Archive for ‘Christianity’

May 13, 2016

Meditation: Jesus calms the storm

 

 

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Glendalough, Co. Wicklow (April 2016)

As part of our school’s “Mental Health Week”, I did a meditation in the morning Chapel Service. It’s based on the wonderful account written in Mark 4:35-41.

 

It’s been a really long and tiring day, a day where so many thousands of people were surrounding Jesus. It was wonderful to see Him heal so many of them, and in between to teach such beautiful parables. But everyone is really tired. Jesus knows this and he calls out: “Come on let’s go down to the beach, let’s get into the boat and cross over to the other side of the Lake”. As he leads, you walk along with the group behind him … he walks down the hill towards the shore, the dustiness of the bare earth turns to sandy gravel, which crunches beneath your feet. You notice the sun getting low in the sky, casting an orange glow across the water. As you walk along the shoreline, the cool water washes against your sore feet. Peter is there by the boat, holding onto the rope, as one by one, the disciples get in … and now you get in. As you put a hand down on the side of the boat you notice the smoothness of the well-worn wood under your palm. Jesus climbs in just behind you. Peter casts off the rope and the boat drifts away from the shore. Peter skillfully spins the boat around and you head out into the deeper water. In the gathering gloom you can just about make out a few dim lights and some smoke from fires far away along the shore. But ahead is just too dark to see.

Everyone is settled into the boat, there’s not much conversation as you and the others are just so tired. As night falls, you notice the breeze getting stronger and the boat starting to rock a little as you continue to head towards the centre of the lake… You drift into a daydream remembering the faces of all the people who came to Jesus today. There’s just something about Him…

Suddenly, shockingly, things become scary. The waves are huge and the boat is being swamped. Peter, James and John are desperately trying to tie up the sail as it flaps about uncontrollably. Before anyone has realised what is happening you are suddenly in the middle of a violent, lethal storm. The water is filling the boat and you join in with the others trying to bail, but it’s no use. The wind is so loud but you just about hear Peter shouting to hold on tight to the ropes around the edge of the boat. But even as he shouts you see the fear in the eyes of this experienced fisherman. But it’s not just Peter, everyone is terrified. No one has ever seen a storm like this before, there is something primeval, something supernatural about its ferocity. Suddenly you remember Jesus, you don’t know why you didn’t think of Him before. You look about and you can’t believe what you are seeing. Everyone is terrified and thinks they are about to be thrown into the chaos of the deep and there is Jesus, asleep! His head resting on a cushion with a serenity that seems totally misplaced. Stunned, you shout out from the depths of your being, “Jesus, Jesus, wake up, don’t you care about us, we’re going to drown!” The others look at you and then at Jesus, you think maybe You said too much, but this is serious. Jesus slowly wakes up and looks around him and he seems surprised by our fear. He stands up in a way that he seems to hardly notice the boat rocking violently about. He looks at you and says in a voice that although quiet, can be heard easily and says “Why are you afraid, when are you going to get some faith?” Then he looks about at the others too, none of us can look Him in the eye, we all know that we doubted Him. Then in a way that seems so normal, so natural he shouts out, his voice has a power, a resonance that is at once the most beautiful and most terrifying voice you have ever heard. “Peace, … Be still!”… Like someone closing a door the wind immediately stops. The waves take a few moments longer, but soon you notice a peace and tranquility that would have seemed impossible just a few moments before.

You become aware that this is more than just a physical stillness, it is a peace that is beyond the natural. It is not just the water and the air that are now still. You feel a deep-down stillness within yourself also… As Jesus looks at you, you know that His peace will remain, so that no matter what will ever happen in your life, no matter what storms lie ahead, you will always be able to remember that peace you feel inside right now, the day that Jesus calmed the storm. In the very depth of your being, you know that His peace will carry you through anything because you now know that Jesus will always, always be there … Amen.

 

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April 1, 2016

Newgrange 

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It is a remarkable place. Five thousand years ago the mysterious people who lived in the Boyne Valley created one of the marvels of the ancient world. They assembled an immense and sophisticated structure to try and make sense of the conundrum of life and death and to fill the blackest of all voids with some semblance of meaning. 

Breathtaking. Imagine standing deep inside the womb-like darkness at the centre of the tomb just before 9.00 am on the 21st December, the Winter Solstice. From the East, as the Sun emerges over the hills beyond comes a shard of warm morning light, it slowly makes its way along the floor of the passageway, finally alighting on a special stone upon which human ashes were once carefully placed. The gap between life and death, light and dark, this world and the Other must have seemed gossamer thin…

But the moment didn’t last, it was just an illusion, frustrating in its brevity, a tantalising mirage of what seemed forever beyond reach…

Some words of Jesus kept coming to my mind as we walked around:

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

And Isaiah:

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. 

In Christ the light is not infrequent, obscure or hidden away for the chosen few, but for all people everywhere…

In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:4)

May 23, 2015

A lesson from an old Willow tree.

Last week I was invited to a retreat day in Coolkelure church, near Dunmanway. Bishop Richard Henderson spoke to us about the prophet Jonah and, as always, what he had to say was inspired and truly excellent. With great skill and infectious enthusiasm, he brought the ancient text to life and it was a joy to be there, to listen and to learn.

One of the things he mentioned in an offhand way was the old Willow tree in the north-west corner of the churchyard. It had sustained quite a lot of damage in a storm, (perhaps during the gale on February 12th last year). In the photo (taken with my phone) above, you can just about see the split in the upper part of the trunk.

