In other news …

picton

cathedral

I met with my counsellor this morning.

I’ve been seeing her for eight months now and at the end of the session I think we both sensed that the course of therapy is now coming to an end; not because I’m completely free of overwhelming thoughts, but because I’m now well enough to let my rational brain bring a little order back into the craziness whenever things get wild.

Life is good.

I drove into town after the session and parked up in my usual place by St James in the City. I walked up to Saint George’s Hall along Hope Street and smiled because only Liverpool would have a street named “hope” with a cathedral at each end and a statue half way commemorating the historic relationship between the Anglican Bishop Sheppard and the Catholic Bishop Worlock.

It’s along time since I’ve written on this blog  but I did spend the afternoon in the Picton Reading Room with my notebook, as I did last Wednesday, and the outcome was one or two good sentences.

I went to evening prayer at the Anglican Cathedral at the end of the day. The vast interior of the building was running with children, 16 schools from Warrington gathered to perform gospel songs in a concert for their parents. It was much too noisy for evening prayer which had been moved to the Lady Chapel. I was glad to help the verger carry the prayer books down in the lift and just a few of us gathered for the short service underneath the dazling blue of the stain glass window and its brilliant light.

If you have never been to evening prayer I can recommend it as short and consolidatory. It pulls together all the loose ends of the day without making any outrageous promises that it will be unlikely to deliver on.

Evening prayer includes a Psalm, the Magnificat (the song Mary sang when the angel told her she was to have a child) and the Nunc Dimittis (the song Simeon sang when Jesus was presented in the temple). There is the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and a chapter from both testaments of the bible.

In these days our world is full of words: news media, social media, electronic communications, arguments, controversies and many, many conversations. Church life too: so many views and opinions, so many competing voices and plans.

Rarely do I hear so much scripture in one sitting. Rarely do I hear so much scripture read aloud. And scripture seems at home in the cathedral, with its gathered congregation, those from its own community and us visitors too. The scripture seems somehow bigger here, as if my home and my head were too small to contain its fullness.

This is from the Old Testament reading for today, some trustworthy reassurance after another day of political turmoil and perspective for us in uncertain times:

Your eyes will see the king in his beauty
and view a land that stretches afar…
In your thoughts you will ponder the former terror:
Look on Zion, the city of our festivals;
your eyes will see Jerusalem,
a peaceful abode, a tent that will not be moved;
its stakes will never be pulled up,
nor any of its ropes broken.
There the Lord will be our Mighty One.
It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams.
No galley with oars will ride them,
no mighty ship will sail them. For the Lord is our judge,
the Lord is our lawgiver,
the Lord is our king;
it is he who will save us.

Isaiah 33

 

Words from a vineyard

IMG_4252

If Jesus walked in a cornfield on the sabbath he must surely have walked amongst the rows of a vineyard too. With friends occasionally in fields of short straw stubble, at other times making a climb along a dusty path, passing a farm house up among the grazing sheep. Birds sing in a scattering of trees, small insects hum and with every step the views increase, spreading wider all the way to the shores of the sea. Perched on a hillside, drinking in the sun, row upon row of short staked vines, trained and pruned to produce a good harvest of fruit for the making of wine.

Jesus and his disciples lived alongside the men and the women who worked the vineyards and amongst their community in synagogue prayers they read from Isaiah 5, a vineyard where, the ground is cleared of stones and only the best vines are planted. In Psalm 80 another vineyard is planted and as an image of Israel, these vine are monsters, taking root and filling the land, stretching from one shore to the next, providing shelter for all.

But in both these Bible songs the fate of the vines is the same: ripped out of the ground and flung into the fire, Israel is the vine, dearly loved but unfaithful and disobedient she is destroyed by the blade and the flame.

This is the picture that the disciples had in mind when Jesus told them, I am the vine. They understood him and they did not understand him, all at the same time. The story they were familiar with is based on sin and punishment but the story Jesus tells has a different focus. In the new story Jesus himself is the vine, God is the gardener and anyone who is listening is invited to abide in the vine like a new shoot, trimmed and trained to grow and bound and inevitably producing fruit.

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.  John 15 (NIV)

IMG_4261

IMG_4265

I wouldn’t have noticed the two ways of seeing the vine imagery if I hadn’t visited a vineyard.

Shawsgate Vineyard is on a quiet B road, a few miles from Framingham, a tiny piece of hidden Suffolk that we sometimes visit. It has a castle and a river snaking its way down to the sea. There are farmhouses half timbered, ancient orchards and country lanes where the grass grows up through the broken tarmac in the middle of the road. Suffolk has a vine growing history that is 900 years old and the Domesday book records nearly forty vineyards in the county at the time of the Norman conquest. Shawsgate is a modern vineyard but you can feel the weight of years all around you.

I love being lost in thought between these vines. This is one of my favourite places and as I walked between the rows, thinking on the familiar words of John 15, I sensed a shift in my understanding of what Jesus was saying. Without ever acknowledging it I had seen the text as punishing and harsh. Without intending to I had a adopted a view of ‘my Father is the gardener’ that was all about God doing battle with my sin. In it God comes along with secateurs to cut out the rotten wood and the stems with fungus and blight. I am often on edge, often wondering what I will get wrong and the punishment that will result.

