10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went towards Haran. 11He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12And he dreamed that there was a ladder* set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13And the Lord stood beside him* and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; 14and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed* in you and in your offspring. 15Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ 16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!’
It doesn’t sound very comfortable a stone for a pillow. Would we really choose such a pillow after a long and exhausting day, especially when the day had been physically, spiritually and emotionally challenging? Yet that is what Jacob uses and just look what happens.
God is in the uncomfortable places, the places of dessert, the places of wasteland, the places where there is no comfort and the presence of the Holy One, even unrecognized, in those places makes them holy too. Even the places where there seems only unyielding stone.
Each Friday during Lent I am going to post a photograph that says something to me about the season, however I am not going to say anything about it. Instead I will allow it to speak to you directly, for maybe to you it will say something totally different to you. Here is the first:
We all know what the tradition has become.
- Shrove Tuesday stuff yourself full of pancakes which you rarely eat the rest of the year.
- Ash Wednesday give up something you engage in the rest of the year.
For sometime now I have not been one for giving up something during Lent just for the sake of it. If I need to give up something I don’t wait until Lent, or indeed New Year, I just do it. Instead I am a supporter of the idea of purposefully doing something during Lent. However it is rare indeed for it to remain part of my life once the Glory bursts from the tomb and weary fishers are once more welcomed on the shore. Is Lent really only about given up something we like or taking up something which we find tiresome and wouldn’t engage in the rest of the year? Of course it isn’t, but I fear it is danger of becoming so. However on this just the second day of Lent, I have discovered a third way.
Last night I had a craving for a boiled egg, but decided that rather than having it last night I would have it for breakfast this morning. (I currently have the dreaded lurgy and the thought of getting up out of bed to make it was just too much at that point.) So instead last night I had some melon which Mr Marks and Mr Spencer (other Misters are available) had so kindly prepared for me and fell asleep in-between the hacking coughing attacks to dream of a perfectly boiled egg, on fresh toast with just the right amount of butter and marmite spread upon it. Okay I didn’t actually dream it but I was looking forward to it.
As the coughing stirred me from my slumber this morning I recalled my plans for breakfast. My taste-buds started to tingle before a bout of sneezing tried to interrupt the coughing leaving me bent over of the floor gasping for breath. Giving thanks that I had, had my flu jab and that things couldn’t get much worse, my body eventually decided to calm down enough for me to head to the kitchen.
(Now dear reader, I know that there will be those of you reading this who like your boiled eggs runny, and those of you who like them hard, and those of you who like them that sticky way when they are not quiet either of the others, so please do not judge my egg cooking method for it produces the perfect egg for me.)
My one fear as I headed downstairs was that Hubby might have taken all the bread for his lunch unaware of my plans for a slice of it, my fear however was unfounded. So, slipping a slice of bread in the toaster ready to press down at the appropriate time; grabbing a pan, filling it with water, placing an egg in the cold water and turning the gas on high beneath it; I turned to load the dishwasher sure in the hope that last nights craving was soon to be satisfied.
Are you keeping up?
The pan of water now boiling nicely I press down the lever on the toaster, get out a plate and a knife, move the butter dish over to beside the plate (yes butter – when the smallest tub of lurpak is even too big then why not!) open the cupboard and then … well then I had an epiphany about Lent.
Dear reader, for you must be a dear reader to still be reading – I have most certainly broken one of Anne’s blogging commandments and gone over the word limit – you see it is like this. I opened the cupboard and while it wasn’t bare like that of Old Mother Hubbard, there was a gaping space where the new jar of marmite which I had forgotten to buy should have been sitting. I was going to have to have my boiled egg and toast without marmite! Some of you will be now sharing my pain others will be pulling faces in disgust, for marmite must be among the top ten most love it or hate it things, indeed it wouldn’t surprise me if it has the top spot.
‘Get on with it’, I can hear you cry; ‘what about Lent?’
