Monday, 30 December 2013

The other side of the bongs

So, Christmas is over and the New Year is lurking perilously close, just out of sight but definitely there.  Waiting. The conveyor belt that is life is carrying me helplessly nearer the end of this old year and towards the yawning opening that is the New one and there's nothing I can do to stop it. Hence 'helplessly'. Nice bit of redundancy there.

This is an anxious time of year for me, as you might have gathered. You know me inside and out, Lord God, and so nobody will be more aware than you that my discomfort levels rise round about now. 

I have always thought that the New Year has such potential, but in my experience it rarely lives up to it. I have spent many years trying to find the perfect way to spend New Year and as the 31st bong-bong-bongs into the 1st with Big Ben's chimes it has found me in a variety of places.

I have been in pubs counting down the 10-9-8 with a few hundred other inebriated individuals looking for fun and company; I've been on London Bridge for the Millennium celebrations packed tightly together with a few million other cold and squashed people looking at the fireworks reflected in the Thames and the flashing blue lights of an ambulance as it tried in vain to reach a man whose heart chose the worst time ever to stop. 

I've been at parties with paper hats and party poppers poised for explosion as Big Ben chimes the big chime, and I've been on the sofa with one other precious person and a glass of champagne watching celebs act silly on the telly.

I've even tried going to bed at ten and sleeping through it more than once. I've found that this particular course of action actually has the most positive effect on mood on 1 January. It may be that it's to be recommended, but then it's a shame to miss it if New Year has such potential, isn't it?

The best one? I was once in Antarctica sitting on the deck of a ship on honeymoon with my husband (who else?) and we sat, party clothes bundled up underneath huge puffy jackets, hair squished under woolly hats and hands buried in pockets.

We were the only ones outside as a party went on below.

The icebergs loomed pale in the light from the windows and the only sound was the wind. The sea was inky black, the sky inkier still, with more stars than I've ever seen. The milky way was there in all it's cloudy glory and the stars of the southern hemisphere fascinated my amateur astronomer husband used to different sky.  Fireworks forbidden because of pollution, as the year turned into the next one, the Captain sounded the ship's horn - a long, melancholy wail that must have made the penguins jump. It was moving. That was probably the best way to see in the New Year that I've tried. 

But whatever I do, the moment passes and there's what to do next. The old year has gone and the reality is that it's the middle of the night - a night like any other - and the next day is inevitably an anti-climax. It's  now January, still winter, still cold/wet/windy/bleak/dank and there seems nothing to look forward to. The festive season is well and truly over and the decorations look out of place. 

What, then? 

Why does the New Year depress me and make me anxious? I think it's about letting go. As one year rolls into the next, I have to let go what's past. 

I'm not very good at this, am I? 

As the sort of woman who replays every significant (and, often, insignificant) conversation in her mind for hours afterwards wishing she'd said it differently and wondering what the other person thinks, letting a whole year slip from my hands is hard. 

For me, with a tendency to live too much in the past, New Year feels like the loss of something. A familiar year. Better the devil you know (Ahem. Sorry). The outgoing year feels like a battered old comfy sofa and I sort of want to stay sprawled on it rather than get up and walk through that dazzlingly bright doorway to who knows where.

I tend to favour licking the wounds of the outgoing year than looking forward to the new one. A new year is full of possibility, yes; but if your glass is half empty instead of half full then it's also full of hurdles and challenges and difficulties. It's a scary blank page, a white space. Unsullied. Perfect in it's untouchedness. And I'm about to stumble all over it and reach out with sticky fingers and mess it up.

See? I've just splurged out all my New Year angst. It's going to happen whether I'm all ready for it or not. That conveyor belt that I'm riding has no manual override. Well, there is, but only you control the button. 
'Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.'
Jeremiah 17:7
And that's it, really, isn't it?

I trust you. 

