6th April 2020
Today’s meditation from Rev Barbara Chandler currently working with Covid-19 patients in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.
1 As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’
4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God, with glad shouts and songs of thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep at the thunder of your cataracts; all your waves and your billows have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock, ‘Why have you forgotten me? Why must I walk about mournfully because the enemy oppresses me?’
10 As with a deadly wound in my body, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me continually, ‘Where is your God?’
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help and my God.
The manner in which we are preparing for Easter, the manner in which we live our every- day lives is a world away from how we prepared for and celebrated Christmas. Do you remember the days in which you could meet for coffee, wander into the supermarket without the slightest concern that there might not be any toilet rolls? The queues at checkouts were annoying because it was crowded and you would jostle against other people!
We now live in an alien world and connecting via the internet is good, but it is not the “real thing”. It feels as if we have already been in this strange land for years and yet it is only a couple of weeks and it will not last for ever, but it may seem at times to be never ending.
The psalmist recognised the longing of the soul to feel “at home” again. We don’t feel at home in this internet-based community and that in turn can lead us to ask, ‘how can I meet with God’.
Holy week would have brought us together to walk, as a family, the journey of Christ to the cross, supporting each other through our reflections at evening prayer, through the Good Friday services and into the joy and celebration of Easter Sunday. We will make this journey together, but as a dispersed family. As we try and adjust to this strange land we may cry out with the psalmist in verse 2, “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God”. Similar words cry out in Psalm 137, “How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” In addition to our own lament we may face questions from others, “Where is your God” verse 3 and 10. Where is God when the hospital fills and people are frightened. Where is God when relatives are turned away and told to remain at home. Where is God when a staff member is exhausted and the tears come. Where is God when the longing to just meet with someone face to face is a physical pain.
Two thousand years ago where was God as people turned from the law of love, to paths of cruelty, greed, self-interest and pride? God was in Jesus, walking the path to the cross, bearing all that was wrong and redeeming the world. God was, and is, in the midst of the mess.
Today God is in the hands of the health workers, clad in gowns and masks looking anything but human and yet a gloved hand gently squeezes the hand of frail and frightened patient and says “you are safe, I am here with you, we won’t leave you on your own”. God is there as medication is discussed, “how can we make this person comfortable and allay their fears”. God is there in the words of comfort given to relatives over the phone. God is there as a colleague seeing someone at the point of exhaustion says, “when did you have a break, come and have a cup of tea”. Acts of compassion that are not text book management of covid infections abound and each act of compassion is an act of love, an act in which as a Christian I see the work of the Spirit, the love of God. Northumbria Community morning prayer includes the plea, “…be in the heart of each to whom I speak; in the mouth of each who speaks unto me.” We are all made in the image of God and within each person, God is there, perhaps not recognised, but nevertheless the spring-water of the soul longs to flow forth. Kindness and goodness, fruits of the Spirit are bursting forth everywhere. Look at the dedication of all the shop workers, delivery drivers, police, fire service, the kindness of neighbours, of young people, the list could go on and on.
And so like the psalmist who asks, “Why are you so downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?” Can we reply “Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
5th April 2020
A Reflection on Gethsemane By Revd Norma Higgott- Chaplain at Highland Hospice, Inverness.
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.
As we begin another Sunday on lockdown I thought I would just share a short reflection on the passage I was preparing to preach on this Sunday. Our lives at the moment are so very different, as I drove to work at the Hospice today I was very aware of the empty roads, apart from a few very necessary delivery lorries, and of the lack of people moving about. However I was also aware of the birds singing and the sounds of the wind and rain as I walked into the Hospice and I was very aware of the tensions that abound as I talked to folk who like me are continuing to work and bring comfort and compassion to patients and that is so very hard for some folk to cope with – we are fearful of what might be about to happen to us, although prepared to be there for the folk who rely on us and need our care. We are all, whether we are out working or staying at home, seeking some way of coping with that fear and the unprecedented changes that are happening around us!
Today’s passage talks to us in this situation because Jesus here is also afraid, he is sorrowful and troubled and overwhelmed, just as we are, and while he is feeling that way he shows us one way to cope with it – he goes apart a little way from his disciples with just a few chosen ones and he goes to pray. Now we may not be able in the current situation to go with others but we can all pray with others at a distance – we can pray at the same time – we can go online and hear others praying with and for us all – we can pray quietly by ourselves knowing that others are doing the same.
