Tag Archives: searching

Reflection
(after spending a day in Southwark Cathedral
with prayer, worship and workshops)

I think too much
I take you apart, analyse,
pore over you bit by bit,
search for the magic words,
strain to hear your voice
but all I hear is mine.

A cathedral day of spirituality
meeting places –
would I meet you?

So I switched off my brain,
let all thought go.
I slowed into stillness
and several hundred people
could not get in.

I wandered the Prayer Station,
away from the crowd,
paused by each picture,
prayer stone warming
in my hand.

And I didn’t try, I didn’t question,
I just accepted.
I was here with you
and you were here with me.
That’s enough.

I’ve brought my prayer stone home,
it sits in my jacket pocket
ready to hold, ready for prayer
and as it rests in my palm
there is a heat exchange
as thoughts pass between us.

(c) 2013

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The Church you inherit

A tapestry containing the history of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK

A tapestry containing the history of St Albans Cathedral, Hertfordshire, UK

A lot of people I’ve met inherit their church from their parents, well those whose parents attend church.  They go to Sunday School and seem to give their life to God when they are quite young.  Even though they may have a period when they drift they drift back to church and probably attend a church similar to the one they grew up in.

For me it wasn’t like this (and I apologise if I’m about the repeat something I’ve said in the past).  As a young child I didn’t go to church or Sunday School. However, at school we began each morning with an assembly with prayers and hymns and we ended each day with a prayer.  This was not a church school but in those days all school functioned this way in the UK – the period I’m talking about is the 1960’s and 1970’s.  We had religious education in primary school but all I remember from those days is being confused between who Jesus was and who God was.  For me they were separate people and it was Jesus who mattered. I also remember the pictures we had of Jesus on the wall – white, serene, nice looking but I had no feeling either way about him.

In secondary school religious education was more about people like Martin Luther King and I actually enjoyed learning in RE classes, though our unruly class made if difficult to learn anything as the poor teacher could not keep control.

When I was probably somewhere in my pre-teens my parents suddenly decided to attend church.  Pre-teens, the rebellious period!  We went to several churches as my mother began looking for a church she felt at home in.  I didn’t really feel at home in any and went to great lengths to let her know this!  Some of this  was pure defiance and I purposely switched off in services and longed for it to end so I could go.  I remember we once attended the United Reform Church (then called the Congregational Church) but my mother considered it too low church. I preferred it because we did lots of singing and the liturgy was minimal!  But for some time we went to an Anglican church and this was where boredom set in big time.  Eventually she chose a church – Anglican and very high.  I was then older and stopped going to church altogether except for the Nine Lessons and Carols at Christmas which I loved and still do.

I should pause here and say that when growing up and again this would have been pre-teens, I remember my brother and I had a Christmas story book with the lessons and carols in it and each year we would read it all out.  I even remember playing at being a vicar, which seems a strange occupation for a child! Anyway, you can see that some things are handed down and remembered and stick with you in life.  My mother in fact had a very strong faith and my father had been a choir boy.

As an adult my mother ‘feared for my soul’ because I wasn’t confirmed.  I think she despaired of me.  She’d always try to get me to services on Sunday mornings saying I’d like the sermon because the vicar spoke about nature and things I’d like!  Actually the sermons were usually the best part, she wasn’t wrong on that. But I wasn’t interested so my Sunday mornings were washing up the breakfast things while everyone else went to church.

I always said I’d never marry in church and be hypocritical – ah famous last words!  Of course I married in church and in my mother’s church.  In the end I knew it was right.  My husband and I even attended some Evensong services after we married but it all tailed off but after the birth of our first child we began going again because we wanted him baptised.  It was also during this time that I was really lonely and was recovering from post natal depression.  My mother suggested I attend a pram service at church. For once I listened to her I did go and from that time on I became a regular at my church and gradually joined in with things and to my mother’s great delight I was confirmed! I had found God for myself.

