Sunday, 29 March 2020

Sister Eileen's blessing

Some years ago I briefly belonged to an East Sussex group of women called The Servants With Jesus, begun by Sister Eva and Sister Eileen some decades ago.

Sister Eileen used to speak about responding in prayer to difficult situations, or times when things were stuck and hard to move.

She taught us this small blessing, to say over and over again:
I bless you with the love of the Lord.
In any circumstance of life where transformation is needed, it can be prayed as a kind of mantra to bring about renewal, softening, healing and change. It can be prayed into people or situations. 

Just now, the lives of many will have been turned upside down. There will be people sick, grieving, frightened, worried about money — people whose lives will never be the same again. 

There are also our political leaders, some doing their best for us and some merely opportunistic or out of their depth. And there are the key workers, especially hospital staff and people associated with deliveries and grocery supplies, and other essential services, like refuse collection.

As each person, or category of people, or aspect of our present circumstances, comes before our minds, we can say quietly in our hearts:
I bless you with the love of the Lord.
Blessing averts curse, seeds healing, and opens the way to renewal.

Friday, 27 March 2020

Isolation and fear

Hello! Here I am. 

Me and my very peaceful friend.

Are you okay today?

I've noticed some people are seized — gripped — by fear in this time of uncertainty with its threat to the three things that most support us; our loved ones, our health and our material security. Especially for those who live all by themselves, with lockdown (shelter in place order) confining their lives and the risk of infection in forays for essential supplies, the anxiety can be overwhelming. And it can come and go, so that one moment you feel fine, then in the next you are exhausted or crippled by dread.

I am not any kind of expert — I have no medical background, no training as a counsellor, nothing like that. I am only a housewife. But I do have a lifetime's experience of living with anxiety and depression and in a family dogged by those challenges. And I understand that fear and anxiety trigger the body's production of cortisol, which lowers the immune system, so it is helpful to cultivate serenity, to stay well.

So, humbly and tentatively, for what it's worth (and you must be the judge of what works for you), I offer you some thoughts about this anxiety in a time of isolation.

Some people online have been stressing the importance of creating and maintaining a routine. My own routines are somewhat loose to say the least, but I do get washed and dressed in the morning, and make my bed. I do a little housework each day so that my home stays clean and tidy. I eat breakfast, lunch and supper, and am careful to strictly limit the snacks. I go for a walk (not very long, perhaps twenty minutes or so) every day at least once. I am blessed to have a garden, and I make sure to spend a little time out in the sunshine every day. I feed the birds and look at the flowers unfolding, I look at the blue of the sky, and the stars at nightfall. I check my friends online to be sure they're managing. I watch something on telly in the evening — something cheerful and calm; two episodes of Madhur Jaffrey's Flavours of India on Netflix last night. I think about work in hand (paid or unpaid) — the next article I will write for a magazine, the act of online worship I must prepare for this coming Sunday; nothing major. I get undressed in the evening, and read in bed a little while before sleep — again, something calm and cheerful; at the moment I'm reading Alexander McCall Smith's The Department of Sensitive Crimes.
So, yes, there is a flow to my life; nothing rigid.

Input from other people is very helpful in lowering anxiety. If you feel frightened and alone, someone I highly recommend is Philip Carr-Gomm, who heads up one of the British orders of druids — OBOD, the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. Philip Carr-Gomm is the gentlest, sanest, calmest, most peaceful person imaginable. If you were in a tight place, in an emergency, yes even if you were actually dying, you could be in no better company than his. And happily, he has made himself available to us in this anxious time, sharing around his genial, comforting, peaceful presence to boost our well-being.

On Monday evenings, he is offering Tea With A Druid on Facebook — a live link-in with him in his home.

He has made a home retreat that you can enrol in for free, which takes you through calming and restful meditations, a session to be posted each week, I think. It's called The Garden of Flowing in Perpetual Happiness

If you are gripped by anxiety, I think these will bring you some relief. You don't have to be a druid yourself, and druid spirituality is very open so you are unlikely to come face to face with an unacceptable belief system (unless you are unusually narrow-minded).

Another helpful component in your toolkit for protecting against anxiety is something Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the mother of our present Queen Elizabeth of England, used to do every day.

In the morning, she would gather her ladies-in-waiting, and ask them what was in the diary for today — what duties and obligations did she have? Once that was ascertained, she would then ask, "And what treats are we having?"

Those two crucial things, held in balance, are powerful against anxiety — acting responsibly, and having treats.

