Sunrise

My youngest son rolled home at 3am this morning and then I was wide awake.  Soon it was getting light and the birds began to sing.  Sometime after 4am I got up, made a cup of tea and watched the sun rise.  What a gorgeous morning which has turned into a gorgeous day.  It’s now 6pm and I’m still awake though I’m not sure the brain is quite functioning!

God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars (Gen 1:16)

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God’s whispers and an art exhibition

Recently I read The Power of a Whisper by Bill Hybels.  Some of the chapters really make me think.  The first one pointed out that God has always spoken to people the The Bible both in  the Old Testament and the New and then there was a chapter with testaments from Hybels congregation  of their  ‘whispers ‘ from God and the way they were described made me realise that I had experienced instances too, which I had either acted on or not, but had never considered them as being from God.  I always thought this was just my conscience or intuition telling me what to do and  giving me little nudges and that they were from me.  All this time I have been waiting for whispers from God and it looks like I’d been hearing from him all the time (well, now and then).  Perhaps now I will take more notice.  It occurred to me that I have been trying too hard and missing the obvious!

While this book was an eye opener I did struggle with some of the  chapters.  There were parts I felt were maybe a bit too overindulgent and palley  and being from the UK the Americanisms grated.  But  then the Americans might find us  rather staid  and prim!  I do think that churches in the US are a lot different to the UK.

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After lunch today I went along to the retreat house where I spent a day in April.  The Sisters had organised an art exhibition by contemplative artists entitled Windows into the Heart and I very much wanted to see it.  On display was visual art, glass icons, poetry, paintings, clay sculpture and photography.  Each room had a different art.  Trying to pick a favourite isn’t easy.  I loved the paintings, so simple and peaceful.  The clay sculptures represented a different station of the cross.  The glass icons were so beautiful set up against the large windows so the light could shine through them and the photography was great too.  There were some books of poetry and a book of photos with a line from a Psalm.  Upstairs there was a very moving display of photos and poems about dying.

Going there today also gave me the opportunity to see the downstairs of the building which I didn’t really see on my first visit.  There is a lovely library, several rooms for meetings and a conservatory.  The gardens looked beautiful and as it was a hot day I sat in the shade for a little while before going back to the bus stop.  These are very talented ladies and the house was quiet and peaceful. It gave me a chance to unwind before tackling the hot and noisy journey home.

God Hunting – conclusion

Window - Guildford Cathedral

Window – Guildford Cathedral

It has been six long months since I began reading and following the book God Hunting by Jo Swinney.  In that time I have tried new ideas, re-visited old ones and continued things I am already doing.  I thought before I leave this book I would draw everything together to see what has stuck, what I might re-visit and my final thoughts on what I have learned or tried. I will deal with each chapter briefly in order of the book.

Prayer – I still use arrow prayers.  They are a great way to connect with God quickly when on the go about a situation or a worry and about something that has happen. For example when I was in London a few weeks ago the paramedics were working on a gentleman lying on the pavement opposite.  It was obvious that it was serious as they were trying to get his heart going again.  I offered up a prayer for him.  I will never know what happened but there appeared to be no person other than the paramedics with the man and he looked so alone.

My intercessory prayers need working on.  I pray for family, friends and others I know who I feel need prayers but I often forgot the wider community and sometimes the wider world.  The ‘offices’ of morning and evening prayer which I tried didn’t really work for me – I think it is the language but the regularity of it helped.  However, I have since bought A Holy Island Prayer Book by Ray Simpson which contains prayers and readings for morning, midday and evening prayer for five weeks and I have been using this book for five weeks!  I haven’t managed midday prayer more than twice but I have kept to the morning and evening prayer times and I feel more comfortable with this Celtic style and aim to continue.

Fasting – the only thing that remains from this is that I have one day a week when I don’t use my computer. though it’s not the same day every week as it depends what’s going on.  Fasting is something I’d like to revisit again and perhaps read more about.

Bible – meditating daily isn’t going to happen right now!  However, I have bought a book which uses The Message Bible version and uses the method of lectio divina for Bible study.  I will use this from time to time and see how it goes.  I think ‘now and again’ is more my style than trying to fit it into everyday which I know I will soon find a chore and lose interest.  Studying the Bible in community isn’t happening and I still don’t know what to do about that but whatever I do it will be outside of my church.  This is still a big issue and maybe I will talk about this again some time but right now there are a lot of thoughts spinning around inside my head which I need to try and sort out.  The memorising Bible verses I enjoyed but I couldn’t seem to make them stick and eventually gave in.  I might try to see if there is another way to learn them that would suit me better because I can see the benefit of doing it.  Another one to return to at some time.

