More Joy from God

Ok so as you must know by now ‘Joy’ is my one word for the year – read about why here.

I have seen reminders of joy everywhere and just feel God’s gentle nudging at times not to let his joy be robbed away from me (in what is a slightly stressful time!). So imagine my delight when I saw this poster…

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AND… not only that but it’s for an event in the town we are moving to, so the words I first saw are JOY and LEWES ! seemed like a little reminder from God that his plans for us are perfect.

But that’s not all, then I noticed the dates on the poster – 25th June is the day I get ordained and 26th our first official Sunday at Trinity! I was so excited when I saw that, it was like each time I saw the poster God showed me something more.

And then this morning I noticed that the posters (which we had only seen in Lewes) are now on the roads around where we live too!  I cannot fail to be reminded of Joy every day at the moment!

God is so good…. :)

Ember Cards

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If I had £1 for every time someone asked me what an ’ember card’ is in recent weeks, I’d be able to pay for all my clerical wear with the proceeds. And I’ve got to admit, it slightly amuses me that me, a definitely ‘improper Anglican’ to coin a term from a Twitter friend, is doing something quite traditional. So here’s a bit of an explanation…

Firstly, let me admit I only heard about ember cards because fellow ordinands have talked about them, but the short explanation is what it says on the card below, that traditionally those approaching ordination send them out to ask for prayer for them and their parish.  As you know I don’t really do traditional, but I do do prayer and I do love cards and design and nice things like that :) That said, usually they are pretty boring and dull and so I wanted to do something a bit different (no surprise there then) and asked my fab friend Mark at Sublime to design something for me and I love it! Not boring, not traditional, but still what it needs to be.

So ember cards, what? why? who? well it’s interesting that when I decided to get some done I wanted to do a bit of research and find out what they are all about and there seems to be very little info out there, but here’s some basic bits if you want to know…

Ember cards are sent out as part of Ember seasons or weeks, or even days. Ember Days are days set aside by the church for prayer and fasting and have been since the 4th Century AD in ancient Rome. As seasons of prayer and fasting it was considered a good time for ordination of clergy and like many things the Anglican church inherited the idea from Rome.

This Ember Season is between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday, i.e: this week. Although the focus on times of prayer for ordination has become more of a focus now, rather than just being seasons of prayer. The CofE says this:

Ember Days should be kept, under the bishop’s directions, in the week before an ordination as days of prayer for those to be made deacon or priest. Ember Days may also be kept even when there is no ordination in the diocese as more general days of prayer for those who serve the Church in its various ministries, both ordained and lay, and for vocations. Traditionally they have been observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays within the weeks before the Third Sunday of Advent, the Second Sunday of Lent and the Sundays nearest to 29 June and 29 September.

(My ordination will be 25th June).

So, at these times of year those being ordained send out cards asking for prayer. I can’t find any information on how the sending of cards started (so if anyone knows more I’d love to know!), but perhaps it was a way of letting people know you were being ordained, at a time when communication was harder and took longer than it does today. Many people went away to train for ministry (many still do) and so would have left behind their original or sending church, friends and often family, so it would have been a nice connection to send back information on the ordination itself and asking for prayer from those who had nurtured them in their faith before training.

Whilst I am naturally a pioneer, looking to do things differently or improve things, I am still part of the Church of England and I embrace that. So in sending the card I feel part of the wider church, whilst also making it a bit different. I chose to put an explanation on the card as most people I send it to won’t have a clue why I’m sending it. Plus traditionally you ask for prayer for the parish you are going to, but I wanted to include the one I am coming from that has seen me through training, nurtured me and loved me in it all. Usually people include a prayer and again, many people I send this to won’t be regular pray-ers, but I wanted to find a way to reach them and I thought the most familiar prayer is The Lord’s Prayer so there is a chance people will have heard of it or may have even prayed it at school. And as I say on the card, it does express so much of what we need daily: to be provided for, to be kept safe from evil and to experience God’s kingdom on earth.