I trust you to lead me into the New Year and I trust you that there is nothing waiting the other side of those bongbongbongs that we can't handle together. There's nothing there that you haven't seen already and there's nothing there that will surprise or shock you, even if it frightens the pants off me.

My confidence is in you, not in me. On my own I rush things, I speak too soon and too much, I make mistakes, I break promises, I don't do what I should do and I do what I shouldn't. When my confidence is in me, I come unstuck.

This coming year - I will trust in you.

This year I want to go where you want me to go. I want to put one foot in front of the other in the full knowledge that your footsteps are there already and there is no safer way to go than when I'm matching my stride with yours. There's no other certain way of getting where you want me to go.

Lord, the last few years have begun with a wonderful sense of anticipation and you haven't let me down. The anticipation is still there, but this year I feel a bit different; there's a scoop of trepidation too. I don't feel as if I'm leaping into the new year with much enthusiasm even though I have a strong sense that you're taking me somewhere. Part of me is excited but I'm a little wary as well. There seems so much to do. So many mountains to climb. Such a long way to go.

The dreams I have, even the ones that I am convinced that you've blessed, they seem so far away.

This morning in Sarah Young's 'Jesus Calling' I read:
'Enjoy the adventure of finding yourself through losing yourself in Me.'*
I read this and the New Year felt a little less scary.

I do have plans and hopes and dreams and ambitions and I know that you know what they are because you planted them in my heart. I know that your timing is better than mine even when I'm annoyed with you for not getting me there fast enough. I know that nothing is achieved without commitment and hard work and that nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. I know all those things. I believe that you'll take me a step closer this coming year.

But maybe the destination is not as important as the journey. The last few years it's seemed to me that you and I have been on a warp-drive trip together; you've been teaching me so much that at times my head has spun.  I know that you have more in store. I know that before I get where you want me to go, or do what you want me to do, you want me to be the person you want me to be.

So maybe the destination is not as important as the journey. At least not right now. Perhaps I can limp over the threshold of the new year holding onto your arm and leaning into you. Maybe I can fix my eyes on you so that your glory shows me the way and lights up the dark places on the way and shows me the potholes so I don't come crashing down. If the new year is a blank page then perhaps with you by my side you will give me the words to write on it.

I like the sound of an adventure if you are coming with me. I like the sound of finding myself - the me you created me to be. I like the sound of losing myself in you. In being so close to you that you rub off on me.

So close that I can reflect your light to a world that has too many shadows. I like the sound of inhabiting you, and you in me. Yes please, Lord God. I want all you have of that.

I'm wondering if starting a new year with quietness and deliberation and a confidence in something unshakeable is better than with a bang and a grand gesture and a flurry of dynamic resolutions.

You are the God of fresh starts. Help me to take off the fear and hang it up this side of the threshold, before I deliberately step through.

We're off on an adventure, you and me, aren't we?

I trust you.

Maybe the New Year is full of potential after all.

* Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, 2007 Integrity Publishers.

Edited and reposted from 2012 because it seems more relevant than ever. I trust you, Jesus. 

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Come and worship

I've always loved Carol Services. 

If I can hold a candle and the church is nicely decorated and there's a choir and a band and so on, so much the better. The other night I walked down the road to church and on the way I asked you if you'd speak to me. If I could spend time with you - and feel your Presence there with me in the candlelight. 

Oh, Lord, you answered that prayer. 

The carols weren't just carols. They weren't the same over-familiar tunes and words that we trot out each year and know by heart because we dust them off each Christmas. For me, in row six, sitting next to a man who didn't sing a single word - not a single word! - it seemed fresh and new. 

Hark! The herald angels sing
Glory to the new born King

Oh, Lord Jesus. It was as if those angels were singing with us. The glorious company of heaven was watching the miraculous events in a small middle eastern town way back when and they were proclaiming the wonder of it for the very first time
Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies

The very angels of heaven were singing to say, 'He's there! He's come to you! Can you believe it?'