Worship – recently I attended a women’s conference at the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Race Course.  It has became an annual pilgrimage, the exhibition, and in this will be the third year I have attended one of their conferences.  I tried to get some of the ladies from my group at church to come but no one was interested.  A friend, not from my church, was unable to get a ticket as this year the conference was sold out, 300 women!  So I went on my own.  I had a lovely day and the speakers were really good and varied. The talks covered getting the most from our devotional, journalling,  finding our personal style (clothes and make up) and living out our identity as a daughter of God. It ended with a choice of two brief workshops on either flower arranging or messy crafts but I opted out of these so I had time to visit the main exhibition stands.  One of the speakers, Jennifer Rees Larcombe, I found so inspiring and it was as if her talk was just for me as she spoke about growing up so shy.  I found her talk really moving and she is the most wonderful and funny speaker, very genuine.  The worship (two brief times) was very different from what I am used to (my church is High Anglican).  There was a screen with words and worship songs.  People raised their arms.  It felt very odd to me and out of my comfort zone but I had a go!  I like worship songs and I would like to experience something different from time to time and this is another thing I struggle about with my church.  It was good to experience something else but as an introvert it takes a bit of courage!

Solitude – I do intend to find times for quiet days and retreats as they are most helpful. I only plucked up courage a few years ago to go on a retreat and now love them.  I hope to book a retreat for later in the year as I missed out on one last year.

Simplicity – this means a lot to me, how I live and what difference I can make.  There were aspects that the chapter didn’t touch on like money – where we spend it and our giving.  This is something on my mind right now.  Time management  is still something I’d love to pin down for some areas of my life and who knows maybe I will….one day!

All in all I found the book a great way to explore new ideas to connect with God and on the whole a lot of the exercises were worth considering but finding ways in which these could work for me is still an ongoing thing, though I feel I have have made a lot of progress.  If I’d just read the book without doing the exercises as I went I don’t think I’d have got round to it.  However, I may re-read the book again without having the thought that I have to do this again!  I’ve seen where I am falling short and I have some resources to help me move on.  Obviously this book will be different for each individual due to personality types and what you have been used to in your journey and worship style.  It does us all good to try things because we can get very staid and think our way is better.  We cannot dismiss what others find helpful in connecting to God just because it feels odd to us. I hope you have enjoyed reading about my journey through the book and it has encouraged you to try something yourself for the first time.

God Hunting – Simplicity (4)

The final week of this chapter (and the final week of the whole book) was about relationships and authenticity. There was a part about how we like to be liked, how we sometimes use friendships to ‘get on’ (networking for our own ends) and how we might avoid friendships so we do not get hurt.  Jo draws up a list to simplify our relationships .  She talks about the positive and negative ones, are we spreading ourselves too thinly, do we need spend more time on a particular relationship and are there some we should distance ourselves from?

Jo speaks of how she felt she let people down, said insensitive things and put on a persona with people she did not feel comfortable with.  I recognise some of these things.  Jo says that we should learn from Jesus and how we relate to each other is important to God.

I grew up in a small household, we didn’t mix a great deal, my parents were not into great social occasions.  I found it hard to make friends as a child and when I did it was always one special friend.  At 14 that friend moved with her family and I struggled after that.  I have never been someone who has masses of friends and a huge social circle, maybe it’s due to my background (but I’m beginning to think that isn’t the case, though I blamed it for years) or my personality (more likely!).  I am comfortable in small group situations.  Large groups make me anxious.  In the last ten years I have overcome some of my fears and can handle larger groups at times (especially if I know them) but real friendships have never grown beyond two or three.  I hope that I am a good friend but like us all I know I fall short sometimes and when stressed I put up the barriers and stomp around having a go at people (my family, I guess because I am closer to them so they get it!).  However, I hate atmospheres and I cannot carry on arguments for long and I will always apologise when I have said something or been in a mood/unreasonable.

How to handle difficult people is always a struggle.  Someone I work with in the charity shop said that I get on with everyone and that I am the only one who will work with all the volunteers (some do actually refuse to work with some people).  I guess I am easy going and I like to see the good in everyone but there are people I come across who I find it difficult to talk to to – people I just don’t click with and are hard work.  Maybe I hide it better but I think perhaps I don’t have the hang ups some do about silly things that I feel are not relevant, but I think that I try to put my feelings aside and make an effort even if I do find it uncomfortable because I’m only with that person a short time.

My parents used to say that when I was in a bad mood it was written all over my face and I know that’s true.  Whether others notice it I don ‘t know but I am aware of it and try to put on a happy face.  At times like that (when I am really down or am struggling with a situation out of my control) I would rather be on my own.  I cut people off, put up those barriers and escape at the earliest opportunity.

