Last week I met a dear friend for lunch. She is in her late eighties and lately she has struggled with health issues, including a few falls, the latest causing a broken wrist – a particular handicap for her as she is a writer. She repeatedly tells us that growing old is no fun, yet she is full of life, a tonic when you meet her. She is an attentive observer of the human condition, has a feisty spirit and wry sense of humour. She is also a woman of deep faith and, like the prophets, has the confidence to rail against God. The conversation began like this,
‘I am really angry with Jesus and I’m going to tell him so! We are always being told that that God became human in Jesus so that God could experience all that we humans experience. Well Jesus didn’t experience old age did he! How could he know what all this feels like when he died in his early thirties!’
The mini-rant over, we enjoyed wide-ranging and stimulating conversation, as always, but the encounter challenged me to reflect more deeply on how we reconcile within ourselves failing health, loss of loved ones, our own failures and fears and ultimately our own mortality. I think Lent offers us an invitation to go to ‘the place of the soul‘, as Celtic writers often put it, that place of within us where, at a gut level we know what is true and real and of God, that place within us where transformation can happen – if we are open to it.
How do we understand the invocation, ‘Repent and believe in the Gospel’ on Ash Wednesday? Could ‘repent’ this year, be an invitation to think differently, reset our inner compass, and perhaps commit to a few simple daily practices that might help bring about a ‘metanoia’ – that radical change of heart to which we are all called and for which we often long.
Our fundamental ‘sin’ – the failure to trust God’s unfailing and eternal love for us?
To begin with could we re-examine our image of God? Do we really believe that we are made in God’s image and are called to grow in likeness of God? Do we really trust that we are loved unconditionally and forever? Even with all our faults and failings, our sins and transgressions, our destructive patterns of behaviour, God only ever looks on us with love and compassion and only ever desires that we feel this love – deeply. Consider the image of the forgiving father Jesus gives us in the gospel, the father who is constantly on the look-out for the return of his prodigal son, whose love pours out in lavish celebration when the errant son finally arrives home. No judgement. No blame. No recrimination. Only open arms and rejoicing.
‘Come back to me, with all your heart, don’t let fear keep us apart’, wrote Dominican priest and musician Gregory Norbert, taking to heart the message of the prophet Hosea. The hymn chorus;
‘Long have I waited for Your coming home to me And living deeply our new lives’,
offers an opportunity for much reflection. Perhaps we have an image of God that needs to be redeemed? Can we repent of any notion of a God who is ever watchful, ready to judge and condemn and instead trust in the God of compassion and forgiveness revealed by Jesus?
The ultimate witness to God’s unconditional love is, of course, the cross. God became human in Jesus to show the extent of God’s love for us. The inevitable outcome of Jesus proclaiming and living God’s kingdom of love, justice and peace, without compromise or collusion with the ‘powers and principalities’ of his time, was death on the cross, the ultimate sacrifice of love, which, in time and even in our day other saints prophets have courageously followed. Can we use this Lent to turn around our thinking and perhaps consider sin more as of not trusting in that love for which Jesus gave his life? What are the fears that ‘keep us apart’ from ‘living more deeply’ in that love?
One simple practice could be to ask ourselves, ‘How can I love more deeply, trust more readily today? Can I affirm and bless another person today? Is there someone I need to forgive and am I ready?
The Cross of Light – ‘What we don’t transform we transmit’ – Richard Rohr
‘Two universal paths of transformation have been available to every human being God has created: great love and great suffering.’
A more difficult challenge is to reflect on how we deal with our pain and loss, which is at the heart of the Christian story, says spiritual teacher Fr Richard Rohr. If we don’t let our pain be transformed within us, we will inevitably transmit it, he claims. Our parish has as a motif, ‘the Cross of Light’.
It symbolises that on Good Friday, at the point when Jesus trusted completely in his Father and gave up his life, the cross is shattered, death is overcome and the light of resurrection breaks through. Rohr is convinced that the only way we, too, can let go is if we trust that we are held safely and can fall back into the arms of one who loves us extravagantly, as Jesus did. Jesus offers us a way of enabling our pain to breakthrough, a pattern for our daily living. Rather than simply a case of ‘offering it up’, his total surrender breaks through, identifies and is in solidarity with the pain of others, the pain of the world. It is a radically different focus.
Let us pray, this Lent, that we can find that trust, the letting go, knowing we are always held. My dear luncheon friend seems able to live this way, which makes her a blessing for those around her.
