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Thursday, 27 February 2014

Spiritually Stunted

My friend was searching for a package in her friend’s home. She opened an obscure cupboard and reported there was a white plastic bag inside, tied at the top.

On opening the bag, she discovered a long-forgotten amaryllis. It had been removed from its box and the bulb placed on top of the unopened plastic bag of compost. 

Without nourishment from the compost, without water, and without light, this bulb had sprouted, grown and produced three amazingly beautiful flowers.

But the stem was like the neck of a swan, twisting and curved and rather weak, as the plant sought the light.

It’s now planted in the compost in a pot, supported with two knitting needles and watered with care, set in a place where it is bathed in the light from a window.

Jesus counsels that we should abide in him, be planted in him, be nourished by him. He tells us he is the light of the world, a light which warms and draws life to itself. He declares he is the water of life, that he gives refreshment to all who are thirsty. 

People may look ok from the outside (though perhaps a bit twisted like the stem of the amaryllis). They may seem to be growing fine, but they may be weaker than they look. To develop and bloom with all the strength and vitality Jesus planned for us, we need to be planted, watered, and lit correctly. 

Jesus said he came that we might have life to the full. We’ll never have a full life if we are tied up in a bag in a dark cupboard, so to speak, with no access to light, water and food. We’ll be spiritually stunted.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Fill 'er up!

When I was growing up in California in the ‘50s, I remember my parents driving into gas stations, winding down the car window and saying to the attendant – who usually ran out to the car – ‘fill ‘er up’. 

The cheerful attendant would position the nozzle into the tank and get it filling and while it was humming away, he would open the hood (bonnet) and check the oil and water. Then he would wash the windshields (windscreens) front and back. 

If they asked, he would check the air in the tires (tyres).

Then Mom or Dad would hand over probably about $10 and drive off. 

Changed days. Of course I live in Scotland now, but it’s pretty much the same as California. Drive into the gas (petrol) station, maybe waiting a few minutes behind other cars lining (queuing) up, finally get to the pump and get out of the car (in Scotland, often in the rain and wind). Swipe your credit card – in CA punch in your zip code, in Scotland punch in your PIN number – choose the grade of fuel and begin pumping. If the windscreen is particularly dirty you might take the time to wash it with the squeegee and bubbly water on the forecourt. Never bother to check oil or water – you have to do that at home.

And air in the tires? Sure, if you want to check it yourself over there at the side of the station, but you need the correct coins. Air, in Scotland, comes at a price.

What I love about God is that I can slip into my prayer alcove, slump or lounge or sit up straight and ask him to simply, ‘fill ‘er up’. He just loves that, I think: for us to come to him with no prayer agenda, no particular requests, just to sit down and wait for him to speak to us – maybe through the Bible, maybe through our senses, imaginations, or a still small voice in our inner beings  - to refill our empty tanks, to clean the lenses of our vision, to fill us again with the breath of his Holy Spirit. 

Mindfulness has all the attention right now, being incorporated into school and work schedules, being touted by the rich and famous, but in fact, Christians have known about the benefits of individual time apart, in silence, waiting, for eons.

Don’t run on empty today. Ask the Lord to ‘fill ‘er up’.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Bless you!

Bless me!

A couple of years ago, we hosted a friend/colleague of Jamie’s, a young man from India named something like Sagai. He was a very pleasant young man. When we walked him out to the car in the morning to say our goodbyes, Sagai came over to me, bowed his head, and said, simply, ‘Bless me, Mother’. 

I was so taken aback by this that my mouth sort of dropped open (I imagine). I glanced at Jamie who nodded his head to encourage me to go for it. I put my hands on his head and prayed a blessing over him, but wished I’d had a little time to gather my thoughts before being invited to do such an important thing. 

When I’d finished, Sagai went to Don and repeated the action, bowing his head, and saying ‘Bless me, Father’. 

We live in a youth culture, where growing old is not valued. It strikes me that though I would say I’m not resisting growing older, I know that my self-image is of someone much younger than I am. So when I was asked to give a blessing, I felt like giggling – as if I were sort of fraudulently claiming a wisdom of years and even perhaps a stature which I hadn’t yet amassed nor earned.

