Bubbles….

Pic by Serge Melki via Wylio.

A few days ago I sat on a train out of London. Not an unusual occurrence as I have to travel to college each week, but this week I felt a little bit like I was viewing it with my eyes fully open. Because, I realised that we live in a world of bubbles, our own little bubbles.
Isolated. Behind glass. Exposed but Covered.

So, as I sat, reading my book, in my own personal little bubble, I was aware of a change of atmosphere around me. As I withdrew myself from the world of ’emotional fiction’, I could hear the dulcet tones of Whitney Houston somewhere behind me. Not unpleasant, I admit. Unusual maybe, and a bit tinny but not sufficiently annoying to react. However there was definite tension rising in those around me.

 

..oo0O0oo..

Passengers eyes started to catch across the carriage, a shared irritation, a knowing look, a raise of an eyebrow and their bubbles are suddenly burst.

‘Didn’t we almost have it all’ blares out across the worn, chewing gum stained seats. Then it stops and people breathe a visible sigh of relief.

..oo0O0oo..

Headphones, iPhones, laptops, tablets, we are isolating ourselves from the world around us and choosing to do it. Even now as I write this I’m on a train, on my ipad, I haven’t even looked at the chap next to me, or dared to say hello, or shock horror, ask his name!

 

..oo0O0oo..

The world flies by outside and our sterile bubbles of life move on. Are we sharing anything other than a carriage? I have a desire to scream at the top of my lungs or worse, instigate a game… Ha!

Whitney begins again, the same chorus, ‘didn’t we almost have it all…’
There is tutting and now turning of heads but the same line the same chorus keeps beginning and repeating like a surreal loop. I think the Whitney fan has not realised her headphones are not plugged in. She’d probably be mortified If she knew the whole carriage was hearing her personal, perhaps heart felt, music choice played over and over.

 

..oo0O0oo..

Who are these people, anyway, what are their lives I wonder?
Opposite me is a young guy, a student, clearly flirting with a disembodied voice as he chats into the tiny microphone hanging round his neck.  The voice, even aside from the obvious disembodiment, seems uninterested. I want to say to him, don’t waste your time mate, she’s clearly fobbing you off.

The pretty young Whitney fan, is still irritating half the carriage.

 

..oo0O0oo..

The annoyed suit across the aisle from me, what’s his story? Tutting at the Whitney fan, whilst himself committing the apparently cardinal sin of commuting (according to my friend Matt) eating his dinner on the train… Why is he heading home from work at 10 o clock at night? Why is he having to eat his dinner on the train? Is he lonely I wonder? Why is he cross? Has he had a bad day?

..oo0O0oo..

 

‘Didn’t we almost have it all….’ Did we? Did we almost have something here in this carriage, a moment of humanity? or am I just being overly romantic?!

 

..oo0O0oo..

Then, Sebastian appears. He is stood almost intimately close to me, just a few inches away, I can see the stubble on his chin, the few hairs that have fallen on his collar, the rings under his bored eyes. It should be too close, too intimate, except that we are separated by a sheet of glass. He doesn’t even look at me but stares vacantly down the platform as he blows his whistle and we slide quietly on down the tracks.

 

..oo0O0oo..

Whitney is still warbling, and I share a knowing grin and a raise of an eyebrow with a woman opposite, but I think we are both amused more by the angry suit that the volume of the music. In an instant I am connected with someone else on this train, we shared something more than the experience of train travel with Whitney Houston. We shared an emotion, a response.

 

..oo0O0oo..

And then the bubbles begin to form again. I stare out the window, into the darkness of night punctuated by the blur of a street lamp or a car headlight as we zoom past. Back to our lives, back to the bubbles, nothing more is shared…

..oo0O0oo..

