’s ahead: the unfolding of what will change and move forward with study, friendships, ministry discernment, writing. There are so many hopes, so many exciting unknowns, and the joy-full opportunity of a crossroads from which to look, remember, and consider.

 

It’s also a crossroads from which to ask: ask for the ancient paths. In the waiting and reflecting, God gives a specific direction. Ask, he says. Seek, pursue, search. Ask me for the ancient paths, the patterns of life that I’ve woven into the fabric of creation just as I have set eternity on the hearts of humans. Ask me for the paths of righteousness; the highways to Zion; the walkways illuminated by my word, illuminating the world. Search out the direction I’m giving you, ancient direction which will hold you steady. It is, as I am, eternal, well-tested, true, and always tending towards life – and at your crossroads-moment I call on you to ask me for these ancient paths, so that when you move from this place you might choose to walk with me, to partner with me in bringing life and light to the world.

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These Jeremiah-words capture something which bends time a little. We’re called to search for the ancient paths, because to walk in them brings life to our present moment. Walking in the old ways brings about the advent of new life. Rooting ourselves in eternity, we partner with God in earth’s renewal, the gathering of all peoples and all things to himself, in joy.

When this Jeremiah-text came up in Chapel the service’s anthem spiralled around these words: ‘sing unto the Lord a new song’. Ask for the ancient paths; sing a new song. Walk in the patterns of eternity that God has established, and find new life springing up around you. Set your hearts on pilgrimage, and you will make the desert into a place of springs and new water. Jesus is doing a new thing: do you not perceive it? He is making a way in the wilderness and streams in the desert. The ancient paths, rooted in eternity, bear the fruit of the new thing that God through Christ and Spirit is always doing. There will be new life.

 

All of this goes to say that in my crossroads-moment over these last few weeks I have not only enjoyed the opportunity to look, reflect, and savour the moment, but I have also found in this space a startling and sure hope for the next few steps along the way. Whatever comes, I know that asking for and walking in God’s ancient and established paths will bring life, both to me and to those around me as I go. This is the fresh vision that I’ve found as I’ve stood at these crossroads of graduation and confirmation, endings and beginnings. There are new springs, and ancient paths. And a God who’s calling me along the way.

 

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broken open to wonder

Bread and wine: ordinary objects grown from seed and ground; plucked from tall vines and pressed into bottles and jars. Yet when, by the breaking of himself, Jesus took, blessed, broke, and gave that bread and wine they became extraordinary. Objects of wonder and communion so abundant that they are offered to all.

Last Thursday night, at the delightful Clare College Theologians’ dinner, I heard Rowan Williams speak. He spoke of his theological influences and interests – of love, death, and sacrament, and of the poets and thinkers who have inspired his faith. Dylan Thomas’ poem ‘This bread I break’ was among those mentioned: Rowan explained that through Thomas’ words he came to realise that everything is sacrament, a gift through which, moment by moment, we can discover communion with God.

This whole world and our experience of it – given and broken open to reveal wonder and communion.

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I think of how true this is as I wander through the rainy and nearly deserted Botanical Gardens. I pause to stare at the intense purple of a lone plant among the spring green; I smooth my hand along the striped, bronze branches of a Tibetan cherry tree; my nose catches the falling drops of rain from clusters of pink blossom. I even press my ear to (what I think is) a silver birch, because I’ve heard that when you do that you can hear the sap moving through the trunk. I think I just caught the sound – someone once said that it sounds like a Victorian plumbing system running through an old vicarage. What a wonder-full image!

All of these pauses allow moments and materiality to break open and reveal wonder and communion. Wonder at the wild world we live in; communion with the Wilder One who made it.

And this is not just true of moments with Tibetan cherry trees and silver birches. When broken open, moments with people shine with the glory of that same wonder and communion. I catch the light in your eyes and see the Father who made you and loves you and brings you joy.