What people think of us does make a difference even though it shouldn’t.  I am struggling with a situation at present with someone who is not a Christian and has views far different from mine.  We have been friends (penpals) for three or four years perhaps and I always knew his views where a lot different in some areas but we also had other things in common (mainly a love of football).  Recently though these differences have started to get to me.  While not a Christian he uses Christianity when it suits him to slag off other religions and cultures living here.  I have often ignored his comments but recently I felt I had to stand up for my beliefs and I said I would not apologise for my faith.   I have worried about my response, perhaps I said too much (though he never holds back) but now I’ve been prompted to pray for him.  That is all I can do.  Sometimes that is all any of us can do.  I doubt our friendship will ever be the same and some might say ‘ditch him’ but for now we are hanging on in there.  He hasn’t replied to my letter but he hasn’t ‘unfriended’ me on Facebook either!  If he hadn’t already got to know him he probably wouldn’t be in my circle,  but I have and I am not ready to give up just yet.

God Hunting – Simplicity (3)

This last week I have been looking at contentment as part of the simplicity chapter in God Hunting.  On the whole I would say that I am content.  I certainly don’t dwell on having the latest gadget, a huge house or tons of money.  I have always had a dream of owning a house by the sea – a holiday retreat but we all need dreams as long as they don’t become obsessions.  I’d also like a bigger kitchen and wish we had two rooms downstairs instead of the one (which was two rooms knocked into one before we moved in) but we get by and yes we could probably have a kitchen extension – we must be the only one in our road without one – but it only bugs me when two many people are in there at the same time (two is crowd!), Christmas (juggling plates and dishes) or we need an appliance fixed (if the washing machine goes wrong the repair man won’t have room to pull it out to get to the back and don’t think about turning it!  When we installed it we had to take all the drawers out of the units and the nobs off the cooker to squeeze it through – I was nearly in tears.  Next time it will have to be a slimline one – standards are too big).  Still at least I have a home and a washing machine and when you think about it I am so much better off than many in the world who have no home, little food and unclean water. Even here in the UK there are many sleeping on the streets and families struggling to get by each day.

We don’t tend to buy new things just for the sake of it – we wait for the old ones to break.  I watch house programmes on TV where they go and say ‘this kitchen needs a complete overhaul’ and I think why?  It looks perfectly okay and is bigger than my kitchen!  We have become pulled into the fashionable house  syndrome changing everything every few years.  The only thing I envy is how tidy some people’s homes are and no one here seems to realise how the ‘mess’ upsets me.  When things are tidy I feel more relaxed and that’s part of my personality, that it does affect me, but no one else understands and that gets to me at times and so my discontent is really down to the untidiness of those I live with and sometimes I long for a room to escape to which is totally mine and has no one else’s junk in it.  I don’t see how I can change that so I just live with it and I’m not sure that this comes into the discontent category but where else do I put it?

We did once consider moving but when we looked at properties we realised the third bedrooms, which is very small in ours, were actually smaller than what we already had!  We couldn’t afford much anyhow so we decided to stay where we are.  We shall probably be here forever as I have no real desire to move elsewhere.  If the kids EVER move out I might even get a room for myself!

 

 

 

God Hunting – Simplicity (2)

Time Management – ah now there’s a good one.  How do you spend your day?  The conclusion I came to doing this exercise is that it was much easier when I was working because my day was structured and time tabled.  Now I am at home things tend to drift.  I have perhaps two fixed activities (apart from church) during the week that I attend but even they can be flexible if something else comes along!

So my week plays out like this – I look in my diary for the coming week to see what I have on and everything else fits around that.  Sounds good but often things still don’t get done.  I do have (baring interruptions and holidays etc) my quiet time first thing in the morning.  This can be anything from five minutes to half an hour or more depending on time/circumstances.  Then usually there are chores to do but I often leave them to the last moment.  Take last week, my brother was coming for the day – I was still hoovering when he arrived!  This week, tomorrow night actually, I have a meeting here and the lounge looks like a bomb has hit it again!

Then there is my writing – I don’t have a structure to that (apart from regular blogging).  It’s all too random.  I start good – pick a day – great it works.  But this schedule slips AGAIN.  I find excuses not to do it even to the point that housework comes top of the list (I must be desperate!).  So the whole time management things is a mess.  I once tried organising menus for dinner each night.  Great, again it worked but again it slipped to the stare in the fridge and pray for guidance strategy.  (Actually the meal plan would not work now with everyone on different time schedules in this house).

So I need help.  I need to pray about this one.  Lists – that a good idea.  Tried it…..for a while.  All these work but I don’t keep them up.  I wonder if it’s because my personality baulks against things that pin me down to times and schedules.

On the other hand, and to the other extreme, I can be well organised.  I run a church group and the programme is sorted and out in advance.  All plans for trips and holidays are sorted to the fine detail and I rarely arrive anywhere late even when I do leave it a bit late starting out, that’s because I hate to be early and have to hang around.  I hate waiting!  I’ve overcome that one now by taking a book to read.  My patience was stretched once when I turned up to the van Gogh exhibition without booking a ticket in advance and had to wait two hours in a queue to get in.  I knew if I left I would not return so I had to stick it out and I had no book and no music to listen to!

