The Annunciation Trust

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Beautiful and surprising

Winning and losing doesn’t matter. It’s about making something beautiful and surprising.

So says the character, Kimi Muroyama, in the Australian film, Paper Planes, which I have watched a couple of times with my younger daughter, Esther. The film is about an international competition to see who can make a paper plane fly the furthest. It is also about loss, letting go, and finding new life.

Life is not a competition, not about being the best, but something beautiful and surprising.

You can measure your path by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or your failures. (Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic, p.41)

The point, for me, is that each of us is capable of making something beautiful, maybe many beautiful things. But we don’t have to make things. Living is beautiful, of itself, without produce, product, or production. When we are made to compete, one idea of the beautiful is held up to be the ideal and we all try to be the best at that. But this is no way to live. If no one competed, but each tried their best to bring forth, to allow to come to birth the surprise that each beautiful life is, what a rich world we would live in.

The trouble with competition is that someone, somewhere, decides arbitrarily that something is good enough to test people on. This is fine as far as it goes, inasmuch as it stimulates some people to excel. But the downside is that is exalts certain traits and abilities as more worthy than others, and it turns people, from a very young age, into winners and losers. Education, education, education sounds like a good idea, but it becomes an agent of oppression when it is a method of social control to torture young minds into a narrow economic paradigm. As Jesus might have said, “Education is made for the human, not the human for education.”

In these little pieces I lob out from time to time, I seem to be saying the same thing over and over. God, the Universe, the Source – whatever word you want to use for what can be loved but not named – has no need for us to do anything. We make “something beautiful and surprising” by nothing more than being alive as the unique beings that we are. We do not need to strive at this; quite the reverse. To breathe with amazement at the fact of breath is to make something beautiful and surprising.

What is “beautiful and surprising” to you?

[Syndicated from thisbody.info.]

Some reflections on my daughters death

Sarah, one of my daughters, died suddenly about two months ago. Amongst other things she suffered from epilepsy and died unexpectedly one night after an epileptic seizure caused heart and respiratory failure. Its an unusual way to die, but it does sometimes happen, it always seems to be without apparent warning, and nobody appears to know why. It came as a terrible shock to her sisters and I, and indeed to all her family and many friends.

 

Her twin and I travelled down to the city where she died and visited her body in the hospital mortuary, something we both wanted to do. I wept there [we both did] and I talked to Sarah and said a prayer committing her back to the God Who had given her to us. I remember her and her sisters’ births, I was present at each of them, and recall how moved I was by a sense of wonder and awe at the creation of new life. Where did it come from?  I knew something of the biology, and my part in it, but that in no way even began to answer the question ‘where has this new life come from?’.   Seeing her dead body provoked a matching question: ‘Where has she gone?’  It was her body, it could almost have been her asleep, and yet the life force that is Sarah [call it what you will] was gone, where is she now?

 

The only answer that seems to do justice to the realities for me, is the one St John wrote about in his Gospel.  In the Prologue he talks about Jesus being with God from the beginning, and laying that down in order to be born as a human being, and at the end of the Gospel he talks about Jesus returning to be with God again. I take it that this is the model for each of us. We come from God when we are born, and after we die, we return to God. While we are alive the divine spark lives within us, and our task, like Jesus, is to incarnate that divine spark as best we can in a manner that will be unique to each of us.  I have felt increasingly sure over the years that there is truth in this way of understanding things, and Sarah’s death, her funeral, and all that went with it, has confirmed my faith in it.

 

I have heard many people say that there is no worse experience for a parent than to have one of their children die before they do.  I have to say that I don’t feel that.  Maybe in the future I will, but right now I don’t.  Rather I feel a deep sense of privilege to have been gifted by God with Sarah as my and her mother’s child, to have tried my best to help the divine spark grow in her during her life, and then to let her go and return her with thanksgiving to the God from Whom she came, at her death.  I’m also humbled to be aware that she did as much and more to nurture the divine spark in me, than I was able to do for her.  Sarah taught me a great deal, and is a wonderful and rich gift to me.  She would be astonished to hear that, of course, which is an essential part of the mystery of it all.

