The Well of The North Wind by Kenneth Steven // Book Review


well-of-the-north-wind-FCI’m a visual type so when I read a book I love to be able to imagine the scenes, the dialogue and the people, in my mind. Kenneth Stevens book ‘The Well of the North Wind’, sent to me to review by the lovely people at SPCK, is perfect for that! As well as novels Kenneth writes poetry and this book is almost a mixture of the two, with beautiful lyrical lines that just let your imagination run wild. Like this:

‘He walked slowly over the mossy grass and the bed of a small stream, up over the rise of a last hill and down onto a beach. A rubble of boulders first, then round stones as big as a fist, before smaller pebbles once more. The wind full in his face and the sea coming in like great white dogs, leaping and playing and breaking…’

I love his style, I can imagine myself there on that beach, smelling the salty air and feeling the spray. It’s the kind of book you can sink into and just drift away into another world.

So what’s the story all about? Well set in the 6th Century, in the last days of Saint Columba, it follows the life of Fian, a young boy who is adopted by Monks on the West Coast of Ireland, after he is seen drawing in the sand on the beach. He is trained by the soft and Fatherly Monk, Innis, to draw in the style and language of the Book of Kells. (The book of Kells is a 6th Century manuscript, thought to be one of the finest of it’s style featuring beautiful hand drawn illustrations and calligraphy) such as this:kells

From there Fian is taken to the island of Iona to work on the book itself under the careful eye of Colum (Columba). This is the moment he sees the book for the first time.

‘ They climbed the stone steps and he heard the wind raging at the tower. It seemed to shake as they went higher, as they curled the spiral towards a top they never seemed to reach. They said nothing; his mouth was filled with questions but always they fell to dust…

They stood over him, watching not the page but rather him. It was beautiful. What more could be said or thought? It was all he had dreamed of seeing, since the days his hand learned to draw in the sand of home, since first he heard tell of books like this.’

We follow Fian’s journey with the book, but also spiritually as he explores who God is in his own life. Whilst living with the monks he is immersed in their culture he never quite becomes one of them. We see him grow up, become captivated by a local girl and the story develops as his life continues a mixture of spirituality, creativity and love.

This is a beautiful and captivating story set amidst holiness and wonder, moss and heather. If you are a bit of a romantic, into spirituality, are a creative sort, or just fancy something a bit different, then this book is for you!

Photo from my friend Tina Dray

Photo from my friend Tina Dray

 

Joy // Guest Post from Dave Lucas

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This is the next instalment in a year of guest posts on Joy as part of my year of focussing on joy (my word for the year). This month we have Dave Lucas from organisation ‘Disability and Jesus’ guest posting. To find out more about the organisation, see their website here.

 

 

Five in the morning is not a time that most people associate with joy but in our household that is the time my guide dog Jarvis bounds in to our bedroom with whatever happens to be his favourite toy of the moment. It’s a real joy for me because being a guide dog owner is the single most transformative experience of my life. When I got the news of my sight loss back in 1987 I was full of rage, I had to stop driving which meant the end of my career, my life was turned upside down over night.

My chosen way of handling the news was to put my fingers in my ears and tell the whole world to “F Off”! This became my default position for more than ten years, simply refusing to face the issue and running away. During this period I developed lots of techniques to hide the severity of my sight loss. I would listen to the news on the radio but buy a newspaper and pretend to read it, I would memorise phone numbers so I didn’t have to look them up – at one time I sat down with a friend who didn’t think this was possible and wrote a list of over 300 phone numbers!

By the year 2000 things were so bad I could no longer hide it, I was crashing in to things and people, I could not walk in a straight line, I knew the game was up and something had to be done. When someone suggested a guide dog I was furious, a guide dog would be a big badge that told the whole world I had a problem, this was not cool, not cool at all.

In the meantime I was involved in the world of Celtic Christianity as part of the music team with the Northumbria Community. After many tantrums and a few tears ‘Guide Dogs’ managed to persuade me to be matched with a dog. Now here comes the good bit, they brought this eighteen month old black lab retriever, “this is Abbot” they said. I remember looking up and saying to myself “OK God, I get it”. The idea of me, a Celtic Christian, a new monastic being led by an abbot tickled me greatly! Abbot and I qualified on December the eighteenth 2001, and that was the Christmas filled with the most joy I’d had since as a kid I came downstairs to find a shiny new train set. Abbot gave me my life back, I found a new career, did an MA, moved house, started a business, all this in the eight years Abbot and I worked together – as one friend put it “he gave me my life back”.