Yet since and even because of this catastrophe, recovery and new growth has begun.

We too might suffer something so catastrophic and life changing that we are tempted to lose all hope. Yet as the tree continues to draw water and nutrients from the soil and absorb light from the Sun, so we can continue to receive from the Lord. He will relentlessly work to reshape, rebuild and restore every broken heart and every shattered life of all who will come to Him.

April 15, 2015

Good soil

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Earlier this morning while taking the dog for a walk, something about the field behind our house made me want to go and have a closer look. The sun, still at a low angle was shining across the soil, highlighting the long furrows created by the ploughing that took place yesterday.

There was an almost palpable sense of expectation coming from the ground, a sense of readiness and anticipation. Soon the crop will be planted and growth will begin.

Jesus’ story about a sower sowing seeds provides a wonderful description of those who allow his words to take root in the fertile and receptive soil of their minds:

“… And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”

Mark 4:8

How good and receptive is our soil? Perhaps a bit of weeding is needed, perhaps there are some rocks to be cleared away!

April 5, 2015

Easter Day

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Risen from the Dead

After the Sabbath, as the first light of the new week dawned, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to keep vigil at the tomb. Suddenly the earth reeled and rocked under their feet as God’s angel came down from heaven, came right up to where they were standing. He rolled back the stone and then sat on it. Shafts of lightning blazed from him. His garments shimmered snow-white. The guards at the tomb were scared to death. They were so frightened, they couldn’t move.

The angel spoke to the women: “There is nothing to fear here. I know you’re looking for Jesus, the One they nailed to the cross. He is not here. He was raised, just as he said. Come and look at the place where he was placed.

“Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there.’ That’s the message.”

The women, deep in wonder and full of joy, lost no time in leaving the tomb. They ran to tell the disciples. Then Jesus met them, stopping them in their tracks. “Good morning!” he said. They fell to their knees, embraced his feet, and worshiped him. Jesus said, “You’re holding on to me for dear life! Don’t be frightened like that. Go tell my brothers that they are to go to Galilee, and that I’ll meet them there.”

Matthew 28:1-10 (The Message)

April 3, 2015

Good Friday

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(Photo of the recent Solar Eclipse)

The Death of Jesus

It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.

Luke 23:44-49 (ESV)


February 16, 2015

Contentment

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We have some new neighbours in the field opposite us. One evening we went over to say ‘hello’ and we came across them looking towards the horizon where the sun was setting. Soon the lambs will arrive and all will be joyful chaos, but in the meantime there is peace and contentment…

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.

(Psalm 23:1-3a)

February 5, 2015

Earth’s shadow

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At the moment I am reading Timothy Keller’s “Prayer, Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God” and I am finding it a great read. A quote quite early on in the book from Flannery O’Connor, beautifully describes the sense of the struggle and frustration that so many of us have with putting God first above all:

Dear God, I cannot love Thee the way I want to. You are the slim crescent of a moon that I see and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon … what I am afraid of, dear God, is that my self shadow will grow so large that it blocks the whole moon, and that I will judge myself by the shadow that is nothing. I do not know You God because I am in the way.

The implication is that a major aspect of learning to pray (and therefore growing  in our relationship with God) is to not to let ourselves, or rather our ego get in the way. As John the Baptist said of the Lord Jesus:

“… He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Of course this is easier said than done!

December 16, 2014

When God comes near

I came across this painting in the Chapel of one of the local nursing homes. As I saw it from a distance, at first I thought the foreground was the rolling waves of a tumultuous sea at night. I felt drawn in to the scene and as I got closer I saw the snowy landscape and that what I had originally thought to be the moon, was of course a star, and not just any old star, but The Star of Christmas.  The star is small and right on the edge of the picture but nevertheless it casts significant light on the mid and far distance, even if the way immediately in front of us (as we look at the scene) is still in darkness.

There is much here to meditate upon (whoever decided to hang this painting in the chapel knew what they were up to). In this season of Advent we are reminded that God comes near, very near and yet He is hidden also. We are called to seek Him and to find Him in unexpected places and in the lives of unexpected people. This is the season where darkness gives way to Light, where sin gives way to the Saviour and where death is overcomes by New Birth. Come O come Emmanuel, God is with us!

Postscript:
We have been greatly enjoying the Advent series of videos produced by 24-7 Prayer called “When God comes near” (the inspiration for the title of this blog post). Here is the link, they really are well worth watching.

October 24, 2014

The wind blows where it wishes…

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The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(John 3:8)

A low, beautiful, sharp and bright autumn light was shining through the leaves of this Japanese Maple.  The dark red of the leaves contrasted wonderfully with the clear azure sky.  I had a photo in mind of the leaves against the sky, showing lots of detail and texture, enhanced by the light shining through from behind.  However it was very windy and even using a fast shutter speed didn’t enable me to get the shot I was looking for, so I tried a different approach.  I dropped the shutter speed down to 1/45 sec to show the motion of the wind, as leaves and branches were buffeted to and fro.  I was quite happy with the result, a static picture, but showing lots of motion…

It reminded me of the Bible verse above, where the Lord Jesus talks about the Holy Spirit.  I like the way that in the original languages of the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) the words for wind and Spirit are the same.  The unpredictability of the wind blowing through this tree was a reminder to me that God often works in ways we cannot always predict or understand, but nevertheless we can always trust Him because He loves us beyond all measure…