But what should we be praying? Perhaps again exactly the same as Jesus – , “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” Maybe we won’t be able to escape this virus, even if we really want to and do everything we can to make that happen, but if we can pray as Jesus did, not as I will but as you will – we can then likewise commend ourselves to God’s loving mercy and support through what may happen. Jesus knows what is about to happen to him and he would really like for it to pass him by but he knows that he can’t control things and he freely offers that control to God, to his loving, compassionate Father with the words “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” Perhaps we too may have to drink the cup but if we do, let’s do it in the sure knowledge that God loves us and will be with us each step of the way.
Prayer is a wonderfully powerful thing and shared prayer is incredibly healing and comforting but at times like these we sometimes forget that even if we are not in the same space we can all be in the same place as we pray together/apart. Let us hold one another and all those affected by what’s happening in loving, healing prayer and look to Jesus who truly is the best example we can have of how to accept what is happening while commending ourselves and the situation to God.
Holding you all in loving prayer with some words sent to me recently by one of my fellow hospice chaplains as encouragement in this time of fear and anxiety.
God most high and holy,
all things are in your hands.
Your holy Word invites us to trust in you
and to be fearless
even when the earth gives way,
when the mountains fall into the sea,
when the waters roar and foam,
when nations are in an uproar,
and even in the valley of the shadow of death.
Hear the cries of your people
as we live in a world full of fear.
With your unlimited power,
with your boundless presence,
with your knowledge of all things, fill our hearts
with your peace that surpasses understanding.
When things are uncertain,
and crises are unseen, draw us to you,
to your certain Word and promise,
to your dear Son who suffered for us,
and to your enduring promise
never to leave us or forsake us.
and uphold us
in these difficult
and confusing times.
Fill us with faith in you,
with desires to serve our neighbours in love,
and to be strong and take heart
as we wait for you to work your good purpose
for the good of those who love you;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Source: Paul C. Stratman, A Collection of Prayers, March 16, 2020, during the COVID-19 / Corona Virus crisis.
With love and prayers. Norma (Revd Norma Higgott)
4th April 2020
I have today been thinking about his strange new world in which we find ourselves. Yesterday I took a funeral service by Skype. The family were unable to be present, so, the service was streamed live to them. Hard yes, but also moving as those working at the firm came to sit in the service to be present and offer their respects, to share in the sense of universal grief of humanity. As John Donne so eloquently put it “any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”
I also had the strange experience of blessing palm crosses in an empty church and then stuffing them into envelopes. – all done wearing disposable gloves! After that I walked down the deserted high street to the post office. Here I engaged in the new dance- otherwise known as social distancing whilst getting stamps. I then discovered that trying to put self-adhesive stamps on envelopes whilst wearing disposable gloves is tricky!
Everything is somewhat surreal, and we are all having to work out new ways of living and being in this strange place. What it brought to mind for me was a line from Psalm 137. The people of Israel have been carried away into captivity in Babylon and their captors taunt them, asking them to sing songs of mirth. The people reply…
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
They remember how they used to sing as they went with joy and in procession up to the temple at Jerusalem, how they sang God’s praises in that holy place. Now, exiled and far from home they long to be back where they belong, they long to worship as they once did.
As we enter Holy Week, we may find ourselves feeling something similar to those Israelites long ago. We cannot worship as we had planned to here for our special Palm Sunday words and music. We cannot come to Compline to be still and quiet as we journey through these last days of Christ. We cannot participate together in the moving drama of Maundy Thursday, nor gather around the foot of the Cross on Good Friday. In this strange and alien world in which we find ourselves, how shall we sing the Lord’s song this Easter?
Well, I think with new songs of worship that are open to us precisely because of Easter! We no longer need a temple to worship in, for Jesus Himself is the new temple, the one in whom we can all meet with God. He has opened the way into the presence of God and invites each one of us to come in and worship God in spirit and in truth. Of course we will all find it very hard not to worship together, to be a pilgrim people journeying with one another through Holy Week, but that does not mean that we cannot draw near to God in our own homes. We can pray, read the Gospel accounts of Jesus final week, sit with him at the Last Supper, follow him to Gethsemane. We can sing the old familiar Easter hymns and worship in our hearts and lives, knowing as we do so that we are one in Spirit, if not in body.
Finally come Easter Day we can declare again that Jesus Christ is risen, he has conquered death, sin and fear. And we can join with countless men and women of faith across the whole world and with those who now worship on another shore….. a new song, a song of trust in Jesus Christ, the one who was and is and is to come, the Lamb upon the throne. To him be glory for ever!