We can choose to live this way, looking for the wonder in moments broken open. We can choose to live given; we can choose to live with ourselves broken open so that, through us, others may see wonder and communion too. We can choose to live given and serving and loving.

And this is what I choose to grow in this term, I pray. To live given, sacramentally, incarnationally. Because that’s how Jesus lives, and that’s how God’s light breaks into darkness – breaks into the ordinary to reveal the wonder and communion of his extraordinary love.

I’ll finish with the words of a friend singing worship next to me on Saturday morning. One of her phrases stuck with me: ‘you shatter the darkness’. God shatters, breaks open, and breaks into darkness, making every place extraordinary. You shatter the darkness – and you invite us to live given so that we can illuminate the ordinary with you.

Soundtrack: a stunning, new-ish song that Spotify introduced me to this morning, Steffany Gretzinger’s ‘Blackout’.

 

 

cost breaks out into abundance

Seeing people be baptised tends to make me cry, these days.

An overwhelming, deeply delightful joy makes itself so unexpectedly present in me that my eyes fill with tears – tears that I don’t anticipate, but tears that I love. It’s like a light bearing down on me: ever surprising, ever good, and inexpressible in words. Captured only in joy; understood only by the Father’s heart.

It’s similar to the growing sense of peace I feel whenever I am at Eucharist. Seeing the bread broken and the wine poured out; hearing the words of the liturgy; receiving the grace to know that Christ’s body was broken and his blood poured out – for us all.

The grace to know that through Jesus’ breaking comes peace, shalom-wholeness, light shining through darkness.

A few weeks ago, I co-led a small group conversation about relationships. This was hard, given my habit of fearing to share this part of my story, and given that I’d only recently been shown more how to forgive.

In worship before leading the conversation, I knelt and sang: eyes closed, hands empty. I needed God. My friend Amy came and slipped a little yellow post-it note under my knee. Opening it up at the end of worship, I found these words:

I was praying for you, and this image came into my head.

Shape of the Eucharist: Jesus takes, blesses, breaks and shares.

God does this with our lives too.

Jesus, in gentleness and love, takes and blesses us, breaks and shares us. Our brokenness is used for his glory, to bring wholeness both to others and ourselves. Broken as he was; shared as he was.

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(photo source: https://loveinthelittlethingsblog.com/2013/09/29/taken-blessed-broken-and-given-further-reflections-of-henri-houwens-life-of-the-beloved/)

There is more to say here than I have the words for. Over the past seven weeks I have written much – not to share on this blog, but just to process, pray and rest. I have enjoyed wrestling with words that cannot contain the many awesome goodnesses that God has been surprising me with, goodnesses about how he ministers to others through my own stories of brokenness and grace; about how costly it is to let him do this; about how great the joy is when I get to see others flourish and be comforted because I have listened to God, and God has invited and allowed me to partner with him.

I am still wrestling with the words! And so I am hoping that these snapshots capture something of what I’m trying to say. Jesus broke for us, to make us whole. He takes and blesses, breaks and shares us, too – and although this is costly, his redemption of our stories brings wholeness to others. The wholeness brings joy: joy to the Father’s heart; joy to his children who see others testify and commit to his grace. Cost breaks out into abundance. Death breaks out into life, as we joyously proclaim at Easter. God is making all things new!

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”

Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

wonder

Two moments of wonder in worship happened this week on side-by-side evenings, a normal Wednesday and Thursday in a busy Cambridge week.

The first, the Wednesday. Kneeling in the purple-lit Chapel of Ridley Hall, whisper-singing words of worship songs, humbled by the love of God in which I find my security and myself. The place where my feet are grounded and secure.

The second, the Thursday. At the end of Compline (evening prayer) I stood in the left aisle of All Saints’ Church with the Westcott House community, gazing at the candle-lit cross at the altar. Again, there was the love of God singing over me, and a simple reply of ‘yes, here I am’ in my heart.

