We all need a mentor

We all need a mentor. Someone we can trust who knows the path we are walking, who understands our struggles and who can help us find our way through the maze of life.

A mentor gives us hope when our thoughts and emotions are spiralling out of control. When we feel lost, or stuck, or don’t know what to do. When we lose faith and fear creeps over us.

Perhaps the archetypal mentor is Yoda, the small green person who guided Obi-Wan Kenobi and the young Luke Skywalker throughout the terrifying intergalactic battles at the core of the Star Wars movies. He opened their eyes and their minds to new ways of seeing, believing and doing, helping them to fulfil their full potential.

For most of us, our mentors are much more recognisable. They are the people we meet along the way through life – parents, teachers, friends.

And yet we do have access to a whole host of other mentors through their writing and speaking.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist (Benedictine) Monk who committed most of his adult life to silence, solitude and service. In his inner life he developed a deep knowledge and experience of his christian faith, while engaging fully in his outer life with the challenges of being human in this complex and unfair world. He wrote more than 50 books on spirituality and social justice, giving us the opportunity to benefit from his great mind. He died in 1968 and yet his writing continues to inspire, challenge and encourage us.

One of his prayers is particularly well known as a prayer that anyone can pray. It is commonly known simply as The Thomas Merton Prayer.

Read the prayer slowly. Take time for the words to move from your head to your heart.

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself.
And the fact that I think I am following
your will does not mean
that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire
in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything
apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this
you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear,
for you are ever near me
and you will never leave me
to face my perils alone.
Amen

Thomas Merton
1915 – 1968

Reflect on the wisdom, faith and experience of the man who wrote these words. Imagine who God is for him. Listen to what he is thinking and believing and trusting.

And listen carefully for any words that speak directly into your life and your situation.

Thomas Merton’s prayer can become your prayer. It can guide you and give you hope as it has done for countless others before you.

Prayer: keeping the appointment

Prayer is difficult.  Who doesn’t carry a burden of guilt or shame that their prayer life could be a lot better?

The simple prayers that served us well as a child don’t fit with the complexity of the issues we face as an adult.  Life around us changes, we change and our understanding of God changes.  How we pray and relate to God has to change too.  And yet, for all the teaching we might receive on how to live the christian life, practical teaching on how to pray does not figure in the list often enough.

time-72371_960_720 In my late teens I remember a powerful feeling of anger rise unexpectedly within me when a friend commented she was going home to have her ‘quiet time’. Her words cut to my heart.  They felt self-righteous of her and challenged me deeply because praying alone was something I found profoundly difficult. My mind wandered uncontrollably.  I found prayer lists and prayer mnemonics empty and unhelpful. I didn’t have the emotional maturity at that point to explore my anger, nor the experience to recognise we were operating as different people with different personalities and each with a different understanding of God and prayer.  Looking back we probably both felt insecure in our faith and were struggling to find a way to grow our relationship with God. Continue reading “Prayer: keeping the appointment”

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.”

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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

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.

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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)