But amongst the lush green canopy of leaves that shade each tear drop bunch of ripening grapes I saw how the pruning work of this gardener is hardly ever the removal of diseased wood. These vines are attached to healthy stock, well watered and well cared for. They do not suffer from fungus and blight. The pruning of these vines is, as Jesus said, the removal of every branch that does not bear fruit because these grapes are always produced on one year old wood. At the end of every growing season the branches that have sustained the fruit are cut out and the plant rests over the winter. Because these branches will not bear good fruit again, their time is done. When the spring comes new shoots appear and these will form the branches that bear the new fruit. In this way the vine goes on being fruitful for as long as there is a gardener there ready to remove the spent wood. This is a process by which the gardener is able to produce one good crop after another from the same vine.

Can you feel the shift? One degree of glory unto the next? Does it speak to your soul?

He does not want to punish you, He wants to love you and to keep you safe.  He has a skilful way of producing good things in you. Draw close to him and read his word. Think on the good things of God and let Him heal and cleanse your soul of every harsh thought or fearful response that has ever stopped you knowing his love.

Abide in me, say the old words of the King James. Words of welcome.

There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more and nothing that will make him love you less.

I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. John 15.5 (KJV)

IMG_4276

IMG_4263

Shawsgate Vineyard is between Framingham and Badingham in Suffolk, on the B1120. It is open to the public.

Four cups of tea and an omer of manna

teapot

Not everyone can start each day bright eyed and bushy tailed, a good breakfast, shower, teeth, shoes shined, out the door, on time. Some of us only really start to breath after the third cup of tea or a mug of stove top coffee so strong you could put it in the fuel tank and drive the car to work on it. Some of us hung the clean white ironed shirt on the back of the door before we laid ourselves down to sleep. But some of us will still be hopping round the bedroom searching for the other matching sock when all the front doors on the street have slammed shut and the cars have pulled off their drives and begun the compute. We know for sure we’re late again and throughout the brain fog we wonder if there’s a better way to start the day than digging in the dirty laundry basket for something passable to wear for a second day.

Maybe you have morning habits as regular as the 6.30 alarm on the digital clock beside your carefully ordered dust free bedside table. You never even want to lie in. A signed-up fully active member of the jump-out-of-bed-and-face-the-day brigade. Some of us are fumbling for snooze, whilst you are pulling on yoga pants and lacing up trainers for your morning run.

We cant all be good in the morning. But this said I am a convert to one rather lovely the early morning routine; a little sun rise habit that has become a blessing  for the very sleepy soul. The habit is this: a psalm in the morning and a little laying down of the cares and worries of the day in prayer, a real gift. And what is more, it can all be accomplished with out even getting out of your bed, if thats the way you would like to do it. And thats the way I like to do it. Because I like my bed and God never said that for prayer to work it had to be carried out kneeling on a hard floor in draughty half light of an un heated room.

Today some little threads came together for me, as I read and thought and prayed my morning psalm.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
in the morning I lay my requests before you
and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5.3

By first cup of tea I’d cheerfully greeted all the kids and made sure they had what they needed for the day. By second cup of tea I’d read a psalm and done some prayer business that needed my (Our) attention. I’d names the prayer things right out loud twice just so I didn’t forget. Just to hear the sound of a good confession break the dread of the day ahead. You bring a thing to God in prayer , you have to know you said it, he heard it and it’s safe in his hand. Watch what unfolds from this point, for what unfold from this point is all because of a a very precious prayer.

This is a writing day and by the third cup of tea I’d read a little and written a little and some ideas are coming together.

Wandering and grumbling in a place called the Desert of Sin, God tells the children of Israel that he will feed them. Every morning he will send them a bread from heaven but they must go out first thing to gather what they need, manna(Exodus 16). And he fed them as he feeds me. Something seen be made again out of something unseen.

tea

And I read some good things about mana and being fed, about trusting God and reading His word.

I read these lovely words, a story from Ann Voskamp,

Mama has the tea ready when I get there for prayer group and Bible study first thing in the morning … I, of course, come late. Like a foolish woman straight out of a 6am parable, still trying to trim her lamp, trying to remember her oil, trying to stay awake … Mama she hands me a cup of steaming tea, apple cinnamon, and tells me it’s Psalm 107 this morning and could I just read the chapter right out loud? Read it because it’s manna and you’ve got nothing to give if you haven’t gathered and you have to gather Word-manna at daybreak if you’re going to gain form it the daylong.

And these lovely words from Glennon Melton, her children’s sermon, good for grown up children too …

Remember how I taught you that one of the most repeated lines in the Bible is: ”Do not be afraid?” Today’s Bible story is one of my favourites because it helps me remember to not be afraid.

Here’s the story:

God called some people to do a really hard thing – to travel through the desert for a very long time, and they were hungry and tired and scared. Do you ever feel hungry and tired and scared?

I do. Lots of times every day, usually… continue reading here

I shared my encouragement from psalms on social media and later over my fourth cup of tea I opened my Facebook. It had been liked and shared.

You are my people, you early morning prayer friends. You who open the Word before the bustle of the day has begun, stalking around the hushed sleeping homes and seeking out that manna, gathering it up and bringing it home.

Because He cares for you.

What are you’re most vital morning habits? which good morning habits have been hardest to achieve? how do you ensure you have gather your early morning mana?