To me, worship is home. It’s the place where I’m seen and known fully, the moment in which God calls my name over me to remind me of who I am and who he is.

It’s the place in which I’m pointed to Jesus, the one in whom I find a love that reaches from heaven to earth to hold me close; to unite me to the one who created me; to bring real, transformed and new life into my everyday living – even in the midst of a busy Cambridge week.

A little while ago I wrote a blog post about post-graduation life and the uncertainty of making plans for the future. I wrote that we can be secure even in this process and change, because God sings over us with songs of love and delight, and makes us secure even in the midst of transition. A friend commented: ‘I love that concept of God singing over us! Wonder what he’s singing?’

A good question; one to ponder over, I thought.

Those two moments of wonder in worship (the Wednesday and the Thursday) are two moments which begin to answer this question for me. I believe that God sings over us with an overwhelming love that grounds us and makes us secure. Even if you’ve never heard his voice before, or have never before stopped to consider that there might be something more to life than what you can see, he is there singing a song of foundational love over the whole of your life, in every single circumstance.

Not only this, but God sings over us with a song of calling: work with me and walk with me, Jesus invites. Watch how I do it and follow in my footsteps. I am the way for you to walk in so that new life can spring up around you; so that you can find and hold out to others a healing from your hurts, a forgiveness in your pain, and a hope that stretches beyond death. Work with me, and see the world become new and whole. I respond to this invitation: Yes, here I am.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.

Zephaniah 3:17

(PS: If you’re curious about this God who loves, there’s events happening every day in Cambridge this week to help you think through some of these big questions! Check the details out here.)

 

 

 

forgiving

These words first appeared on the Cambridge Christian Union’s Events Week site: REAL. This site is full of  testimonies to the incredible grace of God that has been given to us, in so many ways – and it has details of all the events in Cambridge next week that explore the REAL effects of God’s grace even more. Check it out by clicking here! Below is my story that I wrote for REAL.

 

Shame and regret: real feelings sparked by unachieved dreams, deep awareness of flaws, old wounds from broken relationships.

They can afflict us long after the event. They can twist our perceptions about ourselves or our futures, often without us realising.

I have experienced this for sure, having suppressed and carried the wounds of a break-up from years ago. During the relationship, I had at times worn the mask of a ‘good, supportive girlfriend’, doing my best to avoid a break-up because I saw break-ups as personal failures. (Which is not what they are, by the way.) Afterwards, I adopted a new mask: the mask of a girl who didn’t show weakness over a boy. I wouldn’t, I decided, be a girl who cries.

I suppressed my own feelings of hurt and failure, and carried on as normal. I didn’t want to talk about what had happened; I closed my fists tight around the hurt, trying to hide and ignore it, squash it away.

Despite my best efforts, however, those old wounds would occasionally spike with the pain of regret, a feeling of failure, and the (false) belief that I had lost the years I had spent in that relationship.

 

Fast-forward a couple of years, and I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s car, on the way to a summer camp reunion. We chat and laugh, and end up telling our stories of how we came to faith – how we came to know God and see our lives transformed by him.

I share about those old wounds. My friend just asks me, gently: ‘Have you thought about forgiveness?’

Breathe out. Quiet for a moment, a pause to think.

Yes, I had thought about forgiveness. I had thought about it, but I hadn’t let it reach those feelings of loss and pain. I hadn’t let the light of forgiveness pierce the darkness of those old wounds.

Over the following weeks, I kept thinking about that gentle question. What would it look like to forgive myself and the boy I’d been in a relationship with? What would it feel like to heal, to become more whole, in this part of my life?

Amidst these questions, God kept speaking. Through the quiet of my heart, conversations with family and friends, and powerful prayers from others, he helped me to start forgiving by showing me his forgiveness. He helped me to see that I am not bound by my past – where once my hands had clenched tight shut around those old wounds, now they can be open, empty and free because God has forgiven me and is daily teaching me how to forgive.