2nd April 2020
I was reminded this morning of a curious phrase in Luke’s Gospel where we read that Jesus “set his face towards Jerusalem.” (Luke 9 v 51). It quite simply means that Jesus was determined on his course of action. He knew what he would meet: betrayal, arrest, beatings, mocking and an agonising death. And yet, knowing what lay ahead, he still set his face towards Jerusalem.
What Jesus faced was a battle with the powers of sin and evil for the whole world – a battle against death itself. And Jesus had an option. He could have chosen not to go to Jerusalem. He could have remained safe by staying away from the city. He could have gone on travelling around teaching and healing the sick. He could have gone on to train up more disciples, to enjoy friendship and laughter, to eat at the home of Martha and Mary, to look after his mother and the other women who had gathered around him. But Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem.
Why? Because of love. Because of grace. Because of mercy. He alone could conquer sin and death and for that to happen he had to go to Jerusalem.
Like Jesus on that road we, his creation, find ourselves on a long and difficult road in the grip of this virus. Behind the grim daily death toll lies a world suffering, afraid, a strange world of isolation and for some death. But it was precisely to save us from this that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. To face down the powers of sin and evil and conquer them. To offer a way of through suffering and bring redemption. To defeat the final enemy of death itself and rise victorious.
Covid- 19 may stalk the world, but it will not have the final word. The final word belongs to Christ on the cross; “It is finished.” And on to that glorious Easter morning, the death of death and the path to eternal life open for all who will follow.
As we walk through this difficult time let us remember this Passiontide, that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem for our sake precisely so that we should not walk this path alone. He has gone before us; he has already defeated the enemies of sin and fear of sickness and death. He meets us, and just as he said to his disciples on the lake as they struggled with the waves that threatened to overpower them:
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
March 31st 2020
Today has been a busy day for me trying to master new technology and produce various things for the parish. I also went out on my weekly shop and learned how to keep my distance in the aisles at the supermarket. It struck me that we must look quite amusing-as though we are all engaged in some new dance that no-one quite knew the steps for!
It was, however, very encouraging to see that people were being so aware of others, making space for them and everyone seemed quite calm as they adjusted to this new way of getting their groceries
We are all having to learn new ways of living at the moment as Barbara so aptly commented in her meditation yesterday. For some that will be an increased work- load, for others a much slower one, for others a different way of working, for many frustration that they cannot be doing more. As I reflected on her words, I found myself drawn to this prayer which I share with you. It is taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1940).
“This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words; give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen.”
It reminded me of something St Paul said;
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Philippians 4 v 11-13
30th March 2020
Todays meditation comes from Rev Dr Barbara Chandler. Barbara is a member of the ministry team at St James and St Anne’s who works as a consultant at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.
The gospel set for Sunday 29th March is John 11:1-45. It is the familiar account of Jesus’ friends Martha, Mary and their brother Lazarus. We are familiar with the caricature of the two sisters one always busy, busy, busy; the other reflective, dreaming, pondering.
As we enter the second week of lockdown I know that many are struggling, some because they are too busy and some because they are at home with none of the usual daily activities. I wonder if within each of us there is a Martha and a Mary side to our character? Sometimes one should take precedence over the other and sometimes we get it right and sometimes we get it wrong.
When Jesus visited the sisters as described in Luke chapter 10, Martha kept on with the household tasks rather than sitting for a moment and listening, accepting the invitation to cross the social taboo and as a woman to sit and be taught. I do wonder at other times, when Mary was sitting reflecting, a better form of worship would have been cooking or doing the dishes!
It’s not easy, but I just wonder if we can give thanks for the particular place we find ourselves in just now – if you have more time than you know what to do with, use some of it for prayer. If you have no time because you’re now home schooling, working in one of the many essential jobs and coping with staff sickness, then know that the work of your hands can be prayer and worship, and know also that others are holding you in prayer.
It’s not easy but let’s try and hang on to St Paul’s words
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
29th March 2020
Those two words jumped out at me today as I joined the Bishop of Edinburgh for the online service from his home. These simple online services that bring worship, word and witness into our homes are, for those who are fortunate to be able to see them, very comforting and oddly moving.
The phrase “come and see” is part of the Gospel reading for today and comes from John 11 -the account of the raising of Lazarus. Jesus has arrived too late to save his friend it would seem. He finds Lazarus’ sisters weeping and asks where the body has been laid. “Come and see” they say to him. Jesus follows them to the tomb, greatly moved and disturbed in spirit. He sees the grief and tears, he hears the anguish and sorrow. Then, in two of the most powerful words in the Bible, we read:
For the last few days, I have had an image. It is of Jesus walking the streets of our empty towns. It is of Jesus walking in our deserted schools and playgrounds, in our empty businesses and offices. It is of Jesus walking in our care homes and hospitals. It is of Jesus in intensive care units all over the world. It is of Jesus in morgues and at gravesides. And in each place, Jesus is weeping.