Well it is about enhancing. For me marmite enhances the flavour and joy of boiled egg and toast, for others having marmite removed would enhance it. Lent isn’t about what you give up, it isn’t about what you take up, it is about taking time to find what will enhance your Christian journey, about putting in the effort to make those enhancements a reality. So I would like to ask a different question this Lent one that embraces the old – what have you given up, or what have you taken up – and makes it neither love it or hate it but rather live it.
How are you enhancing your life this Lent?
No seed of hope,
no kernel of life,
just grainy ash.
All past fire burnt out.
All beauty destroyed.
All riches extinguished.
Look again, all is not lost.
Look again with eyes willing to see.
Ash not of despair but a cross of hope,
a gateway to new life,
the touch, the feel of love.
Stirring the ash into new flames.
Shaping the ash into ultimate beauty.
Refining the ash into pure gold.
Nothing is beyond the reach of God,
the love of God.
Who takes the ash of our lives,
and fashions it anew.
Look at the ash,
and see not the decay of yesterday.
Look and see,
the promise of a better tomorrow
all our beings turned to the future.
Tearing down barriers not of God’s making,
breaking cords that cuttingly bind,
righting past wrongs.
Ash claimed as God’s own.
Full of life, of love, the promise of glory.
This is has also been posted over on Beauty from Chaos where you can see daily posts during Lent from a variety of people all over the world.
Over on the MDO’s blog, Anne brought back a flood of memories recounting the Sunday School stickers that marked attendance throughout the year.
Every Advent Sunday we were given a pristine booklet each page marked with blank rectangles and I seem to recall a bit of foliage. Week by week the blanks were filled with stickers telling the story of the Church year. As the year progressed the booklet got thicker and stiffer as more and more stickers were added. I can recall pleading with my Sunday School teacher – someone who I still occasionally see – for a sticker that I had missing.
We stayed in a village and went to church in the town a short distance away, it was my father who took us to church – my mother at that time was an Easter and Christmas churchgoer only – however he also had to travel abroad on occasions and when they spanned a weekend my mother would walk us to church, she didn’t drive. It was a little over a mile but because part of it was along the main road into the big town we were always accompanied. This particular Sunday it was pouring with rain, now I don’t mean the usual west of Scotland downpour which we were quiet used to, no, this was more akin to a monsoon so we stayed at home. It was extremely unusual for us not to be at church the blank space in my booklet cut to my soul, especially when I saw the picture concerned. Are you ahead of me, dear reader, yes indeed it is the very sticker that Anne has put on her blog. I had long strawberry blond hair and often wore it in pigtails, the roses matched the roses on the wallpaper in my bedroom, and to my eyes it looked as if Jesus was telling my brother to be quiet as Jesus wanted to listen to me, oh my!
In a simpler time when life wasn’t surrounded by electronic gadgets and a single sticker could have the impact of making a child pester her parents about going to church on Sunday from the second she arrived home from school on a Friday, I didn’t want to miss another sticker. All these years later I had forgotten about that sticker until just now, I had forgotten about it even when I when I happened to be talking to someone about them a couple of weeks ago. However, at the time it was those stickers that engaged my pester power and ensured that not only I but also my brother and sister never missed church again for a long time come rain, shine or monsoon! The challenge for the church today is what can it offer that will have the same response in 21st century children?
While in Skye last year we stayed opposite this cliff:
It is hard to express my yearning to be on top of that cliff, I am sure the views would have been spectacular out towards the Western Isles and South over the Isle of Skye itself. I am not one for rock climbing so the only way it might have been possible was to approach it from inland, however there was no access. So the cliff remained majestical, inviting yet unobtainable, in the evening light it glowed and glimmered, as morning fog cleared it glistened like a jewel.
As I tackled the Gospel reading for Sunday I recalled this cliff. Sometimes we are presented with things that are massive and difficult to negotiate, there are occasions when even circumnavigating isn’t possible and we are left with a choice. Tackle it straight on or walk away, those that know me know that I am not one for walking away. So it was tackled and today I keep going back to the this picture and wondering if I managed to scale any of it at all or am still languishing on the rocky foreshore.
You see the most difficult thing about these hard passages in the Bible is that in tackling them and not walking away from them suddenly the cliff only seems to get bigger!