In 2010 Abbot retired and along came Jarvis, Abbot lived on in a happy retirement with us until August 2015 but I feel his presence with me always. Jarvis is a totally different dog but equally fab and this is a great new chapter…

 

Dave Lucas

 

David Lucas is proud owner of guide dog Jarvis, he is an access auditor and low vision awareness trainer and co-founder of Disability and Jesus. Here he is with Jarvis.

Praying for Parliament

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So here’s a question: when was the last time you prayed for your MP? Got to be honest, for me it was about 5 years ago when we did an event to which he came. Never really occurred to me to pray for him regularly or at all.

However I have been thinking a lot in recent years about how or if faith, or prayer specifically, has any impact on politics on this country or whether people like Chaplain to the speaker, Rose Hudson Wilkin, are able to impact or influence those in power. I have a friend whose husband, years ago, started off ‘prayer for parliament’ – a group of people meeting with Christian MPs and praying for them and for the politics of the nation. She invited me to go along and finally after two years, today we had a date when I could go! And I certainly got my answer: yes it does make a difference. MP Jeffrey Donaldson started off by telling us how grateful he and others were for our prayers, how it really did make a difference and that they really felt covered by them. One of the cards I picked up says this:

‘Through your prayers we can help to shape the decisions and attitudes of the government. It can be done but it needs dedicated intercessors to achieve this…’

 

I discovered that people actually meet to pray every week, to pray for parliament and the nation; and they meet in the Houses of Parliament every month to do the same. The service I went to today was an annual service held in St Mary Undercroft Chapel. I wasn’t sure what to expect, perhaps a small group of people, some hymns, maybe a sermon. Well it was far more than that. And it all started when I walked down a small winding staircase, an almost hidden entrance off Westminster Hall, turned a corner and walked into the most beautiful chapel I have ever seen. It was completed in 1297, with further work in later years and originally was used by the household of the royal family to worship, whilst the royals themselves worshipped upstairs in St Stephen’s Chapel (since destroyed). The crypt chapel, as it is informally known, was heavily restored in the 1860s by Edward Barry and it is his hand of decoration that can be seen today, and it is quite simply stunning. I actually did a comedy jaw drop when I walked in (unintentionally obvs!). 

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But it was far more than the decoration that impacted me. As we began to sing ‘Hosanna (Praise is Rising)’  the hair on my arms rose and I literally felt the presence of God fall on us all. It was some of the most uplifting and powerful worship I have ever felt. I just imagined the wonderful sound of it wafting up the winding staircase and into the great Westminster Hall, through into the lobbies and ‘corridors of power’. It was so loud, so powerful, so stunningly filled with harmonies, that even with thick stone walls, I am sure that it drifted far into the great building above us.

And with it I imagined the spirit of God drifting too, reaching into people, into their hearts and minds, impacting them with the kingdom of God. It was such a powerful, and I think prophetic, picture of what was happening and happens regularly there when people pray.

Was it the faith of those gathered that made it so special? the presence of dignitaries? the talented worship leader? Well, possibly but more, I think there was something so vital about gathering in a place where there is so much secular power. A tiny little beacon of the kingdom tucked away under the building, under all that power, that chapel represented to me today all the beauty of the kingdom of God, all the power of God himself, and all the possibility of what can be achieved in his name for his kingdom. It was like the very foundations of that building today, were formed in worship and prayer.

Today we prayed together, we prayed individually and with our neighbours. We prayed for parliament, for our own MPs, for those MPs present, for decisions and discussions, for wisdom, strength and more. And today, more than ever, I realised the importance of doing so. So if you don’t or haven’t, then get praying for your MP, for our leaders, for our nation. Because if we don’t who will?

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Chronic pain or lingering blessing?

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!

This was me post-op, listening to an 8 hour long worship playlist which got me through!


So most of you know I had surgery on my back last summer. I had a prolapsed disk which was pretty big and really flippin’ painful. It meant 3 months off work, ongoing physio, giving up my beloved running (hopefully temporarily) and a lot of bed rest.

However, you might also know that this time was a total blessing, I’ve written about it before and how I wouldn’t change the experience as it was just a wonderful time with God.