Jesus weeps with those who weep today in fear, sorrow and uncertainty. He weeps with those exhausted, mentally and physically on the medical font line. He weeps with those who cannot visit their loved ones in hospital. He weeps with those who are alone and those who are far from family. Jesus weeps with those who weep today.
It is a profound moment in the life of Jesus as he shares our human sorrow and grief. And we, as his disciples, are called also to share one another’s sorrows, to bear one another’s burdens, to weep with those who weep. (Romans 12 v 15). Like many of you I am sure, I have found myself in tears at times this week seeing the heartache and grief and fear that is stalking our world. I have also been moved to tears by the courage of so many doctors and nurses, carers and front line workers. By the goodness and community spirit shown, by the simple acts of kindness and humanity shining through. The psalmist gives us that lovely image of God watching over us and gathering all our tears into a bottle. Christ weeps with us and keeps count of all our sorrows.
But the phrase. “come and see” also comes at another crucial place in the Bible.. It comes at the tomb on Easter morning. The women come to grieve at the tomb of Jesus, to weep and mourn. But they are met by an angel of the Lord who says:
“Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has ben raised, as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Come and see-see the risen Lord Jesus, the one who has conquered death is here. Come and see -the one who loves you and who is alive for evermore is present with you now. Come and see the one who can bring healing and hope to the fearful and comfort to those who mourn. Come and see- for the one who walks our town and villages in tears is also the risen Lord who brings new life, hope and the promise of peace. Come and see, for the door is open wide and Jesus waits for you.
Come and see
“Do not be afraid, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead and see!I am alive for ever and ever.” Revelation 1 v 17
28th March 2020
So, for the last couple of days I have been thinking about the Sabbath. As many of you will know, that is the name of the Jewish holy day of rest which begins at nightfall on Friday until just after sunset on Saturday. The word sabbath comes from the Hebrew verb Shabbat, meaning to rest from labour, and that takes us back to Genesis 2.
“2And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”
In the Ten Commandments God commands his people to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. It was a way of life that was, and still is, embedded in Jewish life, culture and faith. Jesus himself taught about it and there are various Sabbath related incidents in the Gospels.
The transition from Sabbath to Sunday is an interesting one. Because the Resurrection, and the new creation that we are in Christ, began on a Sunday, soon the church observed that day instead. Today we still gather to worship on Sundays but the practice of keeping one day of rest, of stopping work, closing shops and businesses, has completely changed in my lifetime. Instead, Sunday has become another day of work for many,of retail, business and leisure opportunities, a major day for sports fixtures and clubs, things on a Sunday undreamed of by a previous generation.
Or perhaps I should say had become, because today and for the foreseeable future many of us will be having an enforced sabbath. We cannot go out to the cinema, to the football match, to wander round a shopping centre. Our lives have been radically changed by Covid-19. It is a horrifying situation, but do you think maybe we are learning from this that we can survive without shopping, working, trading and even, dare I say it, sport, seven days a week? That we can withdraw from ceaseless activity every seven days to rest, to recharge and refocus. To stop the endless round of consumerism and make do with what we have in the house for just one day a week? To spend time together round a table with family sharing a meal instead of rushing out in different directions. To learn that we can face Monday morning so much better because we have had a rest from continual work. That having stepped away from our emails and websites for one day we can actually see with clearer vision and purpose in our work.
Many of you will have seen the reports on how the coronavirus has had a positive effect on our environment. Satellite data from the European Space Agency is showing reduced air pollution in areas hardest hit by the virus. Surely our planet is showing us that, as God ordained, it too needs to rest. It has been trying to get our attention, but this really has brought into focus, on all sorts of levels, that we ignore it’s need for rest at our peril. Of course, as soon as the economy starts again then pollution levels will go back up, but what if we returned to that just six days a week instead of seven?
What if, as Wendell Berry puts it in one of his wonderful sequence of poems about Sabbath, we just sit still for a while?
“I go among trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles on water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep like cattle.”
Perhaps we too will then discover that Sabbath brings a new song, one of hope in our current crisis and a kinder way of living for the whole world. A way that that involves doing as our Creator has asked us to- and does himself-resting on the Sabbath.
“After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.”