And yet I have. I am older. I have had a lot of experience. I have learned one or two things during my lifetime and may have a few words of wisdom to impart. I certainly know God better now than I did in my youth, and believe that a blessing is more than just form. There is substance there. 

I just read the account in Genesis of Jacob wrestling all night with ‘a man’ who, he discovers at the end of the night, is God. His plea then is, ‘Bless me! Don’t go until you bless me!’

Jacob had fallen out with his brother Esau years before because Jacob had tricked the elder twin out of his father’s blessing. Twice. He’d got Esau to trade his birthright (blessing) for a plate of stew, and then when their dad was on his death bed, he pretended to be Esau in order to get their blind dad to give him the blessing.

He then had to flee his brother's wrath, and the story of him wrestling with God and asking for a blessing takes place the night before he returns home to try to make peace.

It’s all very strange. Why should the older boy get the whole blessing and there be none left for younger boys, or older or younger girls? A different day; a different culture. We’ve come a long way.

But not so far that the blessing of God is redundant. When somebody sneezes, many of us say ‘Bless you’, conveying a desire that the person gets well soon. When we write to others, or say our goodbyes, we say, ‘God bless you’. 

As I continue to grow older, as I will, I pray that I will step more surely into a sense of the gravitas of years, that I will convey more clearly my conviction that God’s blessing is something to be desired above all else, and that when someone says, God bless you, it is more than a kind wish. 

Jesus taught we should let our words be few. James wrote about how powerful words are, and that we should choose them carefully.

So now, I say to you, May the Lord bless and keep you. May he make his light to shine upon you. May he give you his peace, his understanding, and his encouragement, today and every day.

And to you, Joey, a special happy birthday. May you enjoy God’s favour in a special way today, reassuring you that you are a much-loved daughter of the King of Kings.

Monday, 24 February 2014


She’s getting old now and hasn’t ridden shotgun with me for some time. But tonight I had to pop down to the supermarket and invited her to come along for the ride.

When we reached the car, I realized Don had the back filled with packages ready to courier tomorrow, but there was space in the passenger seat. Not having the heart to disappoint my faithful friend, I opened the door and invited Dusty to jump in.

She didn’t need a second invitation. It was lovely having my old friend riding along next to me, despite the halitosis wafting my way as she fixed me with those intelligent eyes which make me wonder just how much she does understand.

Raising four children, for years I almost always had someone riding shotgun, but those days are gone. Dusty used to squirrel her way into the passenger seat any chance she got, but arthritis and age have made her content to lounge on the larger seat at the back.

Seasons. There is a time for everything, the writer in Ecclesiastes 3 tells us. 

A season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

A time to ride shotgun and a time to lounge on the back seat.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Black Affronted

The physio used the tips of her fingers to poke gently into the vertebrae. ‘Ouch!’ I moaned when a deep prod seemed to hit a nerve. She was in the middle of my back, and yet the pain which has dogged my existence throughout the last three weeks has been concentrated in the small of my back and below that. 

The pain was evident in a place quite separate from where the injury had occurred. The injury was in the middle of my back, in a vertebrae. The aching pain was in the small of my back, in a muscle. 

Referred pain, she called it.

It made me think of how wrong we humans are to take offense at each other. Someone says something which feels like a criticism, or even is a criticism, and we are affronted, ‘black affronted’ as they say here in the northeast of Scotland. We become defensive; our feelings are hurt; we are likely to think that whatever was said isn’t fair. 

The offensive remark, however, may have been birthed in a secret place, a place quite separate from the trigger for the sharp words. Something possibly even beyond the person’s conscious memory occasions an apparently unrelated reaction.

Referred pain.

We are all walking wounded. Some of us may nurse hurts, may rehearse grudges, may refuse to forgive. Others may not even remember past injuries which are, nevertheless, responsible for current impatience, shortness of temper, critical attitudes and sharp words.

We are all walking wounded.

Like a speaker I heard a year ago, I am going to make a determined effort never again to be affronted.