Anyway now here I am, 8 months on and still living with some pain. I’m not going to go into the boring medical details but basically it is just taking a long time to heal, plus I have another dodgy disk. It’s not terrible pain, I’ve still got my pharmacy of painkillers ready and waiting if needed but largely the hard stuff isn’t needed. I saw a physio last week for some ongoing advice and she described what I was suffering from as ‘chronic pain’. I did not like this phrase at all. It suggests to me something that isn’t going away and whilst she did talk about trying to be pain free (and I’m trying some new stuff) there was an element of ‘managing’ the pain. I don’t know why this phrase offends me so much, after all it is chronic, it’s on-going and has been for a while, I guess it’s the naming of it that I find hard. I don’t want to be someone who has ‘chronic pain’ it sounds so terrible, so final, so debilitating… so… weak. I can’t handle being weak…

So in recent weeks I’ve been anxious about the pain and worrying about whether it might get worse, or if the same thing happen again. I’ve  been cross and grumpy, cried a fair amount and yes I’ve prayed a bit too, or if I’m honest, more like moaned at God like some whiny teenager…

Then this morning I was chatting to someone about it all and as we were then praying I really felt a bit of a correction from God. Well quite a big one actually. I had just been saying how I wouldn’t change the whole experience for anything, how it was a complete blessing and had changed my faith as a result of it all, and God was like, ‘oh, really? But I thought you said you wanted this pain to go ?’. All of a sudden I realised actually I had disassociated the pain I am feeling now with that ‘experience’ from last summer. I was just being grumpy about it and not recognising that actually without it, I wouldn’t have had that time with him, it’s all part of the same thing. Does that make sense? I’ve basically been a total hypocrite saying yes it was amazing, I wouldn’t change it and then on the other hand whinging about the pain and wishing it gone!

 Have I actually been asking God to change it, after all? Do I really wish that time away?

Under his wings

This scripture was one that really kept me going…

No! Of course not, and in fact the experience is continuing as I have to take time to walk each day which means more prayer time, I have to lie down and rest which means time to read or reflect and I am just so much more focussed on God. So what is it that I am moaning about? Actually in the suffering (which is really not that bad in the scheme of things) He is with me so much more than ever.

So now I’m repenting and turning about, 180 degrees, a Volte Face moment. I’m praying that whenever I feel the pain I would see it as a blessing, or at the very least as a reminder of God. Instead of being anxious or frustrated I want to embrace the experience that God has given me, to reflect on his presence in my suffering, to be filled with joy at what he has done. So when I feel pain, I will turn to Him, when I feel a twinge, I will not be fearful but turn to joy, when I feel down and disheartened that I can’t yet run, I will remember all the wonderful prayer walks I have had with Him. I will see this as a lingering blessing rather than chronic pain.

Being different and being relevant…

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I’ve been thinking recently about how hard it is to balance trying to be relevant as Christians in society, with being Godly. By which I mean for example, I find it helpful to use every day life examples when I’m preaching or talking about God. I might refer to a current song or TV show, a piece in the news maybe, or something I’ve seen on Facebook or Twitter.

But at the same time that requires us to be up to date and know what is going on in the world, the things that people are into, the music that is popular and the TV shows people are watching. Which isn’t in itself a problem, until we come up against something that is hugely popular but might go against our Christian principles. Now listen I’m not going all fundamental here, I’m not saying we shouldn’t listen to Radio 1 or watch Harry Potter (and I’m not talking about hard core stuff which most people would be offended by anyway) but I’m just thinking about where the balance is. 

Here’s the challenge – ask yourself, how much TV do you watch, say 10 hours a week? and then ask yourself how much of that is spent watching anything Christian? Or how much time do you spend reading books and then compare that with how much time is spent in God’s word? How much do you listen to the radio, versus listening to preaching podcasts or Worship music? How many posts do you put on Facebook each week and how many of those reference your faith or something God has done in your life?

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As Christians we often quote the line that we should ‘be in the world but not of the world’ and say it’s from scripture. Actually it isn’t, the theme is biblical but the line itself is not. Probably it’s one of those things that someone has paraphrased from scripture and then it has been repeated so many times that people believe it is in the bible.

The nearest we can get to it is the following:

If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.       John 15:19


And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.       
Romans 12:2

 

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.     1 John 2:15

 

I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.        John 17:19

 

All of which point to the fact that we are called to be different, but not that we need to be completely removed from contemporary culture.