~ Wendell Berry from Sabbaths
It is a beautiful piece and you can find the whole poem and the author reading it here:
25th March 2020
Today has been a very quiet day. A very, very quiet day. Sitting in the house listening to the silence is like hearing the world take a breath, pause, stop.
Where we lived in Hertfordshire meant that although we were in a lovely green spot, the noise of the M1 and the M25 was constantly in the background. Even in the midst of the woods in Mymms park, the hum of traffic was still audible. Since moving to the beautiful Highlands one of the great joys has been going out for walks and listening to the absence of man-made noise. Hearing only sounds of nature-birds singing, small creatures in the undergrowth, wind in the trees, these are gifts that I treasure and never want to take for granted.
But the silence that I have so enjoyed is usually not found in the house or the street where we live. People driving their cars, voices calling out, building works being carried out, the background noise of life going on all around. But not today. Today the streets are deserted, and all the noise of modern life has been largely stilled.
I like silence, but even I find this I this silence daunting. Of course, we can so easily switch on the TV or the radio or stream music to fill that space. But just maybe we can also try to allow God to use it. As I thought about this I was drawn back to the beginning of creation, to Genesis. I don’t think I had ever thought about just how quiet it must have been in the beginning. The first recorded sound in the Bible is breath of God moving over the face of the earth. Then we have the word of God…let there be….and then we have more and more sounds added. The sound of water running, the sound of things growing, seeds popping, twigs breaking and then all manner or sounds of animals and birds and creatures in the sea. And finally, the voice of man( I wonder what mans’ first word was?) And then Adam and Eve fall into sin. We all know the story and we know the consequences. But what drew my attention today was what we are told next. Adam and Eve are ashamed and they hide because,
“they hear the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze.”
They heard God. It is such a beautiful image -God walking around his garden in the cool of the evening. It is something we can all relate to, perhaps especially if you are a gardener! Looking to see what is growing, what perhaps needs a bit of sorting, enjoying the scents of the blossom and the sound of the birds, watching nature all around.
As the world around us falls increasingly quiet, can I encourage you to not rush to fill it with noise, but just take a few moments to dwell on that image. Listen for the footstep of God. He is still walking around his creation. Despite all that we have done to spoil God’s good creation, despite our lack of love and care, our greed and consumption. And yes, despite this virus and its devastating effects, God is still here. Listen for his footstep, take a walk with him, allow HIs silence to heal and strengthen you.
Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46 v 10
24th March 2020
Yet, I will rejoice..
So today we have spent our first day as a country in virtual lock down. The grim message delivered by the Prime Minister last night means that we are to stay at home as far as possible, to make no unnecessary journeys or social contact and to only go out once a day for exercise and essential supplies. I am sure you, like me, are trying your best to follow these guidelines. I am equally sure that like me, you are finding life strange and anxious. Nothing is normal and with daily routines and patterns thrown into disarray we have, for the time being, to adapt to new ways of living. Everywhere is deserted and everyone is feeling the fear and uncertainty of what might lie ahead. Many who live alone and those with underlying health issues are particularly vulnerable. What does God have to say to us as we seek to try and hold onto our faith in such circumstances?
As I pondered this, two things came to mind. First, that being people of faith does not mean that we are immune to fear and worry. When we read the Bible, many of the great men and women of faith struggled with fear. King David in the Psalms admits that at times his flesh failed him because he was so afraid. St Paul in Corinthians tells us that he was “troubled on every side, fighting without and fears within.”
Secondly Jesus himself in the Garden of Gethsemane wrestled with overwhelming fear and grief. We are not alone! It is not wrong for us to admit that we are worried or anxious or even walking the house at night because we cannot sleep. We should not berate ourselves for these fears or, in true British fashion, try to pull ourselves together! What we can do is to take our fears to Jesus.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4 v 15
Jesus understands and he is with us and will help us in our need.
What we can also do is to rejoice in our God who is far greater that Covid-19. We can rejoice by looking back to what God has done, in our lives and in the lives of countless men and women throughout the ages. We can rejoice in a God who will never give up on us. We can rejoice in a God who has come down himself to save us. This is what we rejoice in. This is who we rejoice in.
The prophet Habakkuk back in 7BC found himself in very troubled times. The country was on the brink of a devastating invasion and marauding armies were about to sweep through the land. In the midst of this terror Habakkuk has a conversation with God about what on earth God think he is doing. It is a short book, but it packs a punch! At the very end of the book Habakkuk realises that he may not understand but by taking his eyes off the circumstances and looking at God instead his begins to feel better. He feels that whatever may come he can trust in God;
“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
and makes me tread upon the heights.”
