Peace, justice and Father Christmas!

A guest post for St Nicholas Day from Embrace the Middle East.

‘Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;

    righteousness and peace will kiss each other.’ Psalm 85:10 

Psalm 85’s concluding verses (vv.10-13) picture a bright future where God restores all that is not experiencing ‘shalom’. 

They proclaim ‘tsaddiq’ will be as present as peace when this day comes. This Hebrew word holds together ‘righteousness’ and ‘justice’.

For many Christians in the West ‘righteousness’ has become associated mostly with personal purity. So we need the reminder that ‘justice’ is also emphasised in the scriptures whenever we see ‘righteousness’.

God is as concerned with our social systems as He is with individuals’ lives. So any vision of His kingdom that doesn’t seek a fair future for all has lost sight of true peace, and its Prince.

Why then is ‘peace’ more of a central theme at Christmas than ‘justice’ is? Because the latter shouldn’t jar with any of our celebrations of the coming King.

It will not help us if we tranquilise the kingdom by editing out its uncompromising hunger for justice. It will only further confuse and disappoint us. It will limit how much we experience true peace – and how we go about trying to build it.

Today is St Nicholas’ Day, and our modern depictions of Father Christmas are a good example of our tendency to do this.

Legend says the man behind the myth – the Bishop of Myra (a province now in Turkey) – actually gave his generous gifts to rescue the daughters of a poor man from being sold into prostitution. A far cry from typical depictions of Santa today!

In our vision of the kingdom, justice and peace must embrace as perfectly balanced equals. This perspective must shape all our prayer and action. That’s why we’re inspired when we meet Christians in the Middle East who model it so profoundly.

Hussein and Nadine Ismail are gentle, people of peace. But they are tenacious in how they apply their love and compassion for children and young people who need their help. The Learning Centre for the Deaf in Lebanon kindly but persistently challenges society and government about how much education deaf children can access.

To do anything less would be to neglect justice. It would limit the real ‘shalom’ those with hearing difficulties could hope to experience.

Let’s pray we will better express this same balance:

Lord Jesus, Prince of Peace, who champions the flourishing of all, thank you that the bells which will sound this joyful season ring out the arrival of a kingdom of peace and justice. Amplify their message loud in the hearts of all Your people, here and in the Middle East, till we even better hear, and obey, their resonating call, Amen.

Sharing the Peace

Something to consider and discuss with others

  • Which do you think you typically prioritise, peace or justice, and which are you more likely to neglect? How could you balance both?
  • Do you think we should, or could, bring the theme of ‘justice’ back into our Christmas celebrations more? If so, how would you start?

Something you could do today

  • How could you spread the word about the real St Nicholas today? You could forward on today’s email reflection to friends. Or perhaps share a post on social media talking about the original man behind the myth of St Nicholas, and asking others why ‘justice’ has become a bit lost at Christmas.

Copyright 2018 Embrace the Middle East. All rights reserved. Embrace the Middle East is a registered charity no. 1076329.

Embrace the Middle East
Embrace the Middle East 24 London Road West
Amersham, Buckinghamshire HP7 0EZ, United Kingdom

What do you do all day? Care…

From the very first moment that my journey towards priesthood was taken seriously by the church I received the simultaneous blessing of motherhood. And those three children are in many and various ways wonderful, inspiring, frustrating, delightful and exhausting. They are also all autistic in completeley different ways, meaning that, along with my husband, we are officially their carers as well as their parents. For one child that “carer” role, proved to be more than we could manage, so we had to hand that over to someone else and learn how to be his parents when we were no longer his carers, a hard blessing but one that has enriched all of our lives.

For two of the children, I had to learn that bad behaviour was more likely to be the result of sensory overload than naughtiness as such. This meant that no amount of reprimanding or reasoning would do anything but escalate the behaviours. These children didn’t know how to self-regulate, so they needed my help to calm down before we could think about tidying up or apologising or seeing what was wrong. For both children, when they were small, this meant sitting them on my knee facing away from me and wrapping my arms and legs around them as the occupational therapist had shown me to apply moderate pressure. This helped them to feel grounded and made them still; it often quietened the screaming too. The elder child who’s sensory needs were that he was hyper-sensitive to touch and sound but had no appreciation of where the ends of his limbs were in space, then needed lying on a duvet cover, which was wrapped round him like a coccoon and dragging along the floor in a straight line for about 4 meters. He would then be so chilled out, he would just sit on the sofa and smile for the next 20 minutes. This didn’t work at all for the younger of the two. Instead he needed pressure applying to the sides of his head (so hard it looked like we were trying to pop his head) for a few seconds, repeated several times. He too would then become relaxed and content to try to do what was asked of him. When our third child came along, neither of these approaches worked. The initial holding panicked her, making things worse. We had to learn to give her time to retreat and calm herself before going in and engaging her on a completely different subject. An hour or so later, she’d be ready to deal with the incident.

