A Priesting prayer. ( Or just some rambling thoughts…)

Chichester Cathedral in glorious sunshine

 

My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.

 

I often hear people utter in prayer: ‘less of me and more of you God’.

I don’t know about you but I really can’t stand it. It just makes no sense to me at all. Oh yes I know what the sentiment is, before you all holler: it recognises our own brokenness and the need of a saviour, I get all that, we want to be more like Jesus. But for me, focussing on that phrase just leads us down the path to self denial, to dark and condemning thoughts, it leads us away from the truth that God made us, that he knit us together in our mothers wombs.

Look, of course there are always the few who think the sun shines out of their own derrieres, but there are many many more who question themselves, not fully convinced of their identity in Christ. Lack of self worth and recognition of the talents and characteristics that form us into unique and beautiful individuals, leads us away from God, not to him.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In the same breath that the Psalmist asks God to search him, to sift through his heart, to seek out the specks of offense, to lead him into the light, he notes:

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

So wouldn’t a better prayer be: ‘more of the me who you made me to be and more of you God’?

….o0O0o…

I write less than 48 hours after being ordained a Priest in the Church of England. 72 hours ago I was heading off to retreat with my fellow Curates, feeling utterly convinced of my own brokenness, less than prepared and with a host of reasons why God was wrong about sending me to this.

(I know it’s common to feel that way and it was suggested to me over the weekend that if I didn’t feel that way I shouldn’t be doing it anyway).

I was walking towards the retreat and Priesting with my head hung low, making my bed in the depths. And yet over that 24 hours God spoke to me saying:

Where can you go from my Spirit? Where can you flee from my presence? all the days ordained for you were written in my book before one of them came to be.

Gently lifting my head, speaking precious words over me and leading me towards the way everlasting…

….o0O0o…

It all started with a few words: ‘I’ve re-discovered Jesus through you…’

– an unexpected email arriving moments before leaving for retreat gushed with such love and encouragement for my ministry. I believe God sent me those words to break through the wall of condemnation I had built around myself. To remind me that I am doing what he has called me to do. That really it’s not about me, it’s about him, and about the people round me. I’m just the bee busily buzzing round in the middle, hoping to pollinate those I come across with the potential for new life, for transformation and growth. I sobbed as I read that email, knowing that yet again God was peeling back the darkness and revealing his truth.

Then a few hours later, a suggestion from an advisor to focus on Psalm 139. I know it well of course, but an hour spent sat in the gorgeous surroundings of the Bishops Palace Garden, and taking in those words peeled away more. Noticing the beauty in the detail of God’s creation all around me, a robin coming to join me for a snack so close I could see the detail in his tiny feathers, the light glinting in his beady eye fixed on me, seemingly searching my heart. As I sat, prayed, wondered and read, those words spoke warmth and validation into my soul afresh.

And then the words of the Bishop himself, ‘charging’ us afresh for the ministry of a Priest, encouraging us to be ourselves, but ourselves with Christ in us. That people see our face – they want to see our face, our humanity, our reality, our humanness, not a ‘clerical cardboard cut out’.

Then finally the moment arrived, my robes which felt so alien just a year ago, now feel like a faithful friend (though I’ve only worn them a handful of times!) and we process in together, surrounded by those who have taken this journey before us, those who stand and support us now and those who are beside us in the work we are doing.

You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me.

We stand and face the congregation as they are asked to affirm their support for us, I am face to face with my Vicar – someone who knows me, has seen me in distress, in anger and in doubt. And as he looks me straight in the eye and tells me he supports me and will pray for me and encourage me, I feel those last bits of self doubt falling away.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.

Then one at a time we kneel before the Bishop, again someone who knows me well, who knows my frustrations, my hopes and fears for the church, and in spite of this he prays for the Holy Spirit to fill me, equip me for the office and work of a Priest, gives me a bible and anoints my hands asking for the empowering of God upon me.

We turn and stand before the congregation to rapturous applause and cheering and I am undone.

 

…o0O0o…

Despite my self doubt, despite my failings, my mistakes, my frustrations, this feels right. It seems completely insane, I still wonder why God has called me to this, but I know it’s right and recognsing the gifts God has given me and my characterisitcs, they are there to enable me to fulfill this role. Traits I’ve thought were negatives in me, suddenly become essential tools for ministry; emotions that I find hard to handle, appear as necessary to support others; and my wilfullness and stubborn nature become the backbone I need to survive ministry.

I feel affirmed.

 

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

 

So, Lord, now as I step into this future, I pray :

more of the me who you made me to be, and more of you God.