For me also, the realisation of what I am stepping into becomes ever more real each day and I recognise the need for prayer more than ever. This is only something I can with God leading me, so please do pray for me as I approach ordination, and of course beyond…

 

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Naked Prayers // Book Review

MMcover1I first came across Mara Measor last year when I was getting into prayer doodling. I loved the simplicity of her drawings, yet expressing something quite deep, so I was delighted to be asked to review her book ‘Naked Prayers’ recently (and note to all, do not google ‘naked prayers’ under images as I just did…).

Measor started to doodle her prayers some years ago when in Ethiopia and whilst feeling isolated, her relationship with God, as she notes, ‘blossomed’. Written in diary form with short entries, ‘Naked Prayers’ is easy to navigate through, or just dip into, however it is not an easy read – the book itself came later and grew out of a difficult period in her life. It is in fact a heartfelt journey through Measor’s faith and a severe bout of depression. Reading it feels like being allowed a glimpse into someone’s own personal struggle, and the battles that she has faced with herself and with God.

Having come alongside people with depression I can recognise some of her thoughts in others experiences, but for me too, some of her words just resonate, times when I don’t know what to pray, or what to do, she expresses some of what it means to just be human.

April 14

I’m scared right now.

I’m scared of not knowing what I’m doing. Scared of going

for the wrong things. Scared I’m all wrong.

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Restore me, Oh God.

 

Similarities have been drawn with the book of Psalms and indeed some of the words she pours out bear the same expressiveness of David, the pain and hurt, as well as the celebration and joy. Measor’s strength of faith is evident throughout the book and there are lots of scriptural links too. Her honesty amidst pain and turmoil, is sure to help many people as they struggle with their own battles and journey of faith.

The similarity with Psalms also follows as Measor is also a musician and some of the entries in the book have songs to go alongside which can be accessed online via spotify or you can download the album via iTunes. The songs really do add to the book, just taking her thoughts and prayers to another level, but in the same intimate way. Do give them a listen if you can.

 

 

October 29

Lord, I am a bit sad today.

But I love you with all my ability.

And lack of ability.

 

Naked Prayers is published by SPCK and is available now, priced at £7.99. 

Guest Post on Joy //

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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 an anonymous post but you can find out more at the author’s blog here. I am so grateful to her for sharing some of her story, and for her absolute honesty and inspiring faith.

**trigger warning, this post contains some of the author’s story of abuse**

 

Roughly 2 years ago somebody approached me who’s now a very dear friend of mine and suggested I could find my joy in the Lord and that nothing was impossible in him, well at that time I just wanted to tell her where to get off, and what she could do with the Lord’s joy!

Now the reason I reacted like this was because all I could see in my life was utter hopelessness and I felt worthless in the world so there was no room for feeling joyful in my eyes.

The fact that I was severely depressed, had daily suicidal thoughts and rarely even got dressed out my pyjamas to even attempt a new day was a big problem to start with for me.

These problems started from birth as I was brought up in an abusive and violent home and as a young lady I was subject to sexual abuse and horrific rape so how on earth could I even contemplate joy or even know what it was?

The past two years have been a big turn around for me as my dear friend never gave up on me and kept gently dropping little things in about her Lord and saviour and I could see it beaming from her.

I started to find out about Jesus for myself, dared to trust, have faith and began the process of breaking my walls down and letting the Lord into my life in a big way.

I have learnt what joy is and my joy comes from Jesus every day

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My Joy comes from looking at how I have been healed in magnificent ways and that the horrors of past don’t define who I am anymore.

My Joy comes from seeing and helping others find Jesus for the first time and being set free from what’s holding them back.

My Joy comes from knowing that I’m a daughter of a king who lavishes his love over me.

My Joy comes from knowing I’m protected and can seek refuge in Jesus.

My Joy comes from seeing how I’ve changed so much and know it’s only because I have Jesus and have put my total dependency in him.

My Joy comes from knowing I have been saved from my tormenting thoughts of suicide and I now know I’m of worth.

I’ve learnt in a very big way that when you put your trust and dependency in Jesus there is so much to hope for, to be joyful about and most of all I can now smile…

Thy Kingdom Come

This week the Church of England has been focussing on ‘Thy Kingdom Come‘ which is (in my opinion) a rather fantastic initiative set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, with the aim to mobilise the church to pray for the nation.

Around here I have been staggered by how many churches have engaged with this and not just Anglican ones either, it really does feel like an exciting time for the church (and the nation).