As a priest I have often reflected on how God’s experience of loving us must often be like that of my own experience sitting holding a distressed child, waiting for him to calm. I think the longest this ever took in one sitting was three hours. I could only keep myself calm by repeatedly singing Compline, but finally the child fell asleep in my arms. There was my adorable babe and I was blessed by his trust.

When faced with distressed or angry individuals or congregations, as a priest for the longest time I remembered that three hour stint and tried to work out what its equivalent would be. Now I see that that is not always what is required, I have to try to learn who the person/congregation before me is and what it is that they need most. Do they need holding? Do they need space? Do they need physical presence, like the deep pressure? Words to wash over them or prayer to soothe? And in what combinations? I also have to accept that in caring for my own children I have had broken noses and ribs, black eyes and bite marks. I shouldn’t be surprised when I have to bear the cost of caring in ministry too. The gift when we come through each of these moments, each of these painful experiences, is that we gradually learn that the world doesn’t end; love is not withdrawn; loving faithfulness continues, compassion grows , so we can trust one another more.

Thankfully, not all caring is so physically demanding. Sometimes the caring both for my children and for my father-in-law as his cancer advanced, has come down to advocacy. We have had to learn that, whilst government agencies will tell us what they can provide, it is our job to keep stating what those we care for need. Slowly and with respectful negotiation the ready made packages are shelved and real needs are met.

It’s just the same here with churches and the communities they serve. We have to work out not only what churches should be doing, what a minister should be doing but what particular gifts and callings we have; what God is asking of us and whether we have the resources to meet that calling or whether we need to make partnerships to see God’s work come to fruition. It’s not easy and the temptation to do what is easy and known rather than what is truly needed is strong. My job is to keep on advocating for the real needs but that means I need to know the people I serve and the communities they serve intimately, holding them all before God in prayer. Sometimes that means I have to spend time researching the communities I serve. Reading council files, reports by other churches and charities, trying to discern how we might serve that won’t be pushing in for self aggrandisement or doubling up services unnecessarily but genuinely providing something needful, that is within the gifts and energy of the congregation.

The gift to me, in all this is that I am learning to look at places, situations and people and to see how they might be if they were truly flourishing. Very,very slowly, I’m also being gifted with acquaintances and knowledge that will help me to facillitate that flourishing, by calling on the gifts of others.

Within my role as a priest for many years the bulk of the caring I offered was centred around the time of bereavement. Here in Scotland this takes up much less of my time, and the focus has shifted to be with those who are dying and those accompanying them as much as with those who are mourning after the event. These are some of the most privileged moments of the ministry I have to offer. Ministering to those near the end of life is always moving. Often my role is to reassure the person of God’s love and blessing through prayer and anointing and to give permission to the dying person to rest now. Especially when people have experienced long illnesses, they need permission to stop fighting for life. Permission to be at peace.

In church I often find myself pulled in different directions. One of the things I feel it is most important to help people to do in our society today is to rest. To learn simply to be. To know that they don’t have to be productive at all times to justify their existence. They exist because they are loved and life is to be enjoyed, savoured, as much as possible. On the other hand, I’m always asking people to do things. Partly because these many things need doing and partly because it’s by being involved in the behind the scenes life of a church in some way that people begin to feel they belong.

As a carer, my role isn’t to do everything for my children but to enable them to be as independent as possible. It’s a real joy to see their pleasure at getting themselves or successfully making a bus journey with an assistant. The pleasure of preparing a drink for someone else or understanding what someone wants and handing it to them, instead of always being the recipient of help is immense. As a priest that’s what I seek to do for the communites I serve. Its an old truism, but a good one, that the best priests make themselves unnecessary.

So that’s my story, much like many of yours I’d imagine. Changing from role to role, moment to moment, trying always to offer the best loving-attention I have and being frustrated by low energy levels and resilience at times. The good news for me is that I know, through it all, that I am cared for by God, who is infinitely gracious, and by those I work closely with. What a lot to be thankful for!

Rev’d Lynsay

***Folk on Friday***

Part of the brief here at the Astonishing Community is to see how people with all their quirks and vulnerabilities can turn our lives upside down and show us what it means to be a human made in the image of God.

This week on Twitter, I came across this amazing article, published as part of St Aldate’s Oxford Citizens and Exiles Journal. (Click through to see the whole thing.)

Collette Lloyd, writes beautifully about her daughter Katie and can be found on twitter (click on her name). For your convenience, here’s her article.

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2 ways to forgiveness.