As we sang the weariness of the day full of Christmas preparations melted away and I realised that I found a little bit of that joy deep inside. It's not a fluffy, light as a feather happy sort of feeling; no, it's a deep, weighty, full-bodied overwhelming thing. 

Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings

Light. Life. Healing. Don't we all need those things? How I need them; I am broken in so many places. And you are the balm to my hurts, the light in my darkness, the answer to my question. 

As the candle flame in my hand flickered and people's faces were lit up and made beautiful with the soft light, the music soared and my soul reached for you. 

Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth

Born that we might live and not die. Born to lift us to heaven to be with you rather than strike us down and leave us where we deserve to be.

Oh, Father. What mystery is it that you came to earth and poured deity into a tiny wriggling body. How amazing that a young girl heard your voice and said 'Yes, let it be as you say', instead of 'You want me to do WHAT?' 
How wonderful that a good man stood by his faithful young wife and raised a baby that wasn't his?  

He came down to earth from heaven
Who is God and Lord of all
and His shelter was a stable
And His cradle was a stall

And the Saviour of the world had his birth day among animals and shepherds and other odd visitors? (Yes, I know, the wise men came some time later, but you know what I mean).

There isn't a palace in the world that man could make beautiful enough for you. There isn't a cathedral or a landscape or a crown of jewels that befits your majesty - but you chose a little known town in the back of beyond for your entry. 

Why? Because you had a Plan. 

God rest you merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this day
To save us all from Satan's power
When we were gone astray

Yeah, let's stay merry, people! Let's not let anything dilute or diminish the amazing thing that happened. You came to rescue us. You loved us too much to leave us in the mess we'd created, were creating, and would go on to create (and it's quite a mess). You came to bring us home to be with you, because you loved us. 
O, tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O, tidings of comfort and joy

If that's not good news, I don't know what is. 

My God, it seemed amazing to me. Emmanuel - God with us. 

God. With. Us. Sing about it. 
Sing, choirs of angels
Sing in exultation
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above
Glory to God
In the highest
O come, let us adore Him

Christ, the Lord. A tiny baby. 

Why exultation? Exulting? Lively, triumphant joy. Celebration of success, not just happiness. This is a triumph, and the angels could see how profound it was. Everything would be different, now. It was a game-changer. The earth was transformed that night and most people down here were completely oblivious to it, but the angels weren't. 

It was a big deal.
Ding dong! merrily on high
In heaven the bells are ringing
Ding dong! verily the sky
Is riven with angels singing
Hosanna in excelsis!

Riven! The sky was split across with the sound of the angels. Torn apart with the pealing of bells and heavenly host worshipping and celebrating. That must have been some sound.

Ye who sang creation's story
Now proclaim Messiah's birth
Come and worship
Christ the new-born King

We came and we worshipped. The choir sang in harmonies that must have pleased you. The band played music that lead us into your presence and the old songs meant something new.

We got to play a small part in the anniversary of that earth-shattering day in history.

E'en so here below, below...

Even so, here below. In my church, at Christmas 2013. Me. Even me. 

Now to the Lord sing praises
All you within this place

And I closed my eyes (making sure that my candle was still vertical and not dripping wax on the floor or setting fire to anyone's hair or anything) and I remembered the way I saw you on your throne with the scenes of glory and majesty and power and gentleness and unending, dramatic love playing out in your heart and I lifted my small, substandard, stained one to you. 

I think maybe even if we manage to see beyond the turkey and tinsel and gifts and Christmas telly sometimes we get too wrapped up in the tiny baby in a manger and no-crying-he-makes and all that. Even with the benefit of more than two thousand years we might miss the big picture - this baby was God. The Creator and sustainer of life, in a bed made of straw born to a normal girl who believed and her bemused husband. 

Christ by highest heaven adored
Christ the everlasting Lord

Adored by the angels of heaven and adored by me.

The Word made flesh. God with us. 