 

Peace

I woke up this morning feeling rather sorry for myself. I have back problems which have been playing up and was up most of last night either coughing or with back pain. Yesterday I had decided to ‘claim back my health’! having not been running for 3 weeks with the back problems, but when I woke up today it was clear I wasn’t going running at all. So I was grumpy I’ll admit…

Anyway I thought well if nothing else I’ll go for a walk, and get all this feeling sorry for myself rubbish, off my chest. I have to admit I was holding back tears on the school run. I really was full of self-pity. Oh woe is me, never mind the hideous things other people are having to deal with. So I thought, I’ll get up on the downs, have a rant at God, get the tears out and hopefully feel a bit better.

Well I love how God has other plans.

I got out of my car on top of the South Downs and the moment I stepped out, it was like breathing in God’s peace. The tears that had been threatening to fall just weren’t there and the self-pitying anger blew away on the wind.

I didn’t walk far, can’t really at the mo, but what I did felt so blissfully peaceful. I started to pray, thinking, right I need to empty my head of all this crap, and I was like, ‘God I can’t even remember what I was going to say to you’, it was as if I had forgotten the frustration and pain, the self pity and anger. Instead I just marvelled at his amazing creation, which for an hour I had all to myself (save several hundred sheep!).

..oo0O0oo..

Beautiful sunshine, the wonder of new life with lambs running around everywhere, the most amazing display of yellow hammers (birds) singing and playing in the gorse, the ebb and flow of the downs themselves, the wonderful colours of the landscape, and the quiet. It was so quiet.

 

..oo0O0oo..

So, 10am and I feel like a completely different person to the one I was a few hours ago, and I didn’t even pray! It was like God saw the thoughts in my head and answered them before I voiced a single one. God is good :)

.

Using the Internet as a Spiritual Practice

Photo by James Cridland, via Wylio

So, this is a subject I am researching for a #VicarSchool essay – arguing for the Christian Practice of internet use, and I would love to get others thoughts on this. What’s the point in quoting loads of academics?! (well there isn’t that much written about it so it wouldn’t be loads anyway…!) But… instead of quoting them I would like to be able to quote normal Christians using the internet on a daily basis.

So if you feel so inclined and would be up for answering some questions, how about any, or all, of these:

: How does your faith inform your use of the internet (if at all?)

: If a Christian Practice is something that enables God to be made known to us, or to be experienced by us, how is God apparent to you through being online?

: Do you feel that your faith/spirituality has been affected by using the internet, and if so in what ways?

Feel free to comment below or drop me a message here or via Twitter @redjules

Any thoughts and comments would be very gratefully received, Thank you :)

Some musings on ‘A Lot Like Eve’ by Joanna Jepson

Note the PJ’s, this is a bedtime reading photo

This post started out as a book review, but it has rapidly become a bit of a therapy session to be honest. So, it might give you a flavour of the book, but also some of my own random thoughts!

‘A Lot Like Eve’ has been on my Amazon wish list since it came out a few months ago, that is until my dad arrived one day and presented me with a copy, just as I was going off for a study week. He said ‘I thought this might be appropriate for you and the things you might come across’, or something like that. I wasn’t quite sure what he meant by that but I do bear some similarity to Joanna in that I’m a woman who’s currently training for ordained ministry in the C of E. Unlike her I did not have faith thrust upon me, although my family were church-goers. But I still grew up with a lot of questions about faith that I don’t think were really answered until my 30s, and of course there are plenty more still left unanswered.

Jepson opens with a paraphrased version of the creation of human beings from Genesis which sets the scene for the book. As a woman, I don’t think you can be a Christian without questioning at some point the place of women, our role, and indeed words such as submission, headship and so on. Makes me wonder if there is an equivalent for men? Do men ever feel the need to question whether they should lay down their life for their wives? Or wonder whether God is in fact a woman? I’m going off point, but I love how Jepson confronts so many of the in-built fears and questions that Christian women grow up with.

She grew up with a facial deformity that affected her life enormously until she had surgery to correct it. I did not of course have the kind of deformity that Jepson did, and I don’t wish to belittle it by comparing with my own more trivial issues of growing up. But, as a child I was the ginger kid, with freckles. I got called every name you can imagine, and it didn’t help that my mum was a teacher at almost every school I attended. I grew up with self esteem issues and I’m pretty sure I didn’t really know what friendship was until I was about 20… The way Jepson talks so openly and honestly about the comments she had hurled at her, the exclusion, the hurtful, hateful behaviour, I can, to some small extent relate to. As I’m sure can many women, because she writes in a way that makes you feel included, and not that she is ‘the only one here suffering’.

