Be Like Soft Wax

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I know I have sung the praises of the book ‘Celebrating the Seasons’ before and make no apologies for doing so again as it continues to throw up delights even when reading it for a third year.  For those of you who might have missed previous posts on it, ‘Celebrating the Seasons’ is a compilation of Christian writings from a variety of sources, most days there is one reading, occasionally more are offered.  There is also a companion book ‘Celebrating the Saints’ which personally I tend to dip into rather than read every day.

Reading Thomas Merton’s words this morning was powerful.  The words are gentle, like a feather caught in the lightest of breezes I was softly blown away.  How did I miss this gem the last two years?  Maybe I didn’t, maybe this year I was more like soft wax when reading it and it left its impression.  Regardless here it is taken from his book ‘New Seeds of Contemplation’.

wax

Souls are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeness to God in Christ. And this is what it means, among other things, to be judged by Christ. The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder. Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire – as if your true identity were to be hard wax – the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your own true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfilment.

Kyrie Eleison

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Christ stilling the storm Douglas Strachan window Kilbrandon ChurchThe disciples were sore afraid the waters crashed around them and the storm raged, they feared for their lives, they feared for their future.  This Douglas Strachan window in Kilbrandon Church magnificently shows a mixture of responses on the boat.  One disciple pleads to Jesus, one desperately tries to hold to the catch, another continues to steer while a fourth clings to the mast maybe in fear of being flung overboard maybe to stop it breaking.

There is rarely only one way to respond to a situation and sometimes it can all seem so helpless that there seems to be no way to respond at all.  From the Gospel accounts we hear how the disciples were annoyed with Jesus for sleeping as they battled to stop the boat from the sinking.  Those who were trying to save the catch, steer the boat, hold the mast didn’t think Jesus could help them other than by lending his muscle, but one pleads with Jesus on his knees.   Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, his cry is not for mere muscle.  Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, what else can he do but plead, the boat appears to be sinking and they are still far from land.  Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy, without you we can not get through this.

The world is a turbulent place at the moment, even if you had the muscle power, the political power, were would you even begin and that is only today’s list.  For a moment jump back a couple of months the majority of 200 Nigerian girls are still missing, the world cried in outrage at that but they have not yet been returned, some have escaped but the majority are still captive.  Now their plight has been overtaken by Syria, Isis, MH17, Gazza, on our front pages, on the tv, radio and internet news services, but they and their families are still caught in the wind and waves of troubled waters and they aren’t the only ones who continue to suffer long after the cameras and reporters have left.  While, despite rolling news channels, there is still lots that is never reported.  Everything seems so bleak but there is hope, there are calm waters to be found, there is safe harbour.

Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy on the world and all her people for we need you to calm our stormy planet.

In the Image of God

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Once upon a time when the 50 days of unremitting joy had ended and Whitsun had blown passed the church would pick up its collective prayer books and recite the Creed of Saint Athanasius on Trinity Sunday.  St Athanasius like many before and since used words to try and describe the glory and the majesty of the Trinity and like most before and since failed in essence.  Never the less every year I head to page 41 of the SPB when preparing my sermon for Trinity Sunday to see if it might guide me into some new wonder, this year I didn’t get very far before being biffed between the eyes, verse 4 says:

Neither confusing the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.

Why did these words biff me so this year you might be asking, well I think there has been some Confusing of the Persons and dividing of the substance going on this year.  It goes something like this:

God made everyone equal, but because some can’t quite handle that …
God is love, but because some can’t quite handle that either …
God is Spirit, but because God’s Spirit is not in tune with the spirit of others, then God’s spirit will have to defer.

I love Trinity Sunday, I even like preaching on it, why when every other preacher heads for the hills?  Well because I like the fact that for one day at least the Church admits it doesn’t really know all the answers, it can’t really explain it, but nevertheless because it is of God then it is okay and we can trust it.  Trinity Sunday is a leap of faith into the unknown after Easter and Pentecost have played their part and yet we seem to be so scared to leap, so scared to trust, so scared that we are in danger of transposing God into smaller more manageable pieces and in doing so we confuse and divide the Person and Substance of God.  A God who is bigger than anything we can imagine and in divided and confusing the Persons and Substance of God the only ones who will really end up divided and confused are we ourselves.

Unanswered Questions

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Whose feet once climbed these stairs?

??????????Was it the rush of childhood feet, jumping down two at a time late for the school bus?

Or the sullen tread of a teenager moping up to their bedroom?

