Pushing through hopelessness

She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.     Luke 8:44

One of the biggest problems we face when suffering seems endless is that we give up hope. Because nothing has changed we believe nothing can change and nothing ever will change.

But some people find a way to keep moving forward.  We can learn from them.  Look at the woman who was isolated because of her suffering.

She has been bleeding for 12 years.  That is bad enough to endure, but on top of that the law says women are unclean while they bleed and until 7 days after the bleeding has stopped. She must keep separate from others to avoid making them unclean too.  But she seldom manages 7 bleed-free days.  And so the law makes her suffering worse.

She has no tampons or disposable pads with wings.  No FaceTime, Facebook or texting.  No iron tablets to top up her haemoglobin.

This woman is suffering, lonely and exhausted. Healers take her money but nothing changes.  She has good reason to slip into hopelessness and helplessness.

But she doesn’t.

Jesus approaches and a crowd gathers.  He is different from other healers.  People tell of his teaching and his miracles and his curious band of helpers – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna.  These women were truly mad and diseased until they met Jesus.  He not only healed them, he gave them a new purpose in life.  Jesus honours women.

touchThe woman pushes through the crowd and touches the edge of Jesus’ cloak.  Immediately she knows her bleeding is healed and Jesus knows that someone has touched him.  He asks who touched him.  Her shame, disobedience and defiance are exposed.

Trembling, she tells Jesus why she touched him.

I never noticed that part of the story before.  She tells her story and Jesus listens. I wonder how much she tells him?  Yes, she will tell of her suffering and isolation.  She will also tell Jesus what she heard about him and why she wanted to touch him.  Perhaps she will mention how his attitude to women gives her courage.

Jesus hears more than the detail of her story.  He hears what she does not say and he understands her heart.  She is a woman who knows that her life has value; that she contributes to the lives of others; that life is a precious gift and can be lived well.

Most of all Jesus sees her trust in him.  As she reaches out to him to make her life better, he looks on her with the love of a father and says “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

A prayer:  Thank you, Jesus, that you know us and you love us.  You see behind the outer shell of our lives to our deepest longings.   Help us to reach out to you, believing that you can bring healing and peace.  Amen

Advertisements

Prayer walking through Lent

Most of us believe that self-denial for a season is good for our soul. It reassures us that we are not locked into self-satisfaction and it encourages us to aspire to higher values.

But committing to self-denial for the 40 days of Lent needs a determined mindset and a calling to something higher.

Sign-9

Getting up at 6.00am daily through the season of Lent to pray and walk round our neighbourhood was my husband’s calling, not mine.  However, I found I could not stay at home under the comfort of the duvet while he set off into the frosty dawn. I knew the experience would be significant for him and I didn’t want to miss out.  So I joined him.

Ours is a middle class neighbourhood with 49 streets set out in three regions.  Our church congregation meets in the primary school building right in the middle. Generally people here lead independent and self sufficient lives. Everything appears peaceful in the dawn light. And yet we know that behind the locked doors, the shadow side of these traits is loneliness and vulnerability.

Each morning we started by reading scripture then asking God to guide our eyes, ears, thoughts and prayers as we walked.  Philip Yancey, when he prays for others, asks God to open his eyes to see that person as God sees them, and then to enter into the stream of love that God already directs toward them.

To give our prayers a framework we used the Caleb Prayer written by Roy Godwin at Ffald-y-Brenin in Wales. His book, The Grace Outpouring – Blessing others through prayer tells his amazing story of God working in sovereign power on people who weren’t even sure he existed.

O High King of heaven

Have mercy on our Land.

Revive your Church;

Send the Holy Spirit for the sake of the children.

May your kingdom come to our nation.

In Jesus’ mighty name.  Amen

Day by day the scene around us changed.  The frost lifted and splashes of colour appeared everywhere; daffodils, magnolia, cherry blossom.  Almost overnight the trees became green.  It felt humbling and inspiring to witness the power and glory of Spring unfolding around us.

And so we arrive at Easter Day – the day when everything changed.   Our 40 days of prayer walking is over. It has been a journey of sacrifice and discovery for us.  We look to see what God is doing in our community and what role we can play in bringing others to awareness of what can happen when Jesus makes his home in us.