So, in a time of imposed isolation, what are our obligations or responsibilities?
I would suggest that setting one's house in order (in every sense) is high on the list. Health is maintained by cleanliness, good diet and fresh air. You have to put in a little effort to get all three. So one of your obligations is to clean your home and keep it tidy and do your laundry and wash yourself and clean your teeth etc. Another obligation is to plan and cook nourishing meals each day, and do what you can to source deliveries of supplies. And a third is to at least open the window even if you live in an apartment block, and get outdoors, if you can, a little each day (depending on the regulations for your area, and keeping a distance of 2 metres from other people).

Next on the list of responsibilities might be helping other people. 

Check your friends — are they okay? Phone them, FaceTime them, email them, look them up on Facebook. 

Think about those who have suffered most in this epidemic; people who run small businesses, refugees, the homeless. If you can set aside a small budget to assist them in donations or directed purchasing, that would be a kindness.

And this is a wonderful time to ponder and reflect. I am sure you know that this epidemic is not a random, isolated, out-of-the-blue occurrence. It is all part and parcel of modern life. In some ways, it offers us the challenge to make life kinder — hoteliers have offered refugees a temporary home, neighbours have been willing to share resources, the governments have been forthcoming with financial support and relief. Equally, there have been those who used the opportunity for selfishness and profiteering. So this is a time to consider our personal input to the human race — how we fit in to society, how we can work towards a communal effort to build a kinder and more compassionate world. When all this is over, what legacy of goodness will it leave? What lasting fragrance? New closeness to your neighbours? A habit of looking out for your friends? A new routine of ordering food online from small local family firms and farmers?

And of course, there is an ecological dimension. Viruses are released when wilderness is decimated and human lives interact inadvisably closely with wild animals. Potential medicines remain undiscovered and are lost when we cut down all the rainforest. Drought, flood, insect infestation, starvation and water shortage and pollution ruin the whole of creation when human beings ignore their responsibility to live simply, regenerate the Earth by responsible farming and industry, and live sustainably. This enforced time at home is an excellent opportunity to inform yourself and to begin shaping a strategy for how you can be part of the solution not the problem. It takes commitment and self-discipline. Now could be a time to reflect in quietness on the patterns of your life — what they are, and what they could be.

And of course, in these days it is our responsibility to meditate and pray; to hold others in the Light and radiate peace.

So, even shut in at home, there is the chance to fulfil responsibilities and contribute constructively, to undertake the work of human love.

But Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon asked her ladies-in-waiting that second question: "What treats are we having?" 

I think that is so important! Whether it is a chocolate to enjoy with your cup of coffee after dinner, or a movie, or settling down to enjoy a good book, or phoning a friend — what treats are you having today? Be kind to yourself.

And then, she had ladies-in-waiting, didn't she? How about you? You are the queen mother of your life, but who are your ladies-in-waiting? I would be proud to be one! Your ladies-in-waiting are your support team. You might like to develop one if yours is a bit threadbare. And I would put it to you that imaginary, invented friends can be a great source of support as well as actual human beings. Let them emerge from the hidden recesses of your imagination. Make a vision board of your ladies-in-waiting. Have fun with employing your staff. 

Stay strong and peaceful today, dear friends. I have prayed for you. xx

Wednesday, 25 March 2020


So, how are you getting on, friends?

Like some others with whom I chat online, I find myself deeply tired much of the time. I'm not afraid, but I'm aware of feeling unremittingly anxious in a generalised way.

Here in Hastings, UK, people are observing their social distancing very responsibly. When I go out for my little exercise walk round the block I meet very few people, and we all make sure there are many feet between us to avoid spreading germs.

The infection and death rates for our country continue to rise steeply, so we must all continue to do our best.

Last Sunday morning I led a little act of worship on our chapel Facebook page, which is here. I'll do the same again this coming Sunday — March 29th, the day we change the clocks to British Summer Time here in the UK — then after that I'll wait to see if our chapel stewards would like me to continue or if they want us to experiment with other online forms of worship. But for this Sunday, if you would like to join us, we'll be gathered together at Pett Methodist Chapel on Facebook for a 10.45 (GMT) start. It's a public group, but you do need to ask to join, preferably before Sunday morning!

It is an immense blessing that we are in lockdown during a time of cool spring weather with bright sunshine. We are not overheated in our homes, our spirits are not sagging under relentless wind and rain; it's so beautiful here in England, the trees starting to blossom and slowly coming into leaf, the flowers blooming in the garden.

This seemed like a good time to sew, and I have a length of fabric put by to make one last skirt — after that I will have plenty in my wardrobe, probably enough to last me through to the end of my life even if I make it to ninety! So today I've washed the fabric to pre-shrink it, and hung it out on the line to dry in the sunshine. Tomorrow I'll iron it and cut it and sew the side seams.