So, I’ve been praying and thinking on this line from the Lord’s Prayer this week and so here’s a little video of my prayer doodle on those words…

I sometimes take part in a Twitter initiative called ‘Colour Collective’ which encourages artists and illustrators to create a piece each week, on a different colour and then we all post at the same time on Friday evening. So this week’s colour is ‘light yellow glaze’, so I used lots of yellow in this – though it might not be quite light enough it’s the best I could come up with, not really a yellow fan to be honest but I do like the balance of colours in this!

 

The Battle…

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There have been lots of prayer walks in all this too….

So, it’s fair to say the last few weeks have been a total emotional roller coaster. I wrote a few weeks ago about being in limbo and how I was not facing up to how I was feeling. Then God had other ideas and took away all my self enforced deadlines and it all came crashing down. I just had to start to process it all, and that was where the spoken word piece came from. I love writing and I often find it is a way for me to sort out my own thoughts and feelings, it’s cathartic. And this was possibly the most cathartic thing I ever wrote. Because I just couldn’t work out why I was feeling so emotional, I mean I had known I was leaving for ages, I was prepared, or so I thought and writing that just helped me to take the next step…

I finished that piece with the image of me standing in my armour and ready to face whatever I needed to. That actually meant facing some stuff from the past and some stuff I had believed about myself. I’m not sure I am ready to write about all of that but the bottom line is that for the first time in my life I realised I am in a place where I am truly encouraged, affirmed and loved. It’s been quite a revelation for me.

That has partly been about being in an amazing church that has nurtured us, helped us to grow in our faith and embraced us into the family. But more than that, for me, being part of the staff team there has been like nothing I’ve ever experienced. It is a team that has great bonds, that looks out for each other, that supports each other, that cares for each other and that encourages each other. 

I’ve also had a great boss, my Vicar, who has allowed me to be me, and helped me develop into more of the me God made me to be. He has always listened to me, even when he didn’t agree, given me freedom to try new things, take risks and get well and truly out of my depth, all the while gently nudging me forward and giving me encouragement.

I’d never been part of a team like this. I half wondered if all church teams were like it, but I mentioned that to a friend who put me straight on that! So perhaps this one is just special. That isn’t to say it’s all been wonderful, of course there have been ups and downs but even in that we have found mutual support, help and encouragement.

And it’s because of that, that I now find myself feeling good about myself, recognising that I am capable of doing some stuff and that I am both loved and lovable.

That might sound a bit lame, but it’s actually taken me 42 years to really recognise that.

So, why am I sharing all this? because I think it shows how being planted in the right and nurturing environment, can change a person. Totally. I actually don’t recognise who I am half the time!

And of course none of this takes away from the fact that I couldn’t of course do anything without God anyway, but that is the thing, I finally see me as God has made me to be. I can see the gifts he has given me and recognise them as God given. I can understand why he has put me into ministry, when I’ve not really been a Christian that long. I am able to walk in the path he has put me on with confidence, but confidence really, in him.

My Armour

So I made this a few weeks ago. I had a rough few weeks dealing with the reality of leaving our church as I think I’d been keeping a lid on it for a while and then it just got me when I was least expecting it. I finished in my job this week so seems like an appropriate time to publish it as I continue to deal with the emotions whilst planning the move on to new pastures…

 

Liturgy – what are we missing?

Here’s the final post in a series of three, looking at formal liturgy and the charismatic church (these are the first two):

  1. Charismatic or Liturgical Encounter
  2. Praying in Tongues = praying through liturgy

 

So something that came up quite a bit in my foray into formal liturgy and the charismatic church is the question, what are we missing by not using it? – if anything.

And it’s an interesting question, because I think many charismatics would instantly answer that we are not missing anything, in fact not using it gives us greater freedom to worship and encounter God. But here’s a few slightly rambling thoughts that have been raised for me…

Familiarity and Comfort

One Bishop I spoke to was keen to stress the importance of inherited words, the things we remember through repetition (which I have written about here), the words that remain in our unconscious. He cited the example of visiting someone who was nearing the end of their life and how words of liturgy that have been recited over the years or even just been said at school or on other occasions, when said back to that person can bring great comfort. More than that, they might engage a person with failing memory or senses as they bring recognition or familiarity that may be gone in other parts of their life.

