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Posts Tagged ‘Spiritual life’

Reflection – Enjoy Today ….

September 13, 2015 1 comment

Like so many of us, I’m guilty of living way too much in the future – planning, thinking, dreaming, hurrying – and today somehow can seem far less significant. This attitude can be like; let’s just get through today as, in our heads, it’s already past, and move urgently onto the next thing!

Living like this means I have almost certainly missed some of the key events in the life of our family, something I now regret. Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, ‘Yesterday has gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today’. 

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This is what the Bible has to say in James 4:

‘Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’.

It’s ‘WHO’ you are today that counts. It’s ‘WHAT’ you do today that matters.

Do enjoy TODAY.

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Review – The Song of Songs: Exploring the Divine Romance

Charlie Cleverly is a fine devotional writer. As well as being Rector of the well-known St Aldates Church in Oxford, England, he is rapidly taking his rightful place among the best of our contemporary writers of faith. Every time Cleverly publishes a new book, I wait with some anticipation.

This latest book on Solomon’s Song of Songs is very good, but perhaps for me, not as impactful as his earlier, ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’, which to my mind was extra-ordinary – and a unique contribution to modern devotional writing.

Song of Songs

However, we should be grateful to Charlie for opening up again what, to so many, is an inaccessible book in the Bible. I was brought up on the poetry of the Song of Solomon. My father loved it, but in the tradition of his day, regarded it purely as an allegory describing Christ and His church. Of course, it’s far, far more than that and Cleverly cleverly brings allegory and reality together, ensuring that the book is once again made relevant to today’s church and to wider society.

For my part, I think I’ve always regarded the biblical book as far more than allegorical. As an adolescent growing up in a rather rigid church environment, the text of the Song of Solomon was often an exciting and (yes, I’ll admit it!) earthy distraction in an otherwise dull church service! It was possible to be seen reading the Bible, but to be enjoying it at the same time, perhaps for all the wrong reasons!

I read Charlie Cleverly’s new book on holiday whilst staying at a couple’s only resort. The upside of the many attractive qualities of human love was clearly evident around us! His celebration of human sexuality together with the divine romance as laid out in Solomon’s ancient song is very beautiful, as is the biblical text itself.

Cleverly’s writing is wise, clear, deep, evocative and contemplative, much as in the Song itself. One detects shades and hints of the Puritan Divine in his writing. Here are eighteen chapters covering the eight chapters of the Song of Solomon in some considerable depth. In strict terms, this is not really a commentary, but more a devotional exploration of the Divine Romance and the ‘Kiss of God’.

If anything, the book may be overly long, perhaps relying too much on quoting swathes of text from the Church Fathers. Cleverly is at his best here in his application of the Song of Songs to the Church in today’s culture. I valued his perceptive point that ‘society is obsessed by sex and the Church obsessed by marriage’– and that both such emphases are wrong! He is clear that true marriage is a ‘passionate monogamy’ and has ‘exclusive permanence’. However, he is sensitive to singleness and celibacy, but oddly silent on the persistent matter of homosexuality in human relationships.

Cleverly’s notion of the pressing need for ‘Finding your voice’ (or helping to express yourself intimately) in life and relationships is also powerful and telling, and worth the price of the book alone. He writes movingly of the winter of loss and bereavement, and of the ‘dark night of the absence of God’.

I appreciated his profound insight that churches may be better if ‘presence-led’ rather than ‘purpose-driven’! The final chapter is a wonderfully uplifting rehearsal of the truth of the Maranatha future return of Jesus Christ.

Could his book have been shorter? Possibly, but actually I’m glad that it isn’t as there is much to go over again in the future. Overall, a more than worthwhile book for anyone involved in the intricacy of life’s often complex relationships.

THE SONG OF SONGS: EXPLORING THE DIVINE ROMANCE

CHARLIE CLEVERLY (HODDER FAITH)

ISBN 978-1-444-70204-0

Reflection – After the Call

August 27, 2014 Leave a comment

Many Christians are familiar with the veracity of a ‘Call of God’, and although this idea may be interpreted sometimes differently by the various wings of the church, most groupings would view it as a bona-fide spiritual experience; albeit one that requires further checks by wise and mature confidantes. I myself would say that I have experienced such a phenomenon.

What’s harder to deal with is the prospect of failure when following such a call. Fear can so often remain as a continuing reality. It feels that there is still the possibility of being laid low or being set aside.

Yet we remain open to God. He is the Lord. He is committed to His call. So too must we be. We continue to be confident in God even when our path seems blocked. Sometimes we receive glimpses of the way ahead, only to be frustrated and cast down again.

The solution in such times is a resolute trust in God.

Chiesa di San Francesco, Alghero, Sardinia - window

Jeremiah 17:7-8 and Psalm 43: 3-5 are key to this:

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.