May we give thanks for such people in our lives. May we, too, have the courage to understand what it takes to see with the lens of love.
Let us search with our whole soul for that which gives light and hope, healing and compassion.
May we always continue to believe in Spring, especially in the midst of our inevitable Winters.
Margaret Siberry Leeds Justice and Peace Commission
Lent is a time of prayer, alms giving and fasting and in doing this it also gives us the opportunity to take stock. Life has a funny way of teaching us what truly matters at the end of the day. As time goes by, I grow in deeper awareness that each and every day is a gift. Alas, we often take our life and all those who journey with us for granted but once something barges in and thwarts what we consider normality, somehow the mists that surround our consciousness from appreciating each moment begin to lift and then we start to see life in all its stark beauty; beauty so fragile, so precious and so unique. Rather than heading to the depressing news headlines every single day reminding us of our world’s brokenness, of humanity’s greed and of the hold money has on many to the detriment of many others, let us opt to have our own daily positive headlines by outlining wonderful events which occur throughout our humdrum mundane days brimming with little divine tokens of goodness strewn along our life’s path which require our attentiveness to perceive them.
Gratitude is indeed a wonderful approach to our existence here on earth. We are here but once and hence it is indeed worth it to truly savour and enjoy the journey despite the hurdles, the heartaches, the betrayals, the hard work, the difficulties, the doubts, the lack of acknowledgement and the fears which will undoubtedly hamper us as we trudge along.
With gratitude we can choose to see beyond these apparent stumbling blocks on our way and rather decide to see them as opportunities to help us grow through what we go through making us more resilient and strong.
That is the secret before then allowing us to move forward, never getting stuck in a ‘what if?’ or ‘why me?’ attitude as that would drug us into a slippery slope leading to the treacherous vicious vortex of self-pity and self-doubt which suck the beauty out of life.
Life is God’s gift to us. What we make out of it, is our gift back to Him. Hence what sort of gift are we giving back to our Creator God who has loved us into being right from the moment of our conception, continues to love us as we gradually become what He dreams that we grow into and will forever love us beyond our last breath? The choice is in our hands and in the attitude we choose to live our life by – are we overcome by busyness or are we overwhelmed by the divine grace that surrounds us if we have eyes to see it daily? Opt wisely so that when the time comes for us to leave this earth, we would have truly lived life and not merely fleeting existed.
It seems as though we are in an in- between place between Lockdown and some further loosening of the Covid restrictions. Vaccination programmes are progressing. The Covid figures in the UK are steadily lower. It is likely more restrictions will be lifted on May 17th, and June 21, which may or may not make your life less restrictive. We may be able to come out of our houses and see people and places we haven’t seen for a long time. For some it will be a release. For others it might seem quite an anxious time. Walking out of the door, seeing other people – whether friends or strangers, sharing a pavement or shop or cafe space may seem a little daunting if we have been confined to home, garden or local spaces.
The period between Easter and Pentecost seems an interim, in-between period for us and the followers of Jesus in the Scriptures.
Living in 2021, we read the New Testament unfolding, knowing that although Jesus died, he was then resurrected and ascended to heaven. Then the Holy Spirit, the great Enabler, Inspirer and Courage-Maker came at Pentecost. The Apostles (or Disciples, in Fr Nicholas King’s translation notes, which includes a greater number of unnamed women and men who had followed Jesus), were inspired and emboldened to speak out, some to work miracles, preach, travel and build up small Christian communities, despite Roman occupation and fear of the Jewish authorities and of diseases like leprosy, one of the plagues of the time.
During the in- between period before the Ascension and Pentecost, there were a number of sightings of Jesus, but Jesus’ appearance had somehow changed so he was not usually immediately recognised. Once recognised, people could see he bore the signs of the cross and ate fish – so was not a ghost.
He could still teach and encourage them. Initially, Mary Magdalene had literally tried to hold onto him. He had discouraged that as he was no longer physically and constantly going to be in their lives: living and working with them, in the same way as before… They were going to have to continue the work and proclaim the Good News without his human presence alongside them. They huddled together inside an Upper Room before Pentecost as they were uncertain and afraid about what would happen next.
Jesus’ relationship with his Disciples changed to a deeper, spiritual one, at Pentecost and they began to face the outside world with confidence, hope and less anxiety.
I sometimes wonder how often they regretted not really understanding so many things he was trying to tell them about God before the Crucifixion, about the Eucharist, the meaning of his parables and so many other things. How frequently did Christ say he would “die” and about his plans for them and others and they didn’t understand him? This in- between time was a time when they could recognise him, regret what they hadn’t understood, be forgiven, reflect, regroup and recover before Pentecost.