 

I’m left with a number of things to attend to.  I need to name for myself where Sarah’s giftedness lies, both in herself and in what she called forth in me, and to do what I can to nurture it so that I can play my part in making it a giftedness for the world.

I need to do what I can to support her sisters and all those others who mourn Sarah’s death, just as they are supporting me.

I need to explore my deepening conviction that the dead, the yet unborn, and we the living, are all intimately inter-connected in ways beyond my understanding.  Prayer and love, which I suspect are the same thing but in different guises, are the key to this I intuit.

And behind all of the above, I have to look after myself: allow myself the time and space to grieve; listen to my body, head, heart and soul and attend to their needs; and to let healing come at its own pace.

Prayer is…….

Prayer is anything that nurtures the relationship between us and God

God in creating us and giving us the gift of life, has initiated and continues to nurture that relationship

God is the primary pray-er, not us.

 

Prayer is time consciously spent in God’s presence.

All time is spent in God’s presence, whether I acknowledge it or not.

God consciously spends all time with me, nourishing our relationship, whether I acknowledge it or not.

God is praying in me, even when I am not consciously praying.

God is the primary pray-er.

 

God is not just praying in me but in all others, including the dead and the yet unborn, and indeed in all creation.

God made, loves, upholds and sustains everything that there is, was and will be.

As I sit here God is praying through the chair I sit on, the clothes I’m wearing, the air I breathe, the window I am gazing through, the trees & the buildings that I can see

As I go outside, God is praying in each person I meet.

As we meet, the God in me meets the God in them.

God’s praying thus unites me with everything else that God has created.

God is praying in each and all of us, and in everything.

 

I am united in prayer with all those who have lived before me, and the yet unborn

The former will be praying that I build on their successes and redeem their failings

The latter will be praying for the world into which they will be born.

 

United by God’s prayer, my relationship with all other human beings, is transformed, for they are now all my sisters and brothers, and their well-being is now my concern as mine is theirs.

Prayer calls us all to social and pastoral action.

 

Similarly, as I sense the God whom I know praying in the whole of creation so my attitude to creation is transformed.

God is in it and meets me there, God calls me to care for it, and for creation to care for me

In caring for the world and all of creation, I am co-caring with the God Who cares.

 

I am mostly not very good at all this, but my attempts seem to be accepted, and so I keep working at it.

 

 

 

Everyday Miracles

When I get up in the morning I like to make myself a cup of tea, and a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon for my wife, and then spend time in prayer.  Usually that means walking down to my shed in the garden, but earlier this year the weather didn’t encourage that, and instead I sat in the front room, still warm from last night’s fire, and found myself gazing silently out of the window, which faces south east.  Each morning I either saw the sun rise over the horizon, or was aware that while I couldn’t see much beyond the road, nevertheless it got gradually lighter. The quality of the light was different, every day, and it always looked beautiful.  And every day my heart and soul were lifted by a sense of awe and wonder, and I began the day with my spirits lifted.  All because I watched the dawn.

 

There is nothing unusual or inexplicable about this. It happens every day, every where, and provided you’re awake and have your eyes open to the world outside, you cant miss it.  But every morning I felt a sense of awe and wonder and began the day with a spring in my step, my faith in life and in God [what’s the difference?] deepened and nourished.  It felt like a miracle.  And of course that’s what miracles are: not inexplicable events ‘out there’ beyond the ken of current scientific understanding, but experiences ‘out there’ which deepen and enrich faith ‘inside’, such that I engage with life and the world more confidently and with greater trust than I might otherwise have done.  The fact that there is a rational explanation of what is happening ‘out there’ when the sun rises, makes not a jot of difference to my experience and what that experience evokes in me. The miracle is in what happens inside, not in what happens outside. And it seems like a miracle because I have no conscious control over it, I certainly can’t will it to happen, and I experience it rather as a mysterious, unexpected, and wonderful gift, which I have done nothing whatsoever to deserve.