Of course this is true, if the person has had some experience of church, or of liturgy, or formal prayer then they truly can bring comfort and more. But it’s more than that isn’t it, because they aren’t just familiar words like the line of a song for example. When I did my hospital placement last year one of the first things I did was go into a dementia ward where we sang to the patients some of the old tunes that were familiar to them. Suddenly those who were seemingly listless and glazed came to life with such joy. In fact it impacted a visitor too who had said no thank you to the song sheet but on seeing her relative come alive, began to join in too.  No, prayer is more than familiarity, we believe it is communication with God, so is it then that in praying in a familiar way we are enabling someone to encounter God who may not to able to do so for themselves any more?

Of course one response to the Bishop could be is the bible not enough? Surely words of scripture can be equally as familiar and as profound or moving as formal liturgy?

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However none of this addresses one obvious flaw in the argument, which is that fewer people are going to church and experiencing the liturgy for themselves, so whilst we have a generation or two who may have gone regularly, this is decreasing and we will find fewer people with any understanding or recognition of the liturgy, so what are we planning for the future? How will we reach people who have no experience of it, even now? That is a big challenge to us as a church. Prayer may be a comfort anyway, regardless of words chosen, even to those who have no faith or little experience of church, but that doesn’t require specific words. Though in a situation which may be difficult or emotional it might be useful for us as ministers to have words to be read when we may find we have none. Again though, do these need to be formal liturgy?

 

Beauty Of Words

I also met David Pytches in my research for this essay (which is where the liturgy fascination came in) who, even as a Charismatic leader, suggested that the church might have lost something in not using formal liturgy. I’m not sure we got to the bottom of what he thought might be missing, but we did talk about the nature and beauty of words. Some of our formal liturgy is written so beautifully (note *some), and I know on the odd occasion I have used a prayer from Common Worship, or once I used the Methodist Covenant Prayer, that people have really responded to the words, asking about the prayer itself and where it was from. Is there something about an almost formal beauty in some of those words that reaches us in a different way? Charismatic worship can sometimes be a bit chaotic – that isn’t to say it isn’t planned, prayed through and well thought out, in my experience it usually is – but I wonder if something more formal can sometimes cut through that in a different way maybe? Of course though that is recognising the use of something more formal as an unusual occurrence, so it becomes smelling special, not just the usual.

 

Something Corporate

Something else that came up was the idea of being part of something bigger, something corporate. When we recite words together that are well known and familiar, we are united together in a very obvious way, and I think there is something really powerful about that. Not just in the physical, in that we stand in a building together saying the same words together, but also if praying by ourselves, for example doing Daily Prayer. For a season I did Morning Prayer every day and was always encouraged and buoyed up by those tweeting about the readings or just noting they were saying it too, making me feel like I was part of something much bigger.

Spiritually too, I think it can unite us with the wider church, just the idea of people across the world saying the same words, the same prayers, particularly on a Sunday, it just feels more powerful!

 

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Lastly, I think there is something about reverence here. I am not a formal liturgy person at all, but the one thing I find hard in a charismatic environment is a lack of reverence when it comes to the Eucharist. I don’t know why, perhaps it is just tradition having been brought up in a more traditional church environment, is it just what I am ‘used to’? I’m not sure how much reverence there would have been at the last supper (& that’s another post), holiness yes, but Jesus was their friend and would have been among that like that. Do we need to create an atmosphere that is more reverential?  I’m not sure but I do find there can be something lacking in the freer environment, with kids running around, people chatting in the queue and after, like we are not taking seriously what we are preparing ourselves to receive.

 

So, what are we missing and is it important anyway? I’m not sure I’ve got to the bottom of what I think about this but I know it will remain something I continue to questions myself over. I think one of the biggest challenges to us as leaders in the church today is for the future. The idea of being with people in times of difficulty and illness, at the end of life perhaps, how do we engage people, how do we pray with them, sit with them, when there may be little left? Perhaps that’s more about trusting in God, perhaps in that case formal liturgy has been a crux for us to lean on, and it will longer be so in many cases. Perhaps then we need to lean more on God and less on our formulas…