 

Forgiveness doesn’t mean forgetfulness of the past or the pain; it doesn’t mean a covering-up of hurt inflicted. Far from it – it’s far too real for that, something we have to choose to live every day, despite the odds. In this continual learning and choosing, God gives freedom, wholeness, and peace: ‘it is like a knot that is suddenly undone, it is like a huge weight removed from our heart, like a mountain thrown into the sea’ (Luigi Gioia, ‘Say it to God’).

Today I have more joy than I used to when I think of those ‘lost’ years: God is reclaiming my story, forgiving the bad and showing me the light of the good. I don’t know where you’re at with regret – whether you have any regrets or feelings of shame. But may I ask you that one gentle question? Have you thought about forgiveness?

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

 

PS: Don’t forget to check out REAL!

risking the ocean

‘So, what are your plans for next year?’ – the most-asked question of any final-year undergrad, ever.

I’ve heard it approximately five thousand times this week already, being back in town for my penultimate(!) undergrad term at Cambridge. I’ve heard friends voice their dreams and worries about the future, telling stories of applications, rejections, acceptances, and plans being made firm – or not.

It’s an urgent time, full of incredible opportunity and the anticipation of (often unasked-for) change. A huge shift of the imagination into the big, wide-wild world. In conversation with some third-year friends, I happened to mention the ‘g-word’, and one of them immediately banned me from saying it again! Graduation looms. The future is out there. Adventure is out there! – with all its terrifying excitement.

 

 

As I’ve let my mind settle around this situation, one clear and simple tune has risen above the rest. It’s a song I learned at summer camp, years ago. In the years since then, I’ve oft-repeated it to myself when I can’t get to sleep, singing it into the quiet night with a quieter voice. These are the words:

As you travel through this life,

In your plans and in your dreams,

And in everything you do,

May you know that deep inside,

As you hear the Father’s voice,

And the songs of love he sings to you:

He says that you’re amazing,

He says that you’re his special one,

He says that you’re his precious child,

And there’s no-one else like you.

He says that you are beautiful,

Do you know that you make him smile?

Do you know that you’re his heart’s delight?

Do you know that you’re amazing?

He says that you’re amazing.

I remember loving this song when I learned it. I was a shy, curious ten-year-old, away on camp with my best friend. My biggest worry was whether we’d get to swim in the outdoor pool the next day – yet singing this song made me think of wilder things. The big, wide world; the deep and hidden things of God; the ocean of opportunity mysteriously labelled ‘The Future’. (This is not just rhetoric: I have thought of the future as being like an ocean for as long as I can remember.)

 

Every night we sung it: As you travel through this life, in your plans and in your dreams. All of us were just kids wondering at and barely comprehending the possibility of a lifetime’s worth of travel, plans and dreams.  Back then, I never would’ve imagined even the smallest amount of the things I’ve done in the decade since. Who, when they’re ten, can even begin to know the person they’ll be or the things they’ll have seen by the time they’re twenty-one? Who, when they’re twenty-one, can know what they’ll have done by the time they’re twenty-five, thirty, forty, or ninety-nine?

As we dive into whatever is next we cannot know where the tide will take us. It will most probably be to places we never expected. Yet we can know (even, and perhaps especially, if you’ve never known it before) the truth of what I so loved learning when I was ten: God sings over every single one of us with infinite love and care, never letting us go, never forgetting us, always delighting in us, always smiling over us.

 

We can trust that his hands hold us even as we risk the ocean: as we risk applying for that job, internship or church placement; as we take a leap in moving away from home, or moving back home; as we decide to study for a little while longer. His hands hold us through everything – all our travels, plans, and dreams – and they will never, ever, let us go. Peace is a Person, not a place.

So that’s what we’ll hold onto the next time someone asks us what we plan to do next year. Whatever comes, there is a God who will be with us. Adventure is indeed out there.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves.

He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you,

But will rejoice over you with singing.’

