St Peter / Balsall Common

Anne's Journey of Faith Continues

5 Jun 2017 • General news

Growing in Prayer

In the middle of the night, we often think we have our most lucid thoughts. We sometimes can’t get off to sleep or we wake up and can’t get back to sleep, and so we start turning things over and over in our minds. Worries that are magnified in the darkness are quite often solved with a sudden flash of brilliance. And we think we will manage things better the next day. And sometimes we have a little chat to God – or perhaps a little ramble……... And just the other day, a recent night-time ramble went something like this:

“Dear God,

Here’s a question: Can we do a deal? Is that allowed? If we promise not to ask for anything for ourselves, but just ask you to look after our loved ones, would that be alright? And, because I am a loved one as well, would that mean I’d be looked after too? And, tell me, if everyone in the world asked you to look after their loved ones, everyone would be alright, wouldn’t they?

Ah!! Do you think ‘a deal’ might amount to a sort of blackmail if we say we won’t ask for anything else from you ‘but just to look after ………’??

OK, yes, I see – trying to blackmail God – that’s not right, is it? I mean, from what I understand, you’re all about love and you’re not blackmailable. But really, I promise I won’t ask for anything else if you just look after my loved ones – is that alright?”

Well, of course, in the light of day, we know what the answer is: “No, it’s not alright.”

Our prayers, more often than not, are couched in human terms because we have limited understanding of God’s purpose for us. In times of crisis or illness, particularly, we revert back to what I call ‘self-preservation prayers’ or ‘save me’ prayers. These are what I think of as childlike and immature prayers on which we fall back, when our emotional and intellectual state is challenged.

As time goes on and I walk with God more and more, I am finding experience kicks in and God works through others, sometimes answering our questions from ‘left-field’. Then we are able to recognise that prayer is not necessarily for an immediate resolution. Our prayer is, perhaps, rather for the strength to cope in adversity; or for the wherewithal to learn from situations – good or bad; to acknowledge God’s grace; and to ‘offer him our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice, to live and work to his praise and glory’.

And I go back to that wonderful passage of writing from Paul to the Corinthians, in which he talks about love being all powerful - bearing, believing, hoping, and enduring all things with no end. Faith is teaching me the full resonance of what Paul says. And particularly the bit about speaking, thinking and reasoning like a child – my early faith and prayers are just this – still childish and immature ……. but I realise we can’t ‘do a deal’ with God. But we can ask him to show us the way. It is his will, after all, not ours.

(St Peter's Church Magazine, June 2017)

Good Intentions

Mr Castleton looked at me intently, listening. Then his eyes softened and sorrow shadowed his face. “Hmmm. Yes, I see.” he said. I stood before him, feeling flushed with shame and embarrassment. “Well, I was going to do the work at the weekend, but…….” He stopped me there. “Well, you know, Anne,” he said, gently, “that the path to hell is paved with good intentions.” And he turned away.

I was seventeen, and I hadn’t done my Spanish homework. It was an additional ‘O’ level alongside my ‘A’ levels - and I wasn’t giving it the attention it required. Actually, my excuse was pretty pathetic. Although I had done my Saturday job, and sung in the choir twice on Sunday (so naturally I was feeling virtuous), I had been out enjoying myself for the most part of the weekend, and homework had taken a back seat. It wasn’t important to me then. I wasn’t yet willing to give up some immediate pleasure for a longer-term gain.

The lesson has stayed with me, but I regret to say that, I am not sure I have fully learned it, because even now I don’t always act on my good intentions, so I have had a right royal view of the path to hell on many an occasion.

This brings me to thinking about Peter’s story. Peter promised faithfully to bear witness to his friend, Jesus, even when the chips were down. His intentions were good. But Jesus knew Peter better than he knew himself, and told him that, regrettably, Peter would pretend not to know Jesus when it came to it – not once, but three times. Peter scoffed at the idea, but there you go – yep – three times he pretended he hadn’t been part of Jesus’ entourage. And that was a jolly hard lesson Peter learned then.

Unlike me, who is still working on acting on every good intention, Peter did actually build the rest of his life on that lesson learned. And, with the gospel burning fiercely in his soul, he told anyone and everyone who came across his path, that God loves us and Jesus died to save us all. He stayed true to his intention to the point of dying on the cross, just as Jesus did.

On my journey to faith, I am still like Peter when the crisis came. I want to tell everyone that God loves us so much that he sent Jesus to save us, but when the crunch comes I don’t always have courage to do so. And I stand before God feeling flushed with shame and embarrassment – just as I did before my Spanish teacher all those years ago. Still a long way to go, I think.