People say I am patient but I don’t see it because I don’t think I am.  Or maybe I hide my impatience well!  Anyway, I suppose I am organised in the important things in life, the keeping of everyone’s doctors and dentist appointments, kids school stuff and my own paperwork while looking messy is reasonably in order.  When I worked my desk would always be tidy by the end of the day and I hated it when I came back from holiday and found the drawer in a mess where some temp had been misusing my stationery!  First job – tidy!

Even though my kids are now officially adults I still seem to be organising them – reminding them of appointments, checking what time they leave and most annoyingly (my Mum used to do it so I’m just passing it on) saying things like ‘aren’t you taking a coat?’

Simplifying my day would be good – to plan everything down to the last detail would make it all so easy, but no, where is the spontaneity in that?  Okay, I would like to be a little better at getting jobs done in the house.  I guess I know one of reasons I let things slip in this regard – I don’t like doing them!  I sometimes try a ‘do and reward’ strategy.  If I clean the bathroom, wash up and go shopping I’ll reward myself with ……whatever it is that I want to do!  This also works, but guess what…..that idea slides too.  There is no hope for me.  God has his work cut out sorting this one out for me but nothing is impossible with God.  Now do I wash up or surf the net?  Answers on a postcard please!

The result of some de-cluttering and a conversation

Art work which came out of a meditation on John 17:20-26

Art work which came out of a meditation on John 17:20-26

You cannot re-clutter a house in one week!  Ours would take months.  If it was just me I could do it in a few days but there are four of us living in this house and I’m the only female!

Still, I did, over two days, clear out the bottom double cupboard and the three drawers in the kitchen that have been on my to-do list for over a year!  It all looks neat and tidy.  I did throw a few items away (though hubby may have rescued some and I may well yet find them elsewhere) and I’m pleased it’s done.  I am not sure what this really has to do with living simply but it made me feel good!

However, living simply is something I aspire to and is a life choice.  We don’t own a car although I do drive.  I used to share my dad’s when I lived at home and borrowed it a few times when the kids were young.  But when he was too ill to drive he offered it to me but I turned it down because it needed lots of work and I really don’t enjoy driving that much anywhere – I find it very stressful.  I don’t miss having a car because I love travelling by train and bus.  We are lucky to be close to good transport links which are regular (mostly!) and frequent.  I certainly don’t miss the cost of running one and if we did I’d probably have to get paid employment to afford it.  We only bought a microwave three years ago and I have to say that has been useful since one of my sons has been at University but still living at home.  He comes home all hours and rarely eats with us so it has been worthwhile buying just for him.

I find it interesting when I go shopping with friends.  One friend is much like me we both shop in the same chain-stores.  Another friend takes me places I’ve never been before like White Stuff and Gap and she spends far more on clothes than me.   Some shops I avoid because of the ethics (the Bangladesh tragedy springs to mind) and that goes for toiletries/cosmetics – I only buy them if they have not been tested on animals.  We have choices to opt out of those things that don’t sit well with us.  Everyone will be different and have slightly different values.  I can’t say these are based on my faith because these values were there long before I became a Christian.  These things just always mattered to me.  This earth and all that lives on it has a right to a decent life and not be exploited by others, whether they are human beings or animals.  Fairtrade is also important to me.

Anyway I am about to move on to the second week of this Simplicity chapter of God Hunting and will report back next week.  Meanwhile I wanted to share something with you which came out of a meditation – a conversation.  Now because I am a ‘doubting Thomas’ most of the time and I’m sure God must lose his patience with me, I don’t know who’s voice this is but even so this is basically how it went (notes written quickly afterwards):

Concentrating on a door I described it and as I entered God asked two questions (these were stated from the book – the rest is what happened) What are you searching for? What do you want? I replied ‘reassurance as to who you are, that you exist, that it is all worth it, that there’s a purpose’.

You are talking about signs?

I suppose so (me)

How many do you need?

Ah! you are talking about that one when my dad died.  I know I’m like all those doubters in the Bible.  Coincidences, that sort of thing.

It is not all about you!

But I help people too in various ways, charity, service.

They are already saved.

But they still need help from other people.  You created  people.

No, they created themselves.  I gave them freewill.  I can guide them but not everyone wants to listen.  They want to do it alone so often it goes wrong.

This is just me talking to me isn’t it?

Because it’s not logical?  You don’t think this is real?

Oh! you are real alright .

You’ve answered your own question!

I think I’ll go now.

Do come again.

I might do.

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Was it me having a two-way conversation with myself.  Or was it God?  I certainly didn’t think about the questions or answers.  I didn ‘t ponder, this  was rapid fire stuff.  I quite enjoyed it too!