It's a great time for reading too, and I am really enjoying Alexander McCall Smith's delightful book, The Department of Sensitive Crimes.

Uh-oh! I can smell my lunch burning! Catch up with you again soon! Are you okay? How are you getting on? May you be wrapped in God's love today! 

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Praying in these times.

I've woken up thinking about praying in these times. 

A friend recently wrote on her blog, wondering about why we were not standing against the virus in prayer, and it made me pause to think. Normally I am fairly gung-ho about mountain-moving intercession, and I'd have expected my own response to be a whole-hearted "yes", forging into it with commands in the Name of Jesus. 

But I felt a "Quaker 'stop'" on this one, and it's taken me a few days to figure out why. Having done so, I thought I'd write down my musings on the subject here, especially as I am seeing posts sprouting and proliferating to call Christians to prayer.

Please bear in mind that I may be completely wrong; but for what it's worth, here is my mind on the matter just now.

There are some principles to be observed in effective intercession, and the first one is that you don't just pile in. You stop first, to ascertain what the nub of the problem is, and — this is most important — you scry into the situation with your best spiritual eyes, asking the Holy Spirit's help, to determine the mind of God before you pray into any particular direction. 

We find the guidance for Christian prayer in the New Testament, looking at what Jesus said and how he prayed, and noting how the apostles and the early church prayed.

Jesus said (in John's gospel) he did nothing except what he saw the Father do. This is important when you pray. You look to see what the Father is doing, and you pray with that. 

James in his epistle said, "The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." Ultimately, the righteous man is Jesus, not you or me, and Jesus prays for us — with power and with effect — so we can be confident about that. Jesus came to open the new and living Way between heaven and earth, and he is at the heaven end interceding for us. If understanding that doesn't give us hope and peace, I don't know what will! However, we are made in the image of God and we are the younger brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus, so in a somewhat diluted way our prayers are also powerful and effective — which means we should be specific and clear in what we pray. So we first look to see what the Father is doing to check we are rightly aligned, and then we can go for it like a thunderbolt. 

If you can't figure out what God is doing, you can always pray that the purposes of God will be fulfilled in this situation. But if you can't see the spiritual flow, don't just decide what you think it ought to be — hold your fire. If, for instance, a person is dying, their passage out of this world can be considerably impeded and made a lot bumpier than it should have been if thirty people in their church are all blocking their way with prayer. It's a powerful thing, it should be done advisedly. The dying person can be carried out serenely and triumphantly, borne up on a current of prayer that smoothes the way and floats their journey home with golden light. The important thing is to have the spiritual vision to determine which way the boat of their soul is headed — towards life or death? Then you can pray with their spiritual calling and direction for this moment in time, and not impede it. 

What is God saying? What is the direction and spiritual condition of the person for whom you are praying? What is happening (truly, not apparently)? Where is grace flowing? Find out first, and pray with that.

How do we find out what God is saying? The intentions of God are for peace and kindness, for love and shalom, for the wellbeing of creation, for social justice, for the relief of suffering and the relief of poverty. We discover the mind of God in the teachings of Jesus, and also in the Law and the Prophets — and "all Scripture", remember, "is divinely inspired and useful" (Paul to Timothy).

If you look at the prophets, you will find they all face in the same direction, essentially bring the same message, which boils down to two things: living with reverence for God, which is outworked in social justice. 

If you have a situation where the people live without reverence, with no concern for the poor, without social justice, with no hospitality to the stranger — unfortunately those things have to be addressed first, because those get in the way of facing down their adversities in prayer. You can expect adversity if you build walls to shut out refugees, asset strip whole nations, keep the poor in cages on the borders, drop bombs on other people's countries, enrich billionaires at the expense of huge numbers of poor and struggling citizens, and leave the homeless to sleep on the streets; and if lies pour from your mouth in a constant stream. 

If you look at the covenants God makes, and also at the original blessing of the human race, you can't help but notice that God is in a covenant relationship with all the creatures of the earth, and also that God set us — humanity — the task of stewarding creation. If, as stewards of creation, we set about greedily stripping out the body of creation as though it were one massive store cupboard, ruining, poisoning, despoiling and destroying, you can expect adversity, because such behaviour is irreverent and flies in the face of God. As George Herbert memorably said, "Who spits against heaven, it falls in his face."

We also have to bear in mind that what comes to us in life is God's gift. All of it. As Isaiah said to Cyrus of Persia who thought differently, thought there was a bad god and a good god at war against one another, "I create weal and I create woe . . . I am the Lord and there is no other."

Jesus, as I'm sure you remember, paused in Gethsemane to seek the mind of God, prayed hesitantly, "If it be thy will let this cup pass from me," but then saw clearly what the Father was doing and accepted it resolutely: "Nevertheless, not my will but thine be done."