She talks of the battle with fear, shame, blame, and relating to Eve within that. The need to cover up, the need to hide, to protect oneself, I recognise these in myself even now. Even as a confident adult, no longer the shy ginger kid, I still prefer to wear my hair down, almost like it’s some kind of safety blanket.

Am I trying to ‘claw my way back into Eden’ too (her phrase) I ask myself? Am I trying to work my way in? Although to some extent that is exactly what we’re all doing, waiting for Eden. Waiting for that moment of ‘blissful mutuality’ where we get to once again be with God, dwell with him, on his territory. But of course we don’t need to claw our way, in the invitation is there for all of us…

The realisation that we are ‘exiles from Eden’ as Jepson phrases it, makes so much sense to me, I often feel like an exile, a fish out of water, like I don’t quite belong. Gosh, don’t get me wrong, I’m not going all ‘woe is me’ here, but it just kind of makes sense, this, earth, is a temporary home after all and that’s sort of comforting. But it also makes me realise how alien that concept is to so many, where to them, this life is all that counts…

Of course I also identify with her journey to Ordination, and the ridiculous things people will say to you as: A WOMAN. Shock horror. There are those who would rather poke themselves in the eye than admit women might actually be suited for church leadership, or peddle the ridiculous ‘truth’ that women can only be saved through childbirth (as Jepson herself came across), or that women who ask questions are ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’. Well, I guess I must be both… Male theologians have a lot to answer for I tell you… Thankfully I’ve been protected from a lot of that by being in a church where women are welcomed and embraced in leadership and with a Vicar who is incredibly supportive. But those attitudes are still out there in force, and that worries me. What we are teaching our girls? It’s not just about theology, it’s about their future, their identity, their purpose, their God given talents.

I love that Jepson doesn’t go off on a self pity party, she reveals her story (including the hideous surgery she underwent) with honesty and openness but without making the reader feel sorry for her. It’s quite refreshing to read a story like hers without that whole sob story aspect. And clearly she went through some tough stuff, a sob story would have been quite understandable!

But hers is a story that is so much more than ‘the ugly duckling becoming a swan’, it’s more than a coming of age story, or leaving home for uni; this is a story about a young woman finding her true place in God’s eyes. Making sense of a God she wasn’t sure she really knew, and the church that told such conflicting truths…

I loved this book and devoured it in 2 days. The church is full of people with ‘real’ stories, the truths behind the dog collar, behind the robes, or just behind the jeans (let’s not go too far with that analogy). If only more people would tell their stories like Jepson, we’d be a better, more compassionate and understanding church.

Psalm 48 // Prayer Doodling

So it’s been a while since I uploaded a video and this time I thought I’d do something a bit different. As part of my module on Spirituality for #VicarSchool, I’ve been praying through the Psalms for a few months, and going back to my creative roots I’ve been doodling through a few of them. Having not done much anything much creative for a while I have loved doing this and it has really helped me to focus on particular parts of each Psalm. I’ve felt while doing it, that even the doodling in itself is a prayer, or an offering to God.

So, I usually start by just writing down whatever words or phrases stand out to me from the Psalm or passage I am looking it, then add to it as I feel led. Sometimes they come out looking great and I’ve tweeted a few, other times they look a bit of a mess but I don’t really mind about that because I’m not creating a word of art but a work of praise…

So here’s a little vid of this mornings efforts from Psalm 48… (apologies for getting my hair in the way frequently!)

Holy Saturday

A little late, but over Easter weekend we held an event at our church called ‘The Altar’. It was part of 24 hours of worship as we ran into the Easter morning service. For once I wasn’t involved in the organising as I was off to my study week the day after, which meant I could experience it without any worries about what was going on, what I needed to be doing, and whether everything was under control – that was someone else’s concern!