I think the most helpful line here is from Romans 12 – ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind’. And that is the challenge – how are we allowing our minds to be renewed? If actually the majority of the time we are simply filling our minds with the X Factor, Kanye West or Fifty Shades of Grey that sounds like our minds are more likely to be transformed and renewed into the culture of this world, not of the Kingdom of God.

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So back to my original question, how can we balance being relevant with being Godly? Well, I don’t have a magic formula I’m afraid. But the key has to be in seeking God and being led by him. My husband and I watch a lot of what we call ‘murder based entertainment’ – i.e. crime drama. I like the challenge of it, the suspense, the trying to suss out who did what. But just recently I realised that is pretty much all we watch on TV! So, we have been choosing to fill our minds with stories of GBH, murder and deception and the scenes that go with it. And let’s face it, TV dramas these days don’t hold back on the gore and realism do they? And I have to be honest I’ve felt challenged on that. Do I want to fill my mind continually with this kind of stuff? I’m asking myself how is this renewing my mind? So instead I’m trying to balance what I put in to my head with a range of things, We’ve switched to watching something less murder themed, I am trying to listen to more sermon podcasts and choosing to watch less TV in general actually.

I think it’s good to challenge ourselves on these things regularly, that is not to say ‘that programme/book/song is not Christian’ but more to balance it out. We do need to know what is going on in our world, we need to be able to relate to people who are not Christians and we can’t do that by hiding ourselves away, but let’s really think about how we are feeding ourselves and how our minds are being renewed and transformed.

I would love to know peoples thoughts on this. Do you think we can we find the right balance? What about your own popular culture intake – do you think you have the right balance? What might God be saying to you in this?

 

Perfect Love

So I wrote yesterday about the low level anxiety I am feeling approaching a time of change.

This morning I spent some time with a lovely and wise friend of mine who reminded me that I am in a season where I am focussing on God’s love and bringing that message to my church, she also reminded me that fear (the root of anxiety) does not go with love. I know it’s obvious but sometimes we need to be reminded of the obvious.

So today, I am focussing on the love because God’s word tells us that love drives out fear, fear cannot remain in the presence of God…

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Transitioning

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I’m feeling really kind of strange of late. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I just feel unsettled, or have an ongoing low-level of anxiety, or maybe I just need more sleep, who knows. It’s just that it’s a funny time approaching curacy. It’s normal to have been assigned your curacy well in advance, in my case almost a year ahead, so I’ve known where I’ll be going for a long time. Which is great in one sense as the stress of not knowing and all the paperwork and complicated stuff is done so that you can concentrate on finishing training. But in another way it’s frustrating because you know where you are going but can’t really do anything about it!

So for a long time my husband and I agreed that we would not even think about the new place until after Christmas (I start in July), which was fine until January when it was ‘after Christmas’ and we really did need to start thinking and planning ahead. So to be honest we’ve been busy and I have probably stuck my head in the sand too, and it’s now March and I find myself feeling ‘kind of strange’. 

 

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In modern churches we refer to the bit between the ‘worship block’ and the preach as a ‘transition’, and I guess that’s where I am, in transition. When you lead a service like this, it’s quite an important time as you are going from one key element to another. I find it really tough because you can’t plan exactly what to say or do (and I am a Monica-style-planner), but on the other hand it’s so great because you just have to be led by the Holy Spirit.

So here am I, going from one thing to another and trying to hear God and be led by him. And to some extent I am, I mean I feel so close to God right now, and in my own spiritual walk I feel like I’m growing in some areas, so that’s fab, but I still feel odd. 

So here’s the thing, I finish my current job in 2 months time (EEKKKK!!) so I am winding down there and handing stuff over, which means for the first time ever my ‘to-do list’ is actually shrinking rather than having things added on the end. In College terms I have three essays left, one study weekend and a week away, I can actually count them in one sentence now! There’s nothing new to plan, no new schemes to be putting into practice (and as a pioneering type I love new stuff!), no big projects on the horizon. It just feels strange and not all that comfortable really. 

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So I’ve been trying to think about how I handle transition at church in a service, and the truth is I just stop, do nothing, and listen to God. And perhaps that is the best preparation for the new season anyway? I don’t want to go into it rushed off my feet and with a head full of stuff, I want, need in fact, to go into it refreshed and revived and knowing God by my side. And the one thing that won’t change in all of this: Jesus. Yep, the answer’s always Jesus, right? We all know that. And I know it’s kind of obvious but right now I think that’s what I just need to keep reminding myself of, that no matter what I’m going through, he is a constant. Unchanging and unfailing.