I say Amen to that!
23rd March 2020
Today I took some time out from learning how to become more proficient with websites, social media and streaming services to learn about something completely different-how to prune my blackcurrant bushes! We are very fortunate to have inherited a number of beautiful fruit bushes in the garden and have enjoyed a bountiful harvest of strawberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants. As I love blackcurrant jam this has been great and allowed me to enjoy the simple pleasure of making-and eating!- my own jam. The drawback is that whilst I love gardening my skills are quite limited. I have a tendency to merrily cut things back far too drastically and usually at the wrong time of the year! Not wanting to spoil the harvest of soft fruits I took a look at some of the many you tube videos offering a step by step guide. What in theory looks and sounds quite simple was far more daunting when I went and looked at my own bushes, ipad clutched in one hand and secateurs in the other. Was this a one year old stem or a two year old stem? Which was the new growth and which could I safely cut off? At that point I decided it was too cold to stand there for any longer and I would tackle it another day!! But one very clear piece of advice was on all the sites I looked at, and that was to create a hole in the middle of the plant to allow light in and growth to occur that would then bear fruit.
As I thought about this it struck me that perhaps many of us at the moment feel as though there is a hole in the middle of our lives, an empty place which would normally be filled with a thousand and one different things. Things like work, commuting, socialising, shopping, entertaining, being entertained, many things which would keep our lives busy -and often too busy. With so much of our normal lives and routines disrupted we can feel as though our life suddenly has a hole in it. The circumstances that have led to this situation are tragic and together we must do all that we can to combat this dreadful disease by following government guidelines, being sensible and not putting ourselves and others at risk. But, let us also take this opportunity to allow that space in our lives to be a place which God fills. Let us see this as an opportunity to grow closer to God in prayer, in reading his word, in praise and worship. Read a good Christian book, meditate and allow God first and foremost to fill that empty space. So much of what we cram into our lives distracts and distances us from God, May this be a time to remedy that and find, as we do so, that God will give us his peace that passes all understanding.
I am reminded of the lyrics of “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen..”There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” Just as tomorrow the secateurs and I will be attempting to let the light in to my blackcurrant bushes, so may the cracks in our world that have been caused by Covid-19 allow the light of Christ to fill the sudden hole in our lives more and more each day, because then, there really will be, a joyful and fruitful harvest.
” Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you…..” Revelation 3 v 20
22nd March 2020 Mothering Sunday
Today is Mothering Sunday, traditionally the day in the year when those working in service, or away from home, were encouraged to return home and visit their families. Often, they would take with them presents of cake and pick flowers from the side of the road as they travelled. It was also the day when people were encouraged to return to their mother church, the church in which they were brought up.
Times may have changed but the tradition of celebrating mothers continues. It is for many a very happy and blessed day, an opportunity to be with loved ones and share a meal, give flowers and enjoy family life. Sadly, for many others, Mother’s Day is a difficult and emotional time for a whole variety of reasons. But whoever we are and whatever Mother’s Day means to us personally, this year we all find ourselves in a different and difficult place where fear and anxiety are rife and where we are actively told to stay away from coming together-either as human or church family. In this time, I find it very comforting to look at this picture- another by Stanley Spencer. The painting is of Jesus encircling a mother hen who is looking after her chicks. One of the smallest chicks is tucked under the mother’s wing, the others are nearby, as is a small sparrow joining them within the circle of Christ’s arm. Those arms of Christ reach out to protect and hold within them the mother and her chicks. This is an image that we often find in the Bible and one that we shall be coming to shortly as we travel through Lent. Having entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday Jesus looks out and laments over the city with these words:
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem……how often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, but you were not willing!”
The longing of Christ to protect and gather his people is beautifully encapsulated in this image of a mother hen. But there are also many places in the Old Testament where this image is also to be found, one of which, from Psalm 57, is so fitting for our world today.
“In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge,
until the destroying storms pass by.”
Christ longs to protect and keep us, holding us within his love and encircling us with his presence and that is such a wonderful image to hold onto in our current situation.
Some of you may be familiar with caim prayers. Caim is an old Gaelic word meaning: “protecting”, “encircling” and these simple prayers of faith call upon God to circle us with his love and protection. Below is an example of an old caim prayer that you might like to use for yourself and for others.
Circle me Lord, Keep protection near, and danger afar.
Circle me Lord, Keep light near, and darkness afar.
Circle me Lord, Keep peace within. Keep evil out.
Circle me Lord, Keep hope within. Keep doubt without.
May you be a bright flame before me.
