Monday, 29 February 2016

Seminars, Conferences and Visiting Friends

I'm glad I don't have to commute regularly to London, though when I do I enjoy walking down Borough High Street. During the day the get the delightfully exotic aromas of the coffee bars - in particular the Moroccan one halfway down. At night, it's like a seen from Dickens' London.

I was on a 2 day seminar on Transforming Conversations - about to shape conversations to be more purposeful and intentional. This is not to be used at the breakfast table, but when helping people to make decisions and move forward. It surprisingly hard work and tiring to listen carefully in order to reflect back and help people formulate their own decisions. Both days I was falling asleep by 9 pm. And we have 2 more days in May to finish the course. I hope it will help me help others process their own thoughts about the future when they need to.

Tomorrow I'm off to Harrogate for a 2 day New Wine leaders' conference. I believe two of the speakers will be Nicky Gumbel and Justin Welby, plus others from the Vineyard Church. I usually find something to challenge and encourage me at the conferences, though my capacity for long uninterrupted sung worship sessions seems to be diminishing.

In between I've visited two old friends in Leeds. John and I were in the church youth group together in the 1970s in Twickenham, and having this sabbatical has been a great time to catch with friends. It's good to see people who were on fire for God as teenagers still on fire today, and we were able to encourage one another. As an added bonus I was treated to the most fantastic sunset on the train from Leeds to London.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

'Wait for the Lord'

Theseus and the Minotaur
We' were in Cyprus last week - our first visit - and I was amazed at the rich variety of landscape, culture and history of the country. The local people are friendly and welcoming, and I can quite see why so many British people choose to live there.

One of the sites we enjoyed was the archaeological parks of Paphos and Kourion. So many complete and almost complete mosaics have been discovered from the Hellenist and Roman periods. Some depict very human scenes of hunting or drinking, and many others scenes of heroes and gods with great ingenuity and beauty.

I'm afraid my knowledge of Greek mythology is rather limited, but the little I do know tells me that the gods were not at all interested in the affairs of ordinary mortals, and neither were the great writers such as Homer - preferring to compose epic poems about heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles.

In contrast stands the witness of the bible to the God who loves and cares for his people, even to the extent of living among them. Today's psalm set for the 2nd Sunday of Lent says, 'The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?' Here is a promise of protection and guidance, not as a reward for heroic deeds or in response to oblations or libations, but simply out of covenant love. I don't think there is any idea in Greek mythology of a god making a covenant with humans, that would bind both parties equally. But the Lord, Yahweh, did just that with his people Israel, and renewed and extended that covenant to all people through Jesus.

The 'Earthquake House'
In the archaeological site at Kourion there is a house that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 4th century. It collapsed so quickly that many of the inhabitants were killed instantly, as at Pompei. Zeus or Apollo would have nothing to offer them.  As we wandered round the ancient buildings I tried to imagine the ordinary people who lived there 2000 or more years ago. They must have had concerns just like us - about family relationships, health and old age, work, and so on, and I wonder where they found consolation and help? In the bible the psalmist could write: 'The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit' (Psalm 34). That's where I find help in time of need.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Jesus, be the centre

Welsh sunset

Last week I was in North Wales at St Beuno's Spirituality Centre, with days spent in the weak Welsh sun. This week I'm in Cyprus where I'm typing this in the intense Mediterranean sun. Last week I experienced some magnificent sunsets, but here the sunrise is worth getting up early for. I don't think I've seen the sun actually rise above the sea's horizon, getting hidden for a moment by the clouds, and then come blazing out in all its glory. But it's the same sun that makes us screw up our eyes at its intensity in Cyprus as it is that brings a pale yellow glow glow to the green Welsh countryside.

The picture in the centre is of the labyrinth at St Beuno's. I didn't discover it until my last day, but, I'm glad it waited until the end, because my experience of it provided just the insight I needed to make the transition from a calm spiritual oasis to the distractions of Croydon. I was recommended by my spiritual director to walk the labyrinth from the centre outwards. The thing about a prayer labyrinth is that there is only one path, unlike a maze in which there are many false paths which you may or may not choose. The other difference is that the route of the labyrinth is plain to see whereas the maze is hidden by tall hedges. 
'Jesus, be the centre'
As I walked away from the centre I was aware of leaving something precious behind - my eight days spent listening to and talking with the Lord, knowing the love of God, the companionship of Jesus and the quiet prompting presence of the Spirit. It was with some regret that I began the journey, but after the first few metres the path took a sharp turn and, much to my surprise, I was back almost to where I had begun, looking straight at the centre again. Walking further on there were times when I turned away from the centre, and times when I turned towards it. Times when I thought I was getting nearer but ended up further away, and times when I thought I was about to leave the labyrinth but found myself walking towards the centre again. It may sound like a pious cliché but this describes my experience of life?

Cyprus sunrise
There is only one path - I only have one life - and sometimes I think I'm doing all the right things to make me feel closer to God, but I find myself feeling further away. But at other times there can be the unexpected moment of consolation when God is vividly present. It may be an inner warming of the heart, a sense of Jesus' companionship, or a moment of natural or artistic beauty that makes me catch my breath and say, "Thank you Lord for your grace." During the day I may find myself naturally turning towards the Lord and consciously seeing the 'centre', and others times I am preoccupied with daily chores and can't look at the centre.

But one more thing struck me - as I walked round the labyrinth I could see the centre nearly all the time out of the corner of my eye. I knew it was there and that I was never far from it. As I finally left the labyrinth I felt the Lord say to me that I would not be bringing a memory of my eight days' retreat back home, but the reality of the Lord's presence.

So it's the same SUN in Wales and in Cyprus though experienced quite differently. Jesus is the same SON whether experienced in the spiritual oasis of St Beuno's or the less obvious spirituality of Croydon. And for that I thank God!