Like the Disciples in this in- between time between Easter and, Pentecost and for us the hoped for further easing of Covid restrictions in May and June, some of us may be traumatised by recent events, bereaved, isolated and anxious about the future. We may also be relieved and hopeful for the further unlocking of Covid restrictions.
We may each feel all kinds of emotions which can vary depending on our experience, outlook and what has happened to us, our families and friends.
Like Mary Magdalene’s initial reaction, we may want to hold on to life as before. We may need to touch the reality of the new situation like Thomas who needed to experience seeing Jesus and touch the new reality for himself. Or, like Peter be given the chance to make amends and seek forgiveness for denying Jesus three times. He was now allowed to say he loved Jesus three times. We may have been left with betrayals, regrets, unkind words and deeds and other unfinished business that we have been unable to resolve because of Covid restrictions. We too are given another chance!
We too are given Pentecost strength and inspiration to go out and build up our and other people’s lives in whatever way we can.
We all have gifts that we can share by phone or card even if we remain restricted by our circumstances….
Transition times can be lonely, anxious and periods of struggle and self -reflection. They can also be powerful places to prepare for new possibilities, spiritual gifts and joy.
Some parts of our past life may have changed because of Covid, and we may be grieving for what we have lost and suffered. Other parts of the world are suffering deeply now. We all try to believe that this new reality as we move forward, through, and hopefully, come safely out of the Covid restrictions, may become a time of settling down, recovery and some hope for us all.
As part of our Eastertide service on 24th April 2021 we put together this 3 minute reflection which takes words from a Lavinia Byrne piece and pairs them with beautiful inspiring artwork by Elizabeth Wang (Radiant Light).
TIP: Watch on full screen (or on Youtube) for best effect.
Here is the full text of the Lavinia Byrne piece for your perusal:
‘Resurrection Love – look at my hands and my feet’ by Lavinia Byrne
Taken from ‘Just One Year, Prayer and Worship through the Christian Year’ edited by Timothy Radcliffe.
On Easter Sunday, Jesus offers us the gift of presence and the gift of peace.
We are to know him in the breaking of the bread. Jesus does not want to be insubstantial; he does not want to be a ghost.
Instead, he comes to us and invites us to touch him. He offers himself to us in ways that are intended to nourish and nurture us. He promises companionship.
So where are we to touch him in today’s world? Where are we to walk with him. Where are we to find his hands and feet? Where are we to offer him a piece of broiled fish and eat and drink in his presence?
Christianity is an embodied religion. It does not live in the pages of a book. Rather it invites us to engage with our world.
So are we to recognise the presence of Jesus whenever there are wounded hands and feet that turn to us for healing and wherever there is a road that we can walk down in his company?
The gift lies in recognising him when he presents himself in unexpected ways. We need to believe that we can touch him in our everyday lives. We need to understand that we can walk with him.
Our task is to seek out people who are needy and to turn our faces towards them rather than away from them. This is not difficult to do, for there are many wounded hands and feet that clamour for our attention. There are many hungry people who would love a bowl of fish, let alone a loaf of bread.
If Jesus is risen from the dead, then we need proof and we need evidence. How can we secure this in today’s world?
The Gospel seems to suggest that the way forward is to open our hearts in love. No one is to be excluded, no situation is beyond the reach of grace. By believing this and putting it into practice, we can become witnesses and carry the echo of his saving mission forwards into our world.
Christian faith is not a personal possession. It is always for sharing. So everything comes full circle. We can be his witnesses.
At our recent online Eastertide service on Saturday 24th April 2021, over twenty of us enjoyed reflecting together on the meaning of the Resurrection for each of us in our everyday lives, with the help of inspiring and thought-provoking readings, prayers, hymns and artwork.
Rather than publish the video of the Zoom screens (due to confidentiality issues) we have managed to compile a video matching the audio recording with the slides of the readings and reflections.
Why not watch this video (30 minutes) below for your own reflections.
(We apologise for occasional sticking in the Zoom audio segments -apparently this can be an issue with Zoom recordings):
Remembering the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ is of paramount importance to all of us as Christians, and this year we doing this in unfamiliar circumstances; but God is not limited by walls, or any other physical restrictions – He will draw near to us as we draw near to Him.
See our page on ‘Holy Week at Home’ for messages from Pope Francis and Bishop Marcus, together with many useful links