And if we look back at the stories of Moses and Pharaoh, we see the plagues of Egypt that mounted up and up and up all the while Pharaoh pursued his opportunistic path of enslaving and exploiting. Those plagues were God's gift and Pharaoh's free choice. Once he changed his ways, the plagues stopped. Organising a national day of prayer would have availed him nothing, because the plagues came from God

Before we start to pray for our current situation, we'd do well to stop and look at Isaiah 58.1-12. For our prayers to be powerful and effective, they have to come from a place of righteousness. That passage makes clear what righteousness is, and there are some glaring contrasts with the ways of the Western world.

My personal opinion is that, despite the death toll, this pandemic is a relatively gentle wake-up call to us. If we heed the good advice we have been given, staying at home socially isolated to minimise our viral load, we can soften the impact of it so that those worst affected can receive the treatment and care they need. We have already been given, then, the guidance we need to address the situation. 

So — what should we pray? In which spiritual direction should we face?

It seems to me that this new challenge cannot be separated or drawn out from the bundle of challenges we face in our day. The problems of humanity come from: 

  1. Overconsumption of Earth's resources and failure to regenerate the land and live sustainably and reverently, holding sacred, as its stewards, the creation that stands in a covenant relationship with God.
  2. Greed and oppression, flouting our spiritual calling to live simply and humbly and to work for the common good; hoarding wealth and aggressively seeking power, dominating others instead of loving them. Inequality is, of itself, a social ill. We need to address it. "What does the Lord require of thee, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?"
  3. War. War is wrong. In all circumstances. It is never the right solution. Sometimes we are called to peaceful resistance, but war is in all cases destructive, an agent of misery and sorrow, a pestilence of its own. Our enemy is not flesh and blood, says St Paul.
If we fix these things, our lives will be blessed. If we don't, then every pestilence that comes our way — and they will, in steadily increasing strength until we are wiped out — will be the voice of God to us. 

So if you are a praying person, and if your church is gathering to pray, scry into the situation before you begin. The correct prayer for this particular predicament is not a spiritual commandment to the virus to stop right there — it's a crying out to God for mercy because we are mired up to our necks in sin. If we repent, if we begin to adopt the ways that renew and heal the Earth, if we beat the guns into plowshares and release the captives we keep cruelly in cages on the borders, if we offer homes and food and medicine to the refugees who have fled from poverty, violence, persecution and starvation, if we begin to live humbly under the fear of God, loving our neighbour and having compassion on the needs of humanity and working for the wellbeing of creation — then a) God will hear our prayer and b) that prayer will be one of thanksgiving for bounty, contentment and peace.

That's what I think anyway — I also believe it to be the mind of God, which is why in this particular situation I think coming against the virus as if it were an evil entity is contra-indicated.

In the meantime I continue to pray for medical staff and those who care for our needs (for food, medicine, emergency provisions of all kinds), for the sick and the dying and all those who are anxious and afraid, that God will have mercy on them and draw close to them, strengthen them, bring them peace, and allow them in to the joy of salvation.

I pray for you, that this day you may shelter in the peace of God and find the security of his love. I pray that however and whenever your death may come, it will be gentle and dignified and you will meet it without fear — and I pray that also for myself.

Be blessed, choose wisely, stay at home if you can, and may you walk in the peace of God this day.

Monday, 23 March 2020

An Order for Night Prayer

An order for Night Prayer

Before me peaceful
Behind me peaceful
Under me peaceful
Over me peaceful
All around me peaceful.     (Navajo)

Let the day end
the night fall
the world move into silence
and let God’s people say ‘Amen’.

Let minds unwind
hearts be still
bodies relax 
and let God’s people say ‘Amen’.

But before the day is done
let God’s holy name be praised
- and let God’s people say ‘Amen’.    (Iona responses - Wild goose Worship)

The end of the day.

These are the treasures of today ……………………………………………
These are the things that need your salve…………………………………..
These are the things I am ashamed of………………………………………
These are the things I am proud of…………………….……………………
I thank thee for it all.
May none of it be wasted, even the hard, sad, scary bits.

I am not just me by myself, 
I am part of everything; 
part of thy web of life.
Please centre me again, and from this prayer 
may hope and peace be released along the web.
Especially, there are the ones thou hast given me, 
the ones who are connected to my being by great arteries of love, 
the ones who tug at my heart-strings.
Here are some of them I am thinking of just now …………………………

As the day began with thee, so may it end with thee:
Goodnight, Thou-Who-Watchest-Over-Me.
Please use my rest to heal and equip my soul, 

for thou art with me.