Published in the May magazine

15: Blessings

Oh, by Jove, we were tickled pink!!!! Freddie, our youngest grandchild, having taken possession of a newly-acquired second-hand play cooker-cum-kitchen sink, was plonking as many of the utensils and as much of the play food as he could find, into the play sink. He rattled them around, faster and faster. We giggled. It was making a helluva noise. He looked up, and, recognising that the giggling related to his performance on the percussion, he grinned, picked up the slotted spoon and pointed it at us as the coup de grâce. We giggled some more. Freddie rootled again in the play sink, creating yet more acoustic percussive music and, with a flourish, pointed the slotted spoon at us again. We giggled and giggled and laughed out loud.

By now, Freddie was sure of his audience and, his eyes twinkling, he determinedly set off on another rootling concert piece - to which we were now howling with laughter. Keeping half an eye on his audience and laughing out loud himself now, Freddie thrust the spoon at us once again in one final flourish.

Freddie had his moment. And oh, my goodness!! I cannot tell you just how funny the episode was to us!! Freddie certainly knew, in those few moments, how to capture an audience and play to it. And he is only just over a year old, for goodness’ sake!!

Oh, my, what bliss such simple pleasures are. The company of people, of whatever age, is just the best!!! They fill us with love and compassion, they make us laugh, they make us cry, they lift our spirits, they break our hearts. But, no matter what, I thank God for the blessing of people around me. Whether it’s my family, my friends, acquaintances, professionals, passers-by – and even my enemies. All, all of them remind me that God’s grace is here among us. Whenever life is challenging, there is often a ‘Freddie moment’ which lifts the spirit to help me face another day with courage and acknowledgement of God’s blessings. Life’s not all bad, after all!!!

Published in the April magazine

14: An Everyday Friend

The advantage of discussion is that you learn something, consider someone else’s point of view and perhaps modify your own views. Talking to each other is key to mutual understanding – and, just because someone else has a different point of view doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong. In the current political climate there is a lot of chatter – not always discussion – and some hysteria being whipped up. Like-minded people are seeking out like-minded people to reinforce their views, and battle lines are being drawn up against those who disagree.

This has set me thinking about faith, and where, or how, God might be present among the people who are challenging each other so vociferously. Of course, I don’t know the answer. But that is the mystery of faith. The fact that I have been enriched by going to a couple of discussion groups at our church and am listening, learning, speaking, listening again and modifying my views, has meant that I no longer just turn to God in despair whenever things are going wrong and wondering where he is. I have actively brought him into my life – on the occasional Sunday at first, then more frequently on a Sunday, then with the support of the discussion groups, and more regularly reading the Bible, until now - when I watch out for God’s guidance pretty much every day.

Cardinal Basil Hulme said: “There comes a moment, which we can never quite locate or catch, when an acquaintance becomes a friend……There has to be a moment like that in our relationship with God. He ceases to be just a Sunday acquaintance and becomes a weekday friend.”

He is right. I am finding that God is no longer just for Sunday, but an everyday friend. And that is what I pray for - an everyday friend for all the people who are chattering so loudly in the world, that they may, perhaps, be unable to hear or see alternatives, and/or be oblivious to God’s presence, and thereby miss his healing hand.

Published in the magazine March 2017

13: Modern Technology – love it or loathe it?

Technology is one of those things that divides us across the generations – some people love it, others hate it. I remember as a little girl, my father being somewhat bemused by the introduction of television and him stating that he wasn’t going to get ‘one of those new-fangled things’. In the end, of course, he did get one, albeit after much duress from us children!

Modern technology now includes social media – the younger generation absolutely adore it; with much of the older generation unsure what to make of it. Personally, I think modern technology and social media are marvellous. I was so thankful for Facebook when both middle and youngest sons travelled the world at different times, and popped up in a conversation with one of their friends – at least I knew they were alive!!

Thank goodness for Skype, too. How wonderful to be able to speak to my brother and sister-in-law in Australia whenever we want to. And the world-wide web and emails – gosh, how fantastic are they? Even my Mum, at the age of 89 learned how to email and google, and can now correspond with friends and relatives (especially those in Oz!!) whenever she likes and get an almost instant response.

The great thing about modern technology is that we don’t need to understand it to know it’s there. We don’t need to do anything much to access it, as long as we have the right tools – a computer and keyboard – and learn how to use it. And the more we use it, the better we get at it.

This brings me to think about God – I don’t understand how, or what or why, but I know he’s there.

And I don’t need to do anything much to access him either because, just as I find support from dispersed friends and relatives through unfathomable modern technology, I find support from God using the tools he’s offering me: a daily reference to the Bible; interaction with acquaintances, friends or relatives via whichever medium I talk to them – it might be face-to-face in the street, in a study group, at a church service, or by email, through Facebook or perhaps via an ‘app’.

I even have my Bible on an ‘app’ on my phone, so I know that whenever the need arises, like the Martini advert, I can access his word ‘any time, any place, anywhere’.

Aahhh, yes! Thank God for modern technology!!!

Published in the February magazine 2017

Previously in this series: click on the link.