Zephaniah 3:17

 

 

moonlight and the deer shelter

Once more, it is late and I am awake. Moonlight paves into my room through the unclosed window. My earlobes sting dully from new piercings(!), and my brain whirrs with thoughts and half-thoughts. I think about moonlight and the window –

– and my brain images a random, yet connected, memory. I’m fifteen, visiting the Yorkshire Sculpture Park on a GCSE art trip. I’m meant to be sketching all I can see, learning the beauty of forms through rough pencil strokes.

 

I earnestly sketch, after the heart and instruction of my teacher. Yet it’s my mind that’s captivated, rather than my hand: as I see these sculptures, words move into my head and pitch up tent, presenting themselves as more creative and compelling than my rudimentary and unlearned sketches. Words reflect truly my relationship with the art in front of me – even then I was a writer.

On this sketching trip, Turrell’s Deer Shelter caught my mind the most. It’s installed in a field with arresting simplicity: it is only a room with a square hole cut out of the ceiling. I sat on one of the benches around the edge of the room, and later I wrote these words:

Turrell’s work explores light and the sky and strives to create a space for thinking and contemplation. Sitting in the Deer Shelter, gazing at a square piece of sky made me feel good to be alive and to be able to enjoy earth and sky and art as they are. It was amazing to see the sky seemingly coming below the roof…coming into the room as you looked at it longer.

 

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These young words capture something for me, even today. I was amazed then to see the sky come below the roof, into the room – and I am amazed now, experiencing the quiet moonlight pouring in through my bedroom window.

I am amazed because, when the sky pours into the room, it shows that there is something more out there, beyond the window frame. In the Deer Shelter the sky was bright blue and fluffed over with woolly clouds, and beyond the small square of what I could see I knew that there was a whole skyscape to be seen.

In my room tonight, the moonlight paves its way through the dark. I know that if its silver pathway is followed it will lead to the moon itself and the stars, those strange and silent lights that comfort us as our globe spins through space.

You see, there is wonder beyond the window frame. The stars in all their glory; the hands of God holding them in place.

 

I imagine what it would be like to be Alice stepping through the looking glass. She walked with fear and curiosity, stepping into a new world and having her expectations and perceptions turned upside-down and inside-out. She found strangeness, newness and friends, and through her journey into the unfamiliar she learned so much more about herself and her world.

What if we too, metaphorically, stepped through the looking glass? Followed the moonlight path out of the window, or climbed through the square opening in the ceiling of the Deer Shelter? There is so much more than we immediately see; there is wonder beyond all that we could ask or imagine. And God delights to invite us into this wonder.

Madeleine L’Engle writes about one way of accepting this invitation in ‘Walking on Water’, her stunning book which I have been reading over this Christmas break. Her words are these:

When we are writing or painting or composing, we are, during the time of creativity, freed from normal restrictions and opened to a wider world, where colours are brighter, sounds clearer and people more wondrously complex than we normally realise.

 

Her answer to the inviting wonder of God’s world – found in the complexity of people, and the sounds and colours of everything around us – is to explore it, through writing and creating. Through creating (which all of us can do), communicable form is given to the depths of wonder around us, the ‘something more’ in the sky beyond the window. Writing draws cosmos out of chaos; our creating somehow incarnates the hidden things of God which he has given us to make known to all people (Mark 16:15; Ephesians 3:1-13).

I find this to be true tonight as I gaze at the moonlight and imagine what is beyond. I find this to be true in the Bible, a lot in the Psalms, as it uses stories and poetry to reflect on the goodness and love of God. I hope to find this true in my own creating, as I write to incarnate; to imagine further; to explore the wonder of our God.

Soundtrack: Bethel’s ‘You Make Me Brave’

 

incarnation: word for the year

The moonlight was bright last night. I was awake in the very early morning because I was too warm; I opened the window for some cool air and there was the moon, bright and clear and silver. I paused and gazed, glasses-less, at the many stars – they blurred and sparkled as, without glasses, I can’t really see.