My church in those days was more vibrant – there were lots of groups you could join, outings and Bible Study.  My kids went to Sunday School until my eldest was about eleven and then he stopped so the younger one stopped too (because Daddy doesn’t go so why should I!) Ah! things coming back to haunt me!  I felt very alone for a while without my kids but there was still a lot going for church and I was involved in various things at there.

But over the years things have changed.  The older ones in the congregations are unable to do what they used to, many have died and there aren’t any people willing to take things on.  We have got set in our ways and are stuck in the past. Virtually all the groups have faded out.  There is nothing for children apart from Sunday School and hasn’t been really since I’ve been going and there are no Bible study groups. Technology has passed us by.  I used to feel great when I left church – I don’t anymore.  I don’t know whether it’s due to the way my church seems to be crumbling or whether it is my faith.  I can’t seem to separate them from one another.

Most of my friends go to my church.  That’s where a lot of my social life has been. Leaving seems unthinkable which is why I have this huge dilemma. Writing about it helps me to see the background to my faith even if I can’t yet see a way forward.  I still run a group which has nearly 30 members, which when I think about it is huge considering we are almost the last group to survive, but only ever a maximum of five members ever come to meetings, though I can call on others for help when I am planning the lunches at our church fairs.  I have two more years of leadership in that group and then I must stand down. I fear for that group as I don’t think at the moment there is anyone able or willing to take it on.

Over the last couple of years I have had moments of energy in my faith/church and moments of despair with faith and church.  I even considered whether to just bow out and forget God but I can’t.  The idea of abandoning it all is a dark tunnel I don’t want to enter.  I can’t imagine giving it all up.  Even when I’m fed up with everything I find myself visiting churches when I’m up in London or away on holiday.  I am drawn to learning and studying about religion and other faiths and I read many books about both.  I’m still drawn to the Celtic way of life which if I look at my past should be no surprise as nature and being good to the earth and all in it – humans, animals and everything else – has always been very strong in me since I was a child.

But what I actually believe has become confused.  At the very least my instinct to help others, my strong feelings for the earth are still there.  If I take everything else away those feelings remain.

I would be interested to hear from others on what I have said. Meanwhile, having seen what other churches offer I may have to split my time between churches. I still think of my church as home but it is not enough.  It was once but now as I read what I have just written I feel my church has just lost it’s direction and though I like our vicar and his sermons are brilliant I don’t think he is the one who will lead us out of the hole I think we are in.  I know I am not the only one who has doubts about our church  but I’m not sure anyone has the strength to change things.

Struggles……

For a long time now I have been struggling with my church and my faith.  After a particularly stressful summer (nothing to do with church!) I attended a weekend retreat on The Celtic Christ.  Maybe I wasn’t in the best of moods but I didn’t really integrate with the group very well.  I am sometimes a loner and need to be on my own at times but the weekend didn’t turn out quite how I imagined it.  I did enjoy the worship, being Celtic in nature.  I find it very much to my liking. I guess what struck me was that everyone seemed to have such a strong faith and their churches were doing so much.  I mulled this over and (this is me getting paranoid) I felt a bit of an outsider.  My faith flounders and my church doesn’t help.  I did speak to a couple of people about this (about my church rather than my faith) including the leader of the retreat.  He said was just having friends at church enough? !

I had a lot on my mind coming away from that retreat and I let it sit there.  I felt really unhappy at the prospect of changing churches but I realised something had to change.  The following Sunday I attended another church which is a bus ride away (I wanted to go somewhere where no one would know me and I’d looked at their website many times and thought it would suit me).