If you believe that Jesus rose from the dead, you are not just believing an odd fact from two thousand years ago; you are trusting that there is a kind of life, a kind of love and trust and joy that is the very essence of Jesus’ identity which is now coming to life in you. . . . Jesus rises from the dead so as to find not only his home in heaven but his home in us.  (Rowan Williams Choose Life  p122)

 

 

Advent – beginning the adventure

Today is the first day of Advent, the start of preparation for Christmas. After years of frustration with the materialism that overwhelms this season I never imagined that a book about the Liturgical Year written by a Benedictine nun would be the place where I found release and hope.

chittister-the-liturgical-year

Sister Joan Chittister published The Liturgical Year in 2009 as part of a series of books on Ancient Practices. The books respond to the hunger in every human heart for connection to God.  Joan Chittister has lived and taught spiritual practices as an internationally acclaimed speaker for over 30 years. Her writing flows like warm oil on my soul. She knows and understands the deepest longings of the heart and  she has wrestled with the complexity of living a life of faith in a cruel world. Reading her words is like sitting at the feet of a wise mentor.

The liturgical year is the christian church calendar that begins  at Advent and rolls through the following November. It walks us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But rather than it being a catalogue of days, Sister Chittister speaks of it as a framework for spiritual growth.

The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus. It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concern itself with the questions of how to make a life.

“How to make a life” – now that sounds practical and relevant.

We live our lives in a cycle of years with each bringing us something new and significant. The year I was born. The year my father died. The year I got married. Each year is unique.  It marks our lives like the rings of a tree and tells the story of who we are becoming.

Jesus walked the earth through many years. As we follow his life through the liturgical year he leads us deeper into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. Today we can go back to the beginning to re-enter the Jesus story.  We can learn more of what his birth, death and resurrection mean for us. We can gain wisdom to name and claim our days.

The liturgical year is the year that sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus, the Christ. It proposes, year after year, to immerse us over and over again into the sense and substance of the Christian life until eventually, we become what we say we are – followers of Jesus all the way to the heart of God. The liturgical year is an adventure in spiritual growth, an exercise in spiritual ripening. page 6

Follow Jesus all the way to the heart of God?  Let’s think, pray and live our way into the adventure.

An easy yoke?

Man carrying bananas - Indonesia

“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”.

How many of us quote these words of Jesus, thinking they should be a comfort, and yet knowing in our hearts we don’t believe it?

We want to believe it, but the bewildering truth is that we don’t find it to be true in our experience, nor do we see it to be true in the lives of others.

These days the thought of being yoked to any religious culture is  likely to make many people grit their teeth to resist.  After all, religion is at the root of so much trouble between humans.

My impression of a yoke has always been about carrying a burden alone.  I think back to a time when I lived in the Far East.  Men of all ages travelled about carrying their goods strapped to a rod over their shoulders. The loads were clearly heavy.  They trotted along with a distinctive light-footed, bouncing step that set up a rhythm to keep the pressure of the load off their shoulders as much as possible. The heavier the load the faster they trotted.

So why would Jesus use a yoke and a burden as a metaphor for his relationship for us?

We can see that the metaphor is relevant for life as most of us lead it today.  We are bound, or yoked, to all sorts of things – our relationships, our possessions, our work.  And we know what it means to be burdened.  Who hasn’t felt weighed down with responsibility or burdened by guilt?

We rush through life to avoid giving attention to the things that weigh us down.  Being busy becomes an excuse for living with chaos.

So what can Jesus mean when he talks about his yoke being easy and his burden light?

Recently I discovered that the yoke Jesus would be referring to was a double yoke used to link oxen.  As a carpenter he is likely to have made many of them and been familiar with the need to match the yoke to the oxen.

Suddenly the metaphor feels completely different.  Jesus is inviting us into his yoke with him.

When Jesus spoke about his yoke, he was talking to  people who were weighed down by the burdens placed on them by the religious leaders of the day.  These leaders  would “tie up heavy burdens , hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others”. He was speaking of the burden of religious rituals and rules that were added to the laws, making them unachievable.

Having no chance of ever being good enough is an impossible burden to bear.

But Jesus spoke tenderly to the people who were worn out on trying to be good enough.  He knows God and he knows how to get close to Him.  He is willing to spell it out slowly and clearly in a way that we can understand and follow. Reading the words in the Message translation of the bible help us to understand what Jesus is saying.

 “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

If you want to know God, the more you think about what these words mean the more attractive Jesus’ yoke feels.

He knows the way.

You can take advantage of his strength, wisdom, knowledge and experience.

You find yourself slowing down . . . a burden shared is lighter.

You glimpse the possibility of learning to live freely and lightly.

Yes, perhaps it can be an easy yoke.