This morning I awoke to the sky, this time red, gold and turquoise. An incredible sunrise poured in through the open window, the light transformative. The colours blurred and swirled into each other as I looked on sleepy-eyed, glasses-less.

With skies like these it’s easy to believe these verses from the Bible (Psalm 19):

‘the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they declare knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words, no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth; their words to the end of the world.’

The skies incarnate the truth of God, and his glory. The give form and vision to his character, showing us that he is the Creator and that he delights and loves so much that he makes the world not only habitable, but beautiful. The skies move and communicate a divine and beautiful story.

My word for this year, I think, is ‘incarnation’. It’s not a random word that I have chosen; rather, it’s a word that’s chosen me. I’ve listened and thought, and from stories of grace in 2017 and future promises for 2018, ‘incarnation’ has arisen.

The word itself means to en-flesh or embody; to represent a concept, quality or even God in concrete, fundamental or even human form. It’s a word that’s about fruit and communication: to incarnate something is to bring it to fruition and light, seeing the result of unseen hard work and labours of love. The incarnated form communicates that which it represents, revealing hidden, true things to the people who see it.

In 2018 I hope to grow in ‘incarnating’ – to grow in what I understand incarnation to be; to see God bring fruit to bear in my living, working and friendships; to increase in my ability to communicate his story and wonder to others. I hope to find my feet firmly grounded in heaven even as I walk the face of the earth, that I might become an empty-handed vessel through which the things of God can flow. I long to see my writing and my living shaped increasingly after the pattern of Christ as I tell and dwell in the stories God has already written for and in me.

And above all, I want 2018 to be a year of knowing Jesus more fully – the one who took on flesh to incarnate God himself, as we remind ourselves so much at Christmas. Jesus embodied God to us, revealing God: he is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation’ (Colossians 1:15). He walked the earth as fully human and fully divine, able to reconcile us completely and totally to God – he showed the fruit of God’s love and communicated the heart of God to us all.

It’s amazing and wonder-full to even begin to grasp this. This year, I hope to grow in this beginning, as I hold out empty hands to be held and led on by God – as I ask for my eyes to be opened so that I can see more clearly the once-hidden, now-revealed things of God.

I’ll finish with some of Jesus’ words, from Luke 8:16-18:

’No one lights a lamp and hides it in a clay jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, they put it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they think they have will be taken from them.’

There is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.

lighting the Chapel candles

I have to stand on my toes to light the candles in Chapel. Otherwise, I’m too short.

These tip-toe moments make me feel like a child, as I carefully lift up the protective glass and raise the taper to touch the candle-wick (all whilst making sure that the sleeves of my College gown don’t catch fire and the wax doesn’t drip on the choir’s music). I’m like a child relishing the responsibility of being given a task to do, amazed by my Father God’s invitation to perform these small services in his presence. I’m invited to light the candles in the presence of the one who made the stars.

I stand on my toes and watch the wick catch and ignite, turning to flickering as I move to light the next candle. I have the wonder of a child: I get to do this; I am invited to be here; I am given the gift of seeing the illumination of the house of God.

This Cambridge term has opened my eyes to the joy of such simple, childlike faith not only in lighting candles but in many other moments too. I’ve seen it in God’s immense kindness as he’s strengthened me when I’ve been tired. When I have nothing left to give, God gives me the rest I need. He shows me when to take a break and encourages me to persevere when there’s no time to stop. He’s like a mum listening carefully to the tiredness of her child, sending them to bed when they need it and waking them up when they’re ready.

I’ve seen the joy of this childlike faith in singing songs at church, when God has released all of us to sing loud and in freedom. An amazing sound overflows as we lose ourselves in being with him and knowing him. It’s like a child lost in a moment of playing with their dad. They are amazed at his wealth of knowledge and they say simply and truly: ‘wow dad, you’re perfect at this. I love you.’