Today’s Gospel reading reminded me of a recent Dispatches on Channel 4. ‘Hunted’ is a graphic, violent and disturbing account of how the Russian Governments anti-gay laws are being used by vigilantes who kidnap and torture those who they claim to be gay. They also target those who support gay rights, and are not gay themselves, by trying to get them sacked from their jobs, arrested and loose their homes. It is not easy viewing but I would still encourage you to view it here.
Today’s Gospel from Mark was that of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30). Here is a someone totally different, different culture, different morals, different religion, different understanding of the world. What does Jesus do? He offers her blessing in healing her child. He includes her in God’s love. He welcomes her as someone who despite everything else in her life, because at that moment and time she wants God in her and her child’s life and grants her, her request.
At another time with another woman Jesus turns to those gathered stones raised against her and challenges them to be the first to throw their stones, the first to condemn her because she is not perfect. (John 8:2-12) Even the dogs. No one is outside the love of God, and certainly no one is excluded because we decide they should be, even if their choices might not be ours or not ones we approve of. Who are we to pick up a stone and throw it at someone else?
There are those who have been quoting from the Canons of the Scottish Episcopal Church in light of the recent Scottish Government legislation with regard to allowing same-sex marriage. Canon 31 in clause 1 does indeed state that:
“The Doctrine of this Church is that Marriage is a physical, spiritual and mystical union of one man and one woman created by their mutual consent of heart, mind and will thereto, and is a holy and lifelong estate instituted of God.”
However I rejoice to be part of a church that recognises that people are not perfect. With regard to marriage the SEC has made provision for a process in the fourth clause of the self same canon for remarriage in church when a spouse is still living. Within the very canon that says marriage is for life, we also acknowledge that there are times when it might not be. We have stopped casting stones at those who for a variety of reasons have found that a marriage was not sustainable and what is more we have recognised that God will still bless any new marriage, for God is love. Clause 1 of Canon 31 is a statement of human doctrine and the SEC in the past has wisely made provision for the redeeming nature of God’s love within that doctrine. For we are still learning the full depth, length, height and breadth of God’s love a love that can not be fenced in, even by canons and doctrines. Could it be time to be doing so again?
It is quite simple really, this isn’t about what view you may or may not hold on same-sex relationships or marriage. To those individuals who hunt those who are LGTB in Russia or elsewhere whether it be physically, spiritually or emotionally; especially those who claim to speak for God I have but three words spoken by another woman in another place but recorded for history to learn from – “even the dogs”.
While we were away last year up in the far north of Scotland I saw this spring, with the dusk light the spring had glowed and I had found myself drawn to it.and today I suddenly remembered it once more …
7 Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.
Jesus instructed the disciples not to take anything with them, other than a staff, the support which Moses before had know, the symbol of God’s authority, for we are so inclined to surround ourselves with stuff and rely on self rather than God. It is highly probably that you are still wondering what that has to do with a rusty spring. Well if I could have I would have picked that spring up and brought it home, Hubby stopped me, stopped me for all kinds of good reasons, firstly it was still attached to whatever the wagon thing had once been, secondly as can be seen in the picture the bolt and thread holding it on are also well rusted, thirdly we didn’t have room, fourthly where was it going to go and quintessentially for this mornings reading, it was unnecessary? Not to mention it probably wouldn’t glow so endearingly once back home, okay no probably about it! It isn’t bread, or a bag, or money, or an extra tunic but neither was it something I really needed. It isn’t something to offer support but something to clutter and ultimately be discarded once more.
We do tend to fill our lives with things we don’t really need, want yes but need? Things that enchant or excite, but do we need them, and more to the point what do they distract us from as they compel our time and attention.
So rather than bringing that rusty spring home I left it so it can enhance other people’s memories, maybe not in the way it enhanced mine today but in the strangest of ways leaving it there actually gives it a purpose which it wouldn’t have had, had I taken it away. It may not be a bag or an extra tunic but it is would have still have been excess baggage and we are commanded to travel light, for our treasurer is in heaven.