Send out your light and your truth;

    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God. (ESV)

There is always the danger of looking other than to God for our solutions. It’s quite a natural reaction – and therein lies the problem and the point. It’s natural, not spiritual. True trust occurs deep within our spirit: ‘Has God said?’ We can soulfully answer, ‘emphatically yes’. Such clear and certain knowledge is crucial to our ‘resting’ in His sovereign call. If God is for me, who can be against me? (Note my emphases).

Sometimes the call of God is to oblivion in the eyes of the world. Even the Church aspires to the cult of personality and lifts its heroes high – pastors, musicians, evangelists, music leaders, organisations et al. It wrongly equates calling and vocation with worldly success and influence. These are not Kingdom values but just more of the world inside the church. Care needs to be exercised as such occurrences can be insidious and appear perfectly fine at the time. They are not – and they will be found sadly wanting in due course. Even very recent church history shows us this quite clearly.

Those of us blessed with a sense of a divine calling must show great care. Ours is a holy calling and one not to be taken lightly, even when the way ahead seems dark, confused and unclear to us. I’m reminded that Romans 11:29 says,

’For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable’

And in I Corinthians 1: 25-27,

‘For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong’.

This Scripture is quite clear – to give it Richard Rohr’s expression – ‘the upside-downness’ of the spiritual life and its values. The juxtaposition seems contrary to everything we aspire to and is very hard for us to accept, let alone practise – but live it this way we must.

Reflection: 10 Keys to a Healthy Soul

Hints for Soul Care for those in Ministry, Leadership, Management or Business:

An antidote for the toxicity of life by building a lifestyle comprising winsome spirituality and a healthy soul

Street art in Singapore

10 Keys to a Healthy Soul:

1. FAITH – not Fear. Trusting God implicitly. Something joyful. Something positive. This is the antidote to Worry.

2. CALLING – a vocation, a clear knowledge, a purpose. Knowing. This is the antidote to Questioning.

3. PRESENCE – a sense, a consciousness, a practice. A daily occurrence. This is the antidote to Loneliness.

4. DEPENDENCY – Vulnerability, not independence. Not always knowing. This is the antidote to Strategising.

5. WAITING – on God. Friendship with God. No rushing. Inner peace. This is the antidote to Tension and Stress.

6. LISTENING – A quiet whisper in my spirit. A clear witness in my soul. This is the antidote to Uncertainty.

7. QUIETNESS – Silence. Switching off. Peace. A digital detox. This is the antidote to Societal noise.

8. SPACE – Breathe. Rest. Pray. In openness. Experiencing wonder. This is the antidote to Insignificance.

9. GLORY – Seeing God.  Knowing Him. The Shekinah. That sense. A glimpse. This is the antidote to Drudgery.

10. WORSHIP – The ultimate. This is the Chief end of Man. Being caught up. This is the antidote to Self-interest.

These thoughts were originally written and posted on Twitter during May 2013.

Reflection: A growing awareness of the daily presence of God

September 2, 2012 3 comments

Stephen Hawking opening the 2012 Paralympics in London said: ‘Look up at the stars. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the Universe exist. Be curious’.

G K Chesterton: To those given to behold God’s glory: ‘There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect’.

Exodus 33:14-16: The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.’ Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? 

C S Lewis: ‘Oh Aslan, said Lucy, it was kind of you to come … I’ve been here all the time, said He, but you have just made me visible’.

Dr David Benner: We do not have to do anything to gain access to God’s presence. We must simply recognize Who is already present.

Charlie Cleverley writes about ‘Epiphanies of the Ordinary’, David Benner speaks about ‘Transformation’. Whatever it is, it’s both about seeing and knowing God.

The awareness of the presence of God in our lives today is key. It will determine how we live today and how we respond to those around us.

The Lord is here, His Spirit is with us; an awareness of God’s presence transforms how we respond to ourselves and to those around us.

Consciously practice the presence of God today. It doesn’t come easily or naturally. Other things can dominate and crowd out our intentions.

I notice on a train how people are immersed in their phones – a pointer to how being immersed in God’s presence works; the strength of our desire to connect.

However tough & challenging life is for you today, rest in an awareness of the reality of God’s presence with you. He desires to bless you.

Give yourself space today to be aware of the reality of God’s presence. He IS with you and He loves you. Enjoy the moment. Be blessed!

Find space to experience God today. Don’t wait until you’re next in Church. In fact Church is not always conducive to the experience of God.

Henri Nouwen: The core of all prayer is indeed listening, obediently standing in the presence of God.

Our culture of chasing results and targets can adversely affect our relationships. Seek a balance and more especially in finding time with God.

Live in your experience of God for today. Don’t assume it will perhaps happen tomorrow or in the future. Enjoy the moment now. He loves you.

Say this prayer today: For the awareness & reality of your presence with me today, I thank you Lord.