Amen

Selfies of God…

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My husband tells me that he loves seeing me first thing in the morning, because my curly hair seems to take on a life of it’s own overnight, meaning that when I get up I pretty much look like I’ve stuck my finger in an electric socket. He says because I usually take time with my appearance and how I look, so he is the only one who gets to see me in this crazy unkempt state and he loves it. I, on the other hand, look in the mirror each morning and praise God for the gift of GHDs…

..oo0O0oo…

Self image, what we think of ourselves, how we style ourselves – it’s hard to imagine women 100 years ago worrying about this stuff but I’m sure they did, perhaps just to a lesser degree. Our generation, the technology brigade, means that our innermost fears about wrinkles and spots and crazy curly hair are exacerbated hugely. A while ago I was sat on the beach with my kids as I watched a young girl (I guess aged about 13) take an incessant number of selfies on her phone, all in the same place just shifting her gaze or her pose slightly each time, seeking out the perfect shot.

As a pretty gawky pre-teen I got used to seeing photos in which I looked, well gawky, but that was the era of film and you just got the pictures you got, the excitement being in heading off to Boots to pick them up a week after your holiday. A week? flippin’ heck how we’ve moved on… Of course that didn’t stop me becoming self-conscious, worried about how I looked, what I ate and so on, but as I look at Instagram now and see the selfies of friends teenage daughters it worries me so much. What message are we sending our kids? sending each other?

shutterstock_230975479I’m writing this now because I woke up this morning and perusing my various feeds and timelines was struck by so many themes of ‘the self’. One magazine writer had written an article praising the selfie and had written from a ‘pseudo-feminist’ point of view to make it sound intelligent and wise – ‘girls, we have a responsibility, we are leaving behind a piece of history’ and all that… Frankly it was a load of bull… and made me rather cross. On another feed I saw a comment from someone declaring the oft used Christian phrase ‘less of me, more of you Lord’. Another thing that irks me slightly, you are who God made you, embrace it!

..oo0O0oo…

I write from the point of view of a woman, because well I am a woman, clearly I’ve no idea how men feel about this stuff but I’m sure for some it will be the same insecurities and anxieties. So women… what does the bible tell us about who we are? about who we should be? Is posting endless selfies a biblical crime? are we all becoming self-obsessed and less concerned with the world around us? Is technology the beginning of the end…? (ok perhaps slightly too far with that one). Well, let’s start at the beginning. At creation we read that humans are made ‘in the image of God’ (Gen 1:27) and take note, that’s male and female. God made us like him… is that something to pick at or to find the perfect angle for? Can’t really imagine Adam and Eve attempting to get a selfie with the apple tree and Adam just checking the positioning of his fig leaf to get the bet shot can we? Or perhaps we could, after all that would assume it was post apple-gate and therefore influenced by the enemy…

Ok so then how about this from Psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
 you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
 your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body…

I am ‘fearfully and wonderfully’ made? what, me? me, with the crazy hair that I try and straighten out each day? This Psalm says ‘your works are wonderful’ and it’s not just talking about Mount Everest here, it means himself, the human body, so why can’t we declare that about ourselves each day? Look in the mirror and whisper sweetly to your reflection ‘I… am… wonderful….’ ?  no? well perhaps not, we’d all turn into narcissists pretty quickly. Ah but hang on isn’t that what the selfie generation is accused of? being too focussed in on themselves? The Psalmist isn’t admiring himself for the sake of it, he is admiring God within himself. Recognising the wonder of what God has made, and we can all join in that, right? the amazing power of the human body, we often say that when a baby is born – it’s the miracle of life.

So then. Should it be less of me, more of you Lord? I’m not so sure. We were made in the image of God. As Christians we carry God within us, so perhaps it should be ‘more of the me you have made me to be’? Of course we all get swayed by wordly influence and that’s why I get anxious about all those teenage selfies, ‘like for like’, ‘rate me’ and so on,  what kind of message are they giving each other, giving themselves? The reality is simply seeking an acceptance, an approval that yes, even as adults we seek too. I’m not averse to a selfie myself, and I too will carefully pick which one I post, but we should be so careful about accepting this and pretending it is a source of ‘girl power’.

So how about instead of seeking to be the perfect self that the world seeks, or that we seek of ourselves, how about we seek to selfie the God in our lives? Where is the glory of God in who he has made us to be? the beauty, the wonder? Let’s embrace who we are in God and who God is in us, that is definitely something to selfie…

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I posted this, this week as a bit of a joke on Twitter, but here it is now as I give glory to God, my hair is totally crazy at times (especially when I’ve been laying in bed for weeks) but it’s how God made it (and yes I did take 4 and chose the best one…)