 

Looked at like this, miracles are potentially occurring all the time, and can be occasioned by all manner of events, many of them tiny and seemingly insignificant: the setting sun, the sight of the stars at night, the birth of a baby, the moment of death, the first heralds of spring, a friendly smile, any moment that touches the heart and soul in a creative and challenging manner, evoking awe and wonder.

 

But there’s the rub.  They do happen all the time and so we easily take them for granted: we develop a sense of entitlement to such things rather than one of thankfulness; and we are usually too busy elsewhere to notice them. And if we don’t notice them and allow them to work their magic on us, they will have been to little avail for they need our active co-operation to maximise their effectiveness. Despite my winter awakening, I know that I still miss most of them, but I am more aware now, at least for a time, that I need to get better at paying them attention, because miracles are the food on which faith feeds.

 

Faith means trust.  If I have faith in somebody it means that I trust them. To have faith in God is to trust God, to trust life. Faith in God is innate in all of us, it comes fitted as standard, when we are born. It comes as a gift. Some people seem to have been endowed with a lot of it, and nothing in life ever seems to shake it, others seem to have been born with less, and any serious setback seems to crush it. But it is innate in us and we never lose it entirely. The right stimulation will bring it back to life and strengthen it.

 

You can’t buy that stimulation: it’s not available on amazon. It comes, unexpectedly, out of the blue, as an unexpected gift. All we have to do is recognise it when it happens, receive it, and allow it to change us. When it does it feels like a miracle.

Roy’s Christmas Reflection

I first met Roy Gregory many years ago as a fellow member of the ‘Soul Space’ team offering spiritual direction at Greenbelt.  We got on well from the off, despite supporting rival football teams, and our friendship has blossomed over the intervening years. It was Roy who one day at Greenbelt was kind enough to tell me that he thought it was a pity that ‘Approaches to Prayer’, a book I’d helped put together, was now out of print.  ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea to make it available on-line?’  he asked.  I thought that was a lovely idea but I had neither the time or the skill to make that possible, and couldn’t see how it might be achieved. ‘Leave it with me’ said Roy.

As well as being the leader of a lively free evangelical church in St Albans, Roy also lectured in engineering at Hatfield University, where he had a friend who was skilled in web design. This friend said that he’d willingly put the book online and said what he would charge to do so. When Roy relayed this back to me I said that I couldn’t afford that. Roy went back to his friend, who was an atheist, and told him what I’d said, and was stunned to hear his friend say that his wife, a Christian, had told him that as the book was about prayer, he ought to do the work for nothing, and so he would.  Cheekily I then asked if he might be willing to create an Annunciation Trust web-site, which would include the book, but would also allow us to put other things on it as well? Again, he agreed, and that is how this web-site came to be.

Roy became a much loved and valued member of the group of us who work under the umbrella of The Annunciation Trust and looked after the web-site once it was up and running, and so our friendship continued on after we had each left Soul Space.  Five years ago Roy suffered a stroke, and lost the use of his left side, but with the devoted care of Christine his wife, their family and friends, and a range of skilled professionals, he has learnt to adapt and manage pretty well, although mostly confined to a wheel-chair. When I’m down in London from Worcestershire where we live, I go and visit him and Christine and we continue the stimulating conversations we began together many years ago.

All of this is by way of a very long preamble to a letter I received today, dictated by Roy and written by Christine, enclosing a ‘Christmas Reflection’ that Roy was ‘given’ this Christmas, and which with his permission I’d like to share with you here:

 

Christmas Reflection

 

God sent down His Angels to Earth

To show how much His creatures are worth.

 

He came to them and shook them to the core

And changed their life for evermore.

 

All sorts of people in the midst of life,

Shepherds and kings and a carpenter’s wife.

 

The Angel said to Mary

“I am sorry this is scary”

You will have a baby one day

In a very different way”.

 

Mary was humbly obedient

Although it was inconvenient.

 

The shepherds saw Angels in the sky

It changed them in a blink of an eye.

 

Of this they had no choosing

Unkind friends said they’d been boozing.

 

The star led the kings and they were able

To find the Baby in the stable.

 

In awe they put aside their self-promotion

And fell on their knees in humble devotion.

 

These events people know they cannot prove

By faith they can see God was on the move.

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