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I’ve seen this joy in prayer by myself, too. If you’ve spent any time with me this term there’s a good chance that you’ll have heard me (overexcitedly) speak about ‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’, a Bible adaptation for kids written by Sally Lloyd-Jones. Running from Genesis through to Revelation this book transforms Bible stories and their deep theology into the language of children, showing how each one of them points to the person of Jesus and the incredible love of God. Each morning I’ve read a story from this Bible – and every single day I’ve heard Jesus speak about who he is and how much he cares. God’s been showing me how to wonder and trust in the Bible with the heart of a child (and I’ve even used the Storybook Bible in a Greek supervision. Children’s books will get me through finals, right?!).

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Finally, I’ve seen this joy come to life in the midst of trying to answer that big question of what to do post-graduation. I take such encouragement in knowing that God is my Father and I’m invited to be his child and trust, to wonder at his love and follow his voice where he’s calling me. To follow with joy and with the seriousness that childlike faith (paradoxically?) is growing in me.

Be encouraged if you are also facing big questions and big days. Sometimes God leads us into the wilderness time of wrestling deeply with our faith – and sometimes he calls us to know him with deep simplicity. He can call us to know him just by lighting the Chapel candles, sleeping when we need to, singing loud songs in freedom, and reading picture books in the morning.

Ponder where God’s calling you now, and have a listen to this song, Bethel’s ‘Wonder’. This just captures it all, with such joy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

prayer and fire

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

Over a year ago, on a cold September night, the stars blazed silver and my fingers were chilled to the bone. I was camping with friends at Forum (a conference for University CU leaders), and it was night, and it was cold. There was a light drizzle dampening our clothes and faces. There was dew on the long grass and a sharp, sweet coolness to the air.

There was also a campfire roaring one field to the left – great orange flames sparkling and crackling against the dark sky, emitting grey and glorious-smelling smoke.

So, with the stars blazing silver and my fingers chilled to the bone, I headed over to the campfire to sit huddled on the ground, sing songs (as typically and wonderfully happens at CU campfires!) and get warm. Getting warm was my big aim; I stretched out my cold hands to the flames and felt the heat on my skin. My joints and muscles relaxed, and slowly the warmth reached the bones of my fingers. I didn’t have to keep my hands clenched up inside the sleeves of my jumper any more that night; I didn’t have to try desperately to hold on to or generate my own tiny warmth.

Instead, I could hold my hands out open and empty towards the crackling, smoky fire, letting the flames do the warming for me.

You see: you don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.

My friend Katie shared this phrase with me a couple of weeks ago, having heard it at this year’s Forum conference in a seminar about prayer. The point made through it is this: when you don’t feel like praying, pray. Just as you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and need warming up, draw close to God when you’re ‘cold’ in your feeling towards him and you need ‘warming up’.

This resonates a lot with me. I know that prayer is the only thing that keeps me grounded. I know that without regular times of talking and listening to God I grow colder, more disconnected, and more insecure. I get more things wrong and feel a lot more on edge. Yet, despite knowing these things, I don’t always feel like praying.

I get distracted by Netflix or studying, or simply feel a complete lack of motivation and energy to talk to God. I sometimes don’t know where to start, or I sometimes think that I can do everything I need to without God. Often when I have a 9am lecture I find myself with less time to pray in the morning.

These are all examples of feeling ‘cold’. My hands clench up into fists, gathering around them the fabric of my jumper as they try to keep any warmth from escaping. I face a choice in these ‘cold’ moments: do I keep trying to generate and preserve my own warmth, or do I turn towards the fire?

I’ve found that it’s always been worth it when I’ve made the latter choice with prayer. The choice is sometimes hard, but the result is always wonderful – my clenched fists stretch out into open and empty hands, warmed by the fire of who God is and how much he loves.

You don’t draw close to the fire when you’re already warm; you draw close to the fire when you’re cold and you need to warm up.