My feelings on attending the church were very mixed.  It certainly began to open my eyes to what is out there.  I enjoyed their style of worship very much.  Though Anglican, the liturgy was simple and they sang some worship songs.  That particularly week was schools week.  They have links with two schools and being the start of the new academic year they invite children and parents to the service.  So the church was full and very lively.  I loved it that the children were so involved in the service.  It was a nice service.  On the other hand I felt totally alone (though I reminded myself that God was there so I wasn’t totally alone!).  No one spoke to me but then I didn’t really want anyone to (told you I was in a weird mood).  I didn’t feel I belonged there.  It didn’t feel right.  I argued with myself that of course I wouldn’t feel at home as I was new and all my friends were sitting in my own church.  That didn’t help!

I spoke to a friend about it later that day.  She asked if I felt better.  I said ‘a bit’ but actually I didn’t.  I felt dreadfully unsettled and guilty.  I wasn’t sure what I was going to do now but I attended my own church the following week and of course it felt like home even if the service was staid.  I was still in a quandary.

The following week I was due to attend another church for a commissioning service of a deanery leader of an organisation I belong to.  This was her local church.  I’d been there before when she was commissioned the first time round, three years ago and I had enjoyed the service a lot.  This time we were warned that this would be like ‘no other service they did’.  It was, but refreshing.  Totally geared to families, no communion and the vicar played keyboard, sang and all the songs were worship songs and very lively!  Indeed during the final song the children were given bells, tambourines and other shakey things to accompany the song.

I was told by the vicar that since they introduced the service they were getting Dad’s attend and numbers had risen 30%.  It was a once a month service but it was working.  They have so much going for them.  It’s a much smaller church than mine but very friendly.  They had vision in that church.  Something sadly lacking in my own.

During all these unsettling feelings something happened.  Suddenly it was as if God was giving me permission to go and enjoy myself, attend other churches, see for myself.  Immediately after that I felt so much calmer.  I haven’t made any huge decision still.  There is much I need to ponder on. Sadly this is where I must end for now – I have to go out!  But I’ll be back!

Week 3 of God Hunting – Prayer

Week Three has finished.  My thoughts:

Reading morning and evening prayer did become a bit mechanical.  I did manage to do it every day and there is certainly something about a routine that seems to suit me but the format is not right for me.  I hated having to flick back and forth to find the right Psalms and Bible readings.  Sundays seemed different and I couldn’t find the right prayers so left those out.  But it’s not all bad.  Sometimes there was a glimmer of ‘something’ and it has made me think about finding a routine that suits me.  I may consider the Celtic equivalent.  I’ve noted down the name of a book which might be more to my liking.  Having got into some sort of routine I returned last night to a prayer book I have used from time to time which is by Rita Snowden – More Prayers for Women.  In it there is a prayer for morning and one for evening for each day of the month, plus a Bible reading.  At the back there are more specialised prayers for different occasions/needs.

Going through this book is a way for me to find what works for me in bringing me closer to God.  There are many new things to try.  I now have one week left on the subject of prayer and I will write about that soon.

 

God Hunting – week 3/4

Week Two of God Hunting has been a complete struggle due to  late nights, bad sleep so getting up late and having no time left with peace and quiet.  All round, not a good week and best forgotten about!  Sometimes it’s like that.  I just move on and hope things improve.

Week Three has now started and this week Jo Swinney has taken up the challenge of The Divine Office – morning and evening prayer.  Now all I have is an old Alternative Service Book which was either my mum’s or dad’s (my brother has one too) from 1980 which does have morning and evening prayer.  I guess this is the right thing.  I looked it up but it is so confusing as I have to find the right Psalm for the morning (and evening) and the right readings from the Bible each time.  Last night was a fiasco as I flitted back and forth.  It was all rushed and I didn’t feel it meant anything.  However, this morning was better as by now I had bookmarks in various places so I could go to the relevant places easier. I also had time to read it slowly and I did feel that something had clicked.  Jo says that she found the ‘corporate’ wording difficult and that I can  sympathise with that.  Sometimes I change the ‘we’ to ‘I’ in prayers so they are more personal.

I can see that having set times and set prayers/readings can be helpful and bring a focus to the day.  If I manage to keep it up for the week I shall be very pleased. I have in the past used a Celtic method based on morning and evening prayer, so this isn’t totally new to me.  I could probably do with some stability (I need it!) so this will be good for me.