Oh, God, thank you for my glimpse past the familiar and into the realms of worship. Thank you that I heard an echo of the angels song and you let me add my poorly tuned but enthusiastic voice to the heavenly host.

Glorious now, behold him arise
King and God and sacrifice
Heaven sings, Alleluia!
Alleluia the earth replies

God with us. 

Jesus, our Emmanuel.

Amen and Alleluia. 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

I saw you

I saw you. 

I haven't a clue whether what I saw was a glimpse given to me by you yourself, or a construct of my own from all the imagery and art I've seen - but it doesn't matter. One minute it wasn't in my head and the next, it was, in all its detail.

I saw you. 

You were sitting on your throne. I couldn't properly see because the light was so bright, so dazzling, but I knew it was you, and I was on my knees. 

Your throne was huge. Vast and endless. From behind and around it flowed the train of your robe just like this:

'...I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.'

Isaiah 6:1

Your robe flowed like a river flowing over stones. It rippled and moved all around me and off in all directions. It was a deep, deep red, a King's robe made of velvet or something. Rich and luxurious and constantly moving; a living thing. 

Looking up, (I was so tiny in this picture) I could see your hands on the arms of your throne. Relaxed fingers curving over the arms, short nails and callouses. A proper man's hands. When you lifted them in an open gesture of peace and welcome, I could see the scars on the paler skin of your palms. 

The light was coming from all around you and I could not make out your face. You were not silhouetted, even though the light was behind you - it was streaming from you. White light, dazzlingly bright, with refracted beams of all colours. I could feel the warmth coming as if I was bathed in sunlight, and as you moved the rays of sunlight danced, making patterns on the rippling robe all around me almost like sunlight through water. 

I could not see your face, but I could make out your shape. I caught glimpses of a crown of glistening white metal with jewels of all colours, but no detail. You were seated on your throne and your glory was all-encompassing. I wanted to fall on my face but I could not take my eyes from you. Indeed, your proximity rocked me back on my heels. I opened my arms wide and knelt, watching. Absorbing. 

And then I realised that there was so much more than an outline. I saw pictures in the light at about chest height - it was as if I was seeing your heart. I wish I was an artist and could draw what I saw, because I'm not sure that words are enough. I wish I could make a film with CGI and special effects, because it was constantly shifting. 

I saw a rapidly changing picture. The different scenes flashed past so fast that they were almost subliminal and so describing what I saw is difficult. 

There was an endless sea with the sound of crashing waves. I saw a million starts in a night sky, a sunrise, a desert with twisting sand-dunes, a jungle with brightly coloured exotic birds. I saw forks of lightning in a dark, threatening sky, with great claps of thunder, a roaring lion, an eagle soaring, a huge oak tree, a single red rose.

I saw a couple kissing, a field of corn, a newborn baby crying, a rainbow over rolling hills. There was a little girl in a red dress twirling underneath a shower of apple blossom. I saw waterfalls and towering cliffs and a dandelion clock, heard birds singing, the sound of wind in a silver birch. Icebergs calving, starlings swirling,  leaping flames, drops of dew, rapid cloud formations and shoals of fish in the depths of the ocean. 

It went on and on. It was awe-inspiring, frightening, welcoming, wonderful. I was delighted and unnerved. You drew me in, showing me your immense power, consummate gentleness, your creativity and strength. 

You were all-consuming. Endless and boundless.

There was a sense of life. Hard to pin down - but it was vivid; a living scene. You were giving me a glimpse of who you were; your very nature.

I thought I was the only one there, but I realised that I was in a vast, immeasurable space with countless other people all gathered round you. I was on the front row, and yet there were thousands in front of me and all around. All eyes were fixed on you. Some people were smiling, others with tears streaming down their faces, others eyes closed, basking in the warmth radiating from you.

I felt a flood of emotions. Awe, hope, fear, delight, joy, excitement, peace - but most of all I felt at home. 

I could stay there forever.

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