Lord, I’m grateful for my waking hours. Come to me today. Remind me of your love. Immerse me in your Spirit. Jesus, you are with me today.

Never underestimate the blessing of your presence to others; of you just being you. If you were not you, others would be so much the poorer!

These sentences are taken from my Twitter stream describing a growing awareness of the daily presence of God.

Review – ‘A Glimpse of Jesus’: Brennan Manning

January 10, 2012 Leave a comment

I first came across Brennan Manning as the author of The Ragamuffin Gospel. I came quickly to the conclusion that it was worth reading anything by him. I rate him highly.

In my view, his writing is up there with Richard Foster, Philip Yancey and Henri Nouwen, helping us make sense of the complexities and yet the utter simplicity of the spiritual life.

This little book, A Glimpse of Jesus is no exception. This is a small book and it should be easy to read through in one sitting. It’s not. It’s hard-hitting and therefore tough to read. Each paragraph requires thought and invites action. Spiritual writing of this quality is often quite unsettling, challenging as it does our preconceptions and long-held views.

Brennan Manning is a Franciscan Catholic but his understanding of the major Christian traditions is pretty wide-ranging although somewhat centred on his North American roots. He is clearly no fan of the moral majority nor of right-wing Evangelicalism!

Richard Manning came from a dysfunctional family. He became a monk and then took the name Brennan. His life is full of what many would consider to be failings; he was an alcoholic and he experienced divorce. But it is these very ‘failings’ that give his writings both humanity and compassion and which have led him to his main message: ‘God loves you as you are – and unconditionally’.

Read some of it here for yourself, in this, a small flavour of the book:

‘The habit of moralising spoils religion. Personal responsibility to an inviolable moral code replaces personal response to God’s loving call’ p9

‘Salvation cannot be earned or merited but only humbly and gratefully received as a loving gift from the Father’s hand’ p13

‘Christian freedom is the joyful acceptance of (an) unprecedented and scandalous reversal of the World’s values’ p27

‘Christianity is not about ritual and moral living except insofar as these two express the love that causes both of them. We must at least pray for the grace to become love’. p29

‘The love of the Father for His children plunges us into mystery, because it is utterly beyond the pale of human experience’. p45

‘There is a beauty and enchantment about the Nazarene that draws me irresistibly to follow Him.  He is the Pied Piper of my lonely heart. It is not pious prattle to say that the only valid reason I can think of for living is Jesus Christ’. p49

‘It’s a tired cliché, a battered bumper sticker, an overused and often superficial slogan but it’s the truth of the Gospel: Jesus is the answer’. p50

‘The Christian’s warmth and congeniality, non-judgemental attitude and welcoming love may well be the catalyst allowing the healing power of Jesus to become operative in the life of an alienated, forlorn brother or sister’. p65

‘Whatever else it may be, prayer is first and foremost an act of love … born of a desire to be with Jesus … to really love someone implies a natural longing for presence and intimate communion’. p83

‘Why the symbol of the crucified Christ? Because it is an icon of the greatest act of love in human history …the Christian should tremble and the whole community quake when contemplating the cross on the Friday we call Good’ p90

‘With time slipping away like sand in an hourglass, the church has no more urgent priority than proclaiming the values of Jesus, preparing the way for Him, and restraining panic when He appears on the scene’ p101

‘When we ‘put on Christ’ and fully accept who we are, a healthy independence from peer pressure, people-pleasing and human respect develops. Christ’s preferences and values become our own’. p111

‘When the Crucified One says, ‘I’m dying to be with you’ and then whispers, ‘Will you die a little to be with me’? my sluggish spirit is stirred’. p114

‘The cross of Jesus will ever remain a scandal and foolishness to discriminating disciples who seek a triumphal Saviour and a prosperity Gospel. Their number is legion. They are enemies of the cross of Christ … Jesus ministry was a seeming failure, His life appeared to have made no difference. He was a naked, murdered, ineffectual, losing God. But in that weakness and vulnerability, the world would come to know the love of the Abba of the Compassionate One. p139

‘The Glory of Christ lies in this … He has called forth disciples to come after Him … they are ‘marginal’ people, not part of the scene, irrelevant to ‘the action’. In their ministry of quiet presence they do not need to win or compete. The world ignores them. But they are building the Kingdom of God on earth’ p139

‘If you call Jesus Goodness, He will be good to you. If you call Him Love, He will be loving to you; but if you call Him Compassion, He will know that you know’. p145

In so many ways, this is a beautiful book – in sentiment, content and sheer grace.

Here is the contrast between authentic faith and legalistic religion. If you too have failed, in whatever way, then this is the book for you, pointing you to experience God’s ‘lavish, indiscriminate and unconditional’ love.

A Glimpse of Jesus

Brennan Manning

HarperOne : 2004 : 145pp

ISBN 978-0-06-072447-4

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