*

I am attending a course at adult education entitled Religious Orders Then and Now.  I am enjoying it so much as we get to visit various religious orders ‘on location’ around London.  Our first visit was to Eailing Abbey yesterday.  I am blogging about that on my other blog which I write ‘for the other side’, namely Blogger (where I first began my blogging days).  Posts will be mixed up with a lot of other stuff as this is a general blog and covers all sorts of things in my life but if you would like to read it you can find it at http://www.heather-stuffandnonsense.blogspot.com

 

God Hunting – following in the footsteps of Jo Swinney

It’s a new year, the time to start new things  or to develop old ones, so this January I am going God Hunting!  This is the title of Jo Swinney’s little 128 page diary of spiritual discovery to get to know God.  From the beginning I feel at home with her.  She talks about busyness and how we can fit in things we really want to do but someone never find the time to be with God.  There is always an excuse.  How true!!

The aim of this book is to look at one spiritual discipline a month – prayer, fasting, Bible, worship, solitude and simplicity and then write about it honestly.  Jo invites the reader to walk along side her, to read and follow afterwards (hoping to avoid the pitfalls she encountered), adopt the plan and tailor-make for yourself, do it alone or with another/others or simply read it and give it away and not change a thing, which she says would be a shame.  I agree.

So, I am trying to walk along side Jo as she sets off on her spiritual journey and enters the thorny subject of prayer.  Jo admits to praying ‘on the go’ – a lady much like myself!  However, Jo does pray at other times – with friends, with her little girl etc.  I have to admit that my prayer life has taken a complete nose dive in the last year, boosted up a little in Advent but failing again.

Week One and Jo is concentrating on praying simply, beholding the Lord (entering the presence of God by faith and keeping focused) and at the end of the day asking two questions  ‘For what moment today am I most grateful’ and ‘for what moment today am I least grateful.’

Late yesterday afternoon I gave prayer a go, along with ‘beholding the Lord’.  I found if difficult.  I lit a two candles and sat trying to relax.  For a split second I did feel something, then it was gone and my mind wandered all over the place.  I put on a CD of Celtic music as music does relax me.  Immediately I felt calmer and the sounds took me back to a retreat I attended eighteen months ago but I still couldn’t focus.  I blamed the time of day (I usually have my quiet time first thing in the morning) and hoped for better.  I did manage a quick prayer but I couldn’t stop my wind wandering.  It’s like when you try to sleep and your mind is flooded with all sorts of things – things that have happened during the day, things to do the next day, worries and silly stuff that has no right being there!  In the end I became frustrated, told myself ‘at least I have tried and practice makes perfect!’ and gave up.

I had hoped for better this morning but no.  I am finding even the basics a struggle right now.  I haven’t read Jo’s description of her first week yet, whether she experienced anything similar.  I will report back on this at the end of my first week and compare notes!

(Examen – the two questions at the end of the day – were more successful and quite useful!)

Seeing with our eyes closed

Sometimes we see with our eyes closed. We search for God but he is there all along. We seem to lose him but he hasn’t lost us. He is reaching out and always has been because he sought us first.

The Apostles had a personal encounter with Jesus on the mountain, heard God’s voice and fell on their faces, terrified*. There are many reasons we may seem to lose the presence of God such as doubt, guilt, feeling unworthy or perhaps we actually try to hard to find him. We put up barriers instead.  I know I do and still do but God seeks us out, then when that brief stir comes, that sudden comfort, that’s God sneaking through the barriers giving us a hand, a glimpse, a “look I’m here; have always been.” How far we take the barriers down is up to us. God could take them down but he doesn’t, he waits, perhaps gives us a nudge, maybe even through someone else.  His hand is ever there. Do we have the courage to not only take his hand but to fully embrace him?

 

* Matthew 17:1-8