May you be a guiding star above me.
May you be a smooth path below me.
And a loving Guide behind me.
Today, tonight, and forever.
21st March 2020
Today I took a walk up Knockfarrel, an Iron Age hillfort near where we live. The views-as you can see- are spectacular but what it brought to mind was a passage from Isaiah one perhaps more familiar to us from an Advent setting;
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” Isaiah 52 v 7
How lovely it would be to hear good news instead of the bad news we are bombarded with from every direction at the moment! Every fresh news bulletin brings more grim statistics and more for us to worry about. It also brings sad news of how many are so afraid that they are hoarding food and supplies to the extent that shelves in shops are empty and some customers, often the most vulnerable and needy, are having to do without.
So, in this climate of fear and panic, I wondered, what would look like good news to you? That your local supermarket had suddenly got shelves full of toilet rolls and hand sanitizer? That the company you work for is going to keep on paying you despite shutting down its operations? That your loved ones are still well? That they had miraculously discovered a cure for Covid-19?
I am sure we could all come up with a list of what would be good news for us. But you know there is good news in all of this, and all credit to the news agencies that they are actually sharing this as well! At this time of global crisis so many people are reaching out to others, people offering help, support, doctors and nurses working every hour there is to prepare, people coming out of retirement to help…the list could go on. Simple acts of human kindness and love that bring encouragement and hope despite the grim news feeds.
And, as that text from Isaiah reminds me, the very best news is-quite literally-the Gospel. Gospel means “good news” and the one who bears and brings that good news is Jesus our Saviour who has come to be one of us. He knows what it is like to be human, he knows and understands our fear and he will be with us every single step of the way. He is the same, yesterday, today and forever, the God of love who comes to bear our sins and carry our burdens. The God who has overcome death and brings the promise of eternal life to each and every one of us.
May we daily give thanks for all the good that is being shown, may we do all we can to show human kindness and love and may we give thanks for the good news of Jesus, our help, our refuge and our Saviour.
20th March 2020
Today has been the most beautiful Spring day here in the Highlands. The sky looked newly painted in blue, so cloudless was it, and all around were signs of new life. Daffodils waving merrily at me from the riverbank, birds singing their hearts out as they flew joyously overhead and the trees beginning to show new buds as the sun warmed them. It was easy, just for a moment, to forget the troubles of the world and the threat that we all face from Covid-19 and just enjoy the wonderful gift of creation that God has given us. Despite our lack of care and love for this good earth it goes on living and giving because God upholds and sustains it. As that great poet Gerald Manley Hopkins so wonderfully puts it;
“For all this nature is never spent.
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”
Seeing these harbingers of Spring and thinking about God’s presence in the world is both comforting and hopeful. It reminds me that God is present daily in our world and that he will help us to weather the storm that this disease has brought. He is not some remote God watching from a distance, but a God who is actively involved in our world, upholding and sustaining the natural world-and us-if we allow him to. He alone can bring new hope to our world and to us, renewing what looks dead to fresh life. As I looked at the trees around me, still with bare branches but showing new shoots and buds I was also reminded of the image in the book of Revelation where in the new heavens and the new earth the trees of life bear leaves for the healing of the nations. At a time when we so desperately need that healing may I encourage you to pray to the God who upholds the world and all that is in it. Ask him to reveal himself to you as you look out on his world. Ask him for peace to calm your fears and ask him for his creative, healing touch to come on each and every one of us.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.” Revelation 22
19th March 2020
Light A Candle
Lighting a candle may seem such a small and insignificant thing to do and yet it can and does speak volumes to us if we have open hearts and ears. This coming Sunday- March 22nd– has been designated a National Day of Prayer in Scotland and at 7.00pm we are being encouraged to light a candle and put it in our window as a sign of the life and light that Jesus brings to all. In the words of the Gospel of St John
“The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never overcome it”
In these days when the darkness of illness, fear and isolation is very real may we take heart and remember that no matter how dark it may seem, the life and the hope that Christ offers can never be extinguished, not by Covid-19 nor indeed anything else!
Since moving to the far north of Scotland I have come to appreciate in a new way just how great the influence of light and dark can be. The long, long daylight hours of summer when I can just about still sit outside and read at gone 11.00pm, has been a new and wonderful experience. The sense of freedom and tranquillity that those long evenings have brought and the special shade of light that comes with those days has been a joy -even if we had to buy blackout curtains to allow us to get some sleep! But the flip side, of course, has been the extremely short days of winter when dog walking had to take place immediately after lunch if it was going to happen-and with two beautiful golden retrievers giving me expectant looks- it has to happen! So much of our life is governed by light and dark and in true Jesus style he uses the images that we are all so familiar with to teach us.