Maybe the weary trudge of a mother carrying a pile of washing down or the freshly laundered clothes back?

Or the firm step of a father arriving back from field or boat or office to wash the tiredness of the day away?

Perhaps the measured steady faithful steps of someone in their later years carry a cup of cocoa up to bed?

Did young lovers climb them in excited anticipation?

How many shouted conversations have flowed up and down them?

Have they known the crawling of a baby learning to climb up them for the first time?

Or echo to the heavy feet of those carrying someone down for the last time?

Did anyone ever come tumbling down them?

Was a toe ever stubbed as someone missed timed their climb up them?

Did any of those scenarios or none of them take place?

How many hands held those newel posts?

Was is used to steady, to swing on, to hang a bag or coat on?

How many feet climbed those stairs?

Why are they no longer climbed?

Who was the last to climb them and just why did they never return?

St Clement’s, Rodel, Isle of Harris

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While at the north of Lewis there is the delightful church of St Moluag’s on the southern tip of Harris is the enchanting church of St Clement’s, Rodel.  Unlike St Moluag’s it is no longer in use as a church but it is still a very special place touched by God.

??????????Perched on a hill over looking the Atlantic Ocean for centuries the only way to approach it was by boat.

??????????In the graveyard the butterflies collect nectar from the buttercups …

??????????and the trees bow in reverence to the the holiness of the place (and no doubt the wind that was totally lacking when we visited) …

??????????Now you no longer need a boat to visit St Clements, there is a road, however the steep path to its door meant once more there was a journey to get there nestled as it is within the hillside …

??????????with windows which look as it there are house height from outside prove to be more the traditional church height once inside.

??????????Again a green sheen echoed as a significant portion of the west end is below ground level, the air was that refreshing cool way of stone buildings, the bright spring sun shone through the windows and within those walls there was a deep peace and sense of wonder …

??????????along with carvings which have survived in varying degrees …

????????????????????????????????????????including angels censing …

DSCN4289and blowing trumpets.

??????????Again I could have stayed much longer it was a place where the urge to take off ones shoes for it is holy ground is strong.

??????????It is memories like this that can sustain us through the difficult times, but more than that St Clement’s once more struck me with a message we need to hear.  Just like our visit to St Moluag’s it renewed my belief that the 21st century church needs to re-engage with pilgrimage and that such pilgrimages don’t need to be to places of renown or formal but happenings to places of Holy Ground where God’s presence is not clouded by the demands the modern world heaps upon us.  Places were we have space to breathe and have God’s breath revive us.

Good Shepherd Sunday

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Today being Good Shepherd Sunday and my first day back at work I couldn’t but help drifting back to the Isles of Lewis and Harris and the sheep which were in full blown lambing.  At every turn the lambs, who were now steady on their legs, were gamboling and frolicking over every wall and burn they could find, all expect this one with the beginnings of a purple Mohican.  There is some dry grass, however, this one took its rest in the Herbridean sun.

??????????It reminded me of a lamb who once might have rested in the straw of a stall.  Of the new life which had brought about a death and through that death abundant new life.  Of a weary mother welcoming her new son as that Son in turn would welcome weary fishers on the shore.  The alpha and the omega the beginning of the story and the end, I thought, then again no for there is no beginning and no end just one joyous abundance from now and through eternity.

Saint Moluag

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You have all heard of St Columba, haven’t you?  How about St Moluag?  A contemporary of Columba who forwent the coracle that Columba travel on to get from Ireland to Scotland.  Instead, so the legend goes, Moluag crossed the Irish Sea on a rock which had broken off from the Irish coast as he stood on it and then drifted him across to come to a halt at Lismore on Loch Linnie where he later founded a monastery after a race with Columba.

DSCN4062Sitting on its croft St Moluag’s Church welcomes you from a distance calling you across the springy peat pathway just as Moluag was called across the Irish Sea.

DSCN4067With no heating or electricity the stone walls are tinged with green, yet the church has a warmth about it, centuries of prayer ooze out of the walls and the oil lamps hang from the ceiling reminding all that what this place is not about some passing whim but about that which transcends time.

DSCN4069While every niche in the wall is marked with the soot of a thousand candles each one numbering the thousands of souls who have found peace and healing within these walls.

DSCN4070If you ever find yourself on the Isle of Lewis do yourself a favour and take the trip up to the Butt of Ness and search out St Moluag, if it has been wet take your wellies for you will probably need them as you make the long walk across the croft to the church at the other end.  However be it wet or dry the journey is one that will surely bless you as it did us.