*** Tips on Tuesday *** Tips on Tuesday ***

(Nadia Bolz-Weber)

  1. Don’t wait for an apology.
    Forgiveness is not something we earn from God, nor is it something that others earn from us. God chose not to be bound by like for like rules of justice, but to forgive abundantly. We can break the cycles of resentment pain and violence by following God’s example: absorbing the pain, forgiving the one(s) who caused it.
  2. Accept forgiveness when it is offered.
    If someone forgives you, they are now free of the chains connecting them to the painful time or act. When they broke the chains, they freed you too. Many of us hang onto our chains, remembering the hurt we have caused, refusing to be free. If it’s because we never asked forgiveness of the person who forgave us, work that out with God, don’t try to draw the other person back in.
  3. Repeat as necessary.

Guest Post from Mull Monastery: St Fillan and the healing power of love.

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Our first commission of St Fillan was linked to the story of the repentant wolf that willingly bows down in obedience to the saint’s gentleness. It was a commission for which I am particularly grateful, because I had never prayed to St Fillan before having to think about the composition of that icon. Later on, while trying to find out more information about the Saint, we’ve discovered that he is a protector and healer of people suffering from mental illnesses.

There are ancient stories about a small loch next to his hermitage, the waters of which had healing powers through the saint’s prayers. People who suffered from many mental afflictions would travel to see the saint and to ask for his intercession. Once they immersed in the waters of the saint’s loch, they regained their health and spiritual strength. Some of them spent the night in the cold waters, waiting for God’s mercy to descend upon them.

Mental illness… Mental suffering… What exactly does that mean? How many of us, how many of the lovely, wonderful people I know who suffer from depression, loneliness and fear still thirst to this day for someone like St Fillan, whose love can heal them? There is something fearsome and beautiful about this Saint who made himself a vessel for the Holy Spirit, so that God’s presence in the temple of his holy body may soothe and heal the pain of his brothers.

Holiness does not come easy. We always forget that. Holiness only comes through self-denial and self-sacrifice to the point of death – be that physical death, or death by removing oneself from partaking into the world in order to open oneself to Christ. Only sacrifice bears the fruit of holiness, because only the one who has enough love as to give one’s life for the sake of one’s brother is perfect.

Saints are holy not because they are special, nor because they are loved more by God. Saints become holy because their hearts burn with love for the world – that holy fire kills them to the world, and turns them into temples of the Holy Spirit. The healing power of a Saint’s love has nothing to do with our romantic vision of holiness, and it has everything to do with their determination to self-sacrifice for the life and salvation of the world. Saints become Christ-like in their love and healing power because they become Christ-like in their willing self-sacrifice.

The whole world needs healing today. We all need someone to love us not because of who we are, but despite who we are. We need Saints like St Fillan to love us unreservedly and unconditionally – only such Christ-like love will drag us out of our profound sadness and loneliness. Through the prayers of St Fillan, may we all feel the healing power of Christ’s presence in our lives.

Saint Meriadoc -7th June

On 7th June we remember St Meriadoc, Bishop, patron of Camborne in Cornwall. St Meriadoc (also known as Meriasek) was probably a Welshman who founded at least one church in Cornwall and several churches and monasteries in Brittany in the 4th century. He eventually became a bishop there (despite his desire to be a hermit) and his feast is celebrated in several Breton dioceses to this day.

The rare Cornish miracle play: Beunans Meriasek, tells his life story. St Meriadoc was once very rich but he gave away all his possessions – much to the consternation of his relatives – and devoted his life to prayer and caring for the sick and needy.

His bell is still in the church at Stival in Brittany. Placed on the heads of migraine sufferers or the deaf, it is said to heal them.

I came across BBC1’s video of Longfellow’s cafe. It is also doing healing work in the community, allowing teenagers with autism to be a blessing to those around them and to live dignified, purposeful lives. It seems appropriate to share that video today as a way of remembering that God is still working, saints are still serving and communities are still being made whole.

 

INTERCEDING

On this day lift before God:

  • The peoples of Cornwall and Brittany.
  • Those who work with others, despite a preference for quiet and solitude.
  • All who suffer migraines.
  • Those who enjoy their lives as part of the deaf community and those struggling with hearing loss.
  • Longfellow’s cafe and other kingdom places, where the world is already turning and glory is shining all around!

God’s loving.

The story I’m going to share here comes from time spent with Con, when he was little. He’s non-verbal and part of the autistic community – an autiste, as Alan Gardener puts it. This is a moment of revelation, more about God than either Con or myself.

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2015: Con, aged 12, being Toothless the Dragon.

 

I am sitting on the floor of a blue-carpeted room, devoid of furniture, with aching muscles from trying to restrain a three-year-old boy. There’s faeces on the wall, and banana. The banana will be harder to remove.

“for the enemy as a roaring lion walks about…”

I’m beginning Compline for the seventh time this afternoon. The singing soothes him and it helps me not to tighten my grip. I’m sat with my legs crossed over his, my arms wrapped right round his little body. I’m wondering whether my eye is bruised or just sore and I wonder whether this is what it’s like for God to try to love us.

Finally, he falls asleep… blessed.