My lovely husband leading some worship…

I know that many people were impacted that day just by being in the presence of God, me being one of them. The following is what I wrote in my journal…

Have just walked into a room FILLED with the presence of God.
Shivers.
He is with me.
I am undone…

Without you there is nothing.

Beyond comprehension.
ADORATION.

I give you all that I am. The little that is. I am so unworthy. In the face of WHO YOU ARE and what you have done for me, WHO am I?

HOLY

AWESOME

I NEED YOU

Let me soak you up. be filled. For you are GOD. You are GOD!! What does that even mean?
How can it be possible that you would meet with me?

Holy Saturday. What must it have been like? A world without you?
Darkness. fear. suffering. hopelessness. What did it feel like?
The pain
Utter hopelessness
did it feel dark? where was the light?

I can’t begin to imagine.

Life without YOU?
I wish I could help people understand that a life without you is empty. It might not even feel it, but when you’ve experienced life WITH God, you never want to go back…

In your presence I am made whole….

Canterbury #VicarSchool

This really has been an amazing week at Vicar school, and not yet finished. Such a privilege to be at a college that means we get to be here at the ‘Mother Church’ of the entire Anglican communion (that’s all the Anglican churches across the world). Still processing, more blogposts to follow, but here’s some snapshots of it…

Cathedral Crypt, stunning light…

Lying on the floor, explanation to follow! #Perspective

Stunning Sculpture in the crypt
Taize worship by candlelight
Dawn…

Candlelit Pilgrimage in Canterbury Cathedral

So this week I am away for a week studying, as it’s our annual
residential week, which, to be honest, is always slightly daunting. This year it has come
right after Easter – I got home from church on Easter Sunday, grabbed some
lunch and then was off. So, not only are we away for a week but most of us are
exhausted before we start! My plan for self-preservation was to do only what
was absolutely essential.
However
a few nights ago I was persuaded to join friends at a candlelit pilgrimage of
Canterbury Cathedral and boy am I glad I went.  It was just stunning…
After
hours, at 8.30pm, we were let into a very dark and empty cathedral. The bustle of the endless tourists and backpacks was gone and in it’s place was a holiness
reflected in the silence and dusty air. The
lights were off with just the odd candle or spotlight to light our path around this great building. The
orange glow from the floodlights outside dappled through the leaded lights onto those majestic giant legs of pillars. I
didn’t even want to breathe…
One
of the first things we were encouraged to do was to touch the building, to be
in contact with it. I lay on the floor (how great is that in itself – when
would you get to lie on the floor of a cathedral, and no chairs out either, and to
marvel at its majesty, in utter silence?) I was almost overcome with the size of the
building. It made me think of the tower of Babel where people wanted to reach
to heaven by their own handiwork, but here was a building so majestic, yet
built for the glory of God. My smallness against these huge pillars stretching
heavenward was so apparent, I felt in awe and wonder of God’s majesty.

..o0O0o…
As
we moved on we lit candles to carry with us and my eyes were drawn up to the
bell tower where the white light of the floodlights outside, strained through the windows, falling like gigantic angel wings gracing the tower,
protecting it, and joining with us in our pilgrimage giving glory to the
Father. 

It was mesmerising.
I stood with my eyes drawn heavenward, only being
drawn back to earthly joys by the voice of our guide moving us on.

..o0O0o…
As
we moved through the tunnel thousands of pilgrims have walked before, we joined
with the songs of ghosts past, simple taize chants, enlivened by the harmonies
of a few of our number, our voices rising and resonating as if joined by the
tower angels. I held my breath savouring the moment, not wanting it to end.
But
all too quickly we arrived at the altar of Thomas a Becket and were hit by the
stark reality that a life that unwaveringly followed Jesus, was before us. Becket
reportedly refused to lock the cathedral doors, despite knowing his pursuers
had murder in their hearts, believing the church should be open to all.
(just, wow)

The
modern sculpture that graces the place of his death is hideous. But only
because you cannot look at it without being aware of the violence that took
place here. In a funny way it is also beautiful and lit by one spotlight and our
candles, we saw it as many don’t, the jagged edges of swords highlighted in the
shadows cast on the pale stone behind, evoking thoughts of anger. and blood. and viciousness. and power. and hate.