John 8 v 12
“Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
In the darkness it is so easy to get lost, to lose one’s sense of direction and to feel isolated and alone with no visible presence or familiar landmarks. In this current crisis it feels as though the whole world is somewhat lost in unfamiliar territory, struggling to find its way in a situation where there is no map or compass to direct us. What Jesus promises is that if we turn and ask him for guidance, he will take us by the hand and lead us. He will be the light in our darkness, and he will lead us to life-here and in eternity.
Many of you will be familiar with the beautiful collect for aid against all perils, which seems to be a most fitting prayer to end the day.
“Lighten our darkness, we beseech thee, O Lord; and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night; for the love of thy only Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen
18th March 2020
“Do not worry about your life…… do not be afraid, little flock” ( from Luke 12 v 22ff)
These words are repeated time and again in the Bible. As someone who has often struggled with anxiety, I know just how easy those words are to say and yet how hard to believe and live! Nevertheless, I do know that when I take my worries and anxieties to God, I find help and strength to carry on-one step at a time.
In our world today there is a huge amount of fear as we face the effects that this virus is having on the world as we know it. There is so much uncertainty and we are constantly being fed grim news, dire statistics and injunctions to do this or that to stay safe. Can I encourage you to keep turning your eyes upon Jesus at those moments when fear and panic grips you, to look at him and remember that He is with you and will give you all that you need if you will but ask. If prayer seems too difficult just simply say the name of Jesus and keep repeating it to yourself and you will find that after a while that Jesus will calm and restore you so that you can take the next step in your day.
The passage from the Sermon on the Mount that this text is taken from always makes me smile because of the image it conjures up. There is Jesus sitting on top of a mountain, surrounded by crowds and he looks up at the birds circling overhead and the flowers in the field around him and reminds his listeners that if God so looks after them, how much more will he look after us.
The painting below is a wonderful image of Christ examining carefully the daisies. Painted by Stanley Spencer in 1939 it shows Christ gazing intently at the simple daisies. He is giving them his total concentration and delighting in them. In just the same way I believe God looks at and delights in us. Spencer has substituted daisies for lilies and that comforts me enormously because not only am I not a great fan of lilies but also because I feel far more like a small daisy! Apparently, Spencer’s inspiration came both from this text and from watching his baby daughter crawling about on the grass examining the flowers. Simple, childlike, loving attention. That is what Christ offers each of us-his loving gaze, his total concentration.
May I encourage you today to look at the birds of the air and the flowers in your garden or park or home and remember what Jesus says each one of us.
Do not be afraid….
CREDIT: © THE ESTATE OF STANLEY SPENCER 2012. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED DACS Mountainous among the daisies: Christ in theWilderness: Consider the Lilies (1939) by
Stanley Spencer, in the State Art Collection, Art Gallery ofWestern Australia
17th March 2020
I will lift up mine eyes to the hills
From whence cometh my help?
My help cometh from the Lord
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 121 v 1-2
As a child I learned this psalm off by heart in Sunday school and it has remained a favourite of mine since then. The language of the psalm in the original King James is particularly beautiful but it is the thought that lies behind it that has comforted and encouraged me over the years.
The psalmist looks up to the high mountains and sees them in all their glory, their majesty and the fact that they have stood for generations. However, his help comes not from them, but from the Lord who made them. It is God alone who will guide, protect and watch over him, who knows all his comings and goings- be it by day or night.
Moving to the beautiful Highlands of Scotland has brought this psalm home to me in a whole new way. Surrounded by the breath-taking beauty of the hills day by day has helped me to realise just how great our Creator God is and how great is his love and faithfulness to his people. For this creator God, who formed the hills in their everlasting beauty, is also my loving heavenly Father who has counted the hairs on my head and who knows my every step and thought.
At this time of world-wide fear and uncertainty as we deal with coronavirus, can I encourage you to remember that our God is, as the children’s song so beautifully puts it, “a great big God and he holds us in his hands” Whatever happens God is with us. That is the wonderful message of this psalm, the message of the Bible, the joyous meaning of the Incarnation and the testimony of countless number through the ages. Whatever is going on in the world, whatever wars, crisis, fears and indeed whatever viruses there are, our God is with us and will hold us, care for us and watch over our every step.
So, be at peace, trust and when fears and anxieties threaten, look up at the hills and remember the God who made them has you safe in the palm of his hand and come what may he will be with you-always.