As
I gazed on this monstrosity and embraced the thoughts it evoked, I looked down
to see my candle casting the sign of the cross across the floor.
No
words…
…o0O0o…
Later
we stood and pondered the words, ‘be still and know that I am God’. If ever
there were a place that exuded that verse it was here, and now. We were still. We
were quiet. We prayed. We thought. We marveled. How could I not know that he is truly God…?
…o0O0o…
Even
as I type I feel tears pricking my eyes. It’s been a full on week and perhaps
the tiredness and emotions were running high but there is something about this
place. I have visited several times before and each time been hit with another
spirit-filled moment. Even for a raving charismatic like me, this place:
celebrated in, worshipped in, site of pilgrimage, prayer enabler, mirror of
majesty, inviter of wonder; is simply, like no other…
Our
guide reminded us that pilgrims came, come still, as this is the ‘Mother
Church’. 
Of course! It all makes sense, this is the spiritual home, on this earth
anyway, of so many, for thousands, if not millions of Anglicans around the world.
And come they do, in their thousands each year, and I know why. It feels like
walking into an architectural womb (ok sorry if I’m going off on one here…) and
yet at the same time invites you to fall to your knees and marvel in the glory
of God. 
To just be still and know that he, HE, above all else, IS GOD…

3 min sermon of the Feeding of the 5000

This week at Vicar School we had to present a 3 minute sermon – harder than you think and has inspired some thinking on preaching which will undoubtedly follow on the blog…!
Anyway this was mine…

John 6.1-15 // Feeding of 5000 // 3 min sermon

One thing I have been guilty of (amongst many things I am sure) is feeling too busy, of not having enough time. And God has been speaking to me about that recently and in fact has shown me in quite amazing ways that if I just focus on him, there will be more than enough time. So I’m going to start with a little story about that…
A few weeks ago I had a last minute deadline to meet for work, a grant bid that had to be completed and submitted by the next morning. And for various reasons I had neglected some rather key parts of this.  I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t give this much thought, or prayer, I just assumed this would be an all-nighter (and I’m sure as students with essay deadlines we’ve had a few of those right?), it was the school hols, the kids were at home, there was no way I was going to get this done. But by complete chance (HA!) I had an hour without the kids, just enough to get started on it all. But as God had been speaking to me about time, I just prayed, Lord this is your time, I just give it all to you, I can only do what I can do.
Well, all I can tell you is that just over an hour later, the entire thing was finished, grant bid, all the key parts, financial projection, all of it. Finished just as the kids, came to find me. It was nothing short of a miracle. Because God simply multiplied that time. He took what I gave him and increased it, and not just a little bit but in abundance.
And that’s what we see in the story of the feeding of the 5000. God – Jesus –  multiplying the little that was given to him, in abundance.
But I think what this passage shows us, is that we have a choice. We can focus on the problem or we can focus on God and his answer to the problem.
We see, don’t we, the disciples focussing on the problem and not the answer, asking of the little they have: ‘but how far will they go among so many?’
and we see just how far: Jesus multiplies what little they bring and provides food for everyone.
Not only that, he didn’t just feed them, he didn’t just give them enough, he fed them ‘as much as they wanted’ it says, and even then there was masses left over.
Because he is a God of ‘more than enough’, a God of absolute plenty and abundance. There is always more.
So what does that mean for us now? 2 things I want you to take away:
1) the bible tells us we carry the spirit of God within us – God multiplied, spiritually, though us. There is enough of him for everyone. And not just enough but an abundance, including the leftovers if you like.
2) whatever we bring, he can multiply.
If we bring a mustard seed of faith, he grows it; if we bring weakness he makes us strong; if we bring a talent, he increases it; if we bring time as I have seen for myself, he makes us more efficient (WAY more efficient!)
So today, I encourage you to just give to God what you have, however little or large, and ask him to multiply it.
Let’s believe in a God of abundance!

Amen.