Out of the Wilderness

23 degrees in February. Winter sun in Seville. And visiting one of the city’s 115 churches.

The confessional.

The priest inhabits a solitary compartment. To one side, kneels a man confessing his sin through a latticed screen. No door to hide behind though. His act of penitence witnessed by all around. Unseen by the priest, his confession is heard. His sins no longer hidden. He has come out of the wilderness. The wilderness of unforgiven wrongs.

Commencing today, Ash Wednesday, and as mentioned before, Lent is traditionally a time of focussing on what we’ve got wrong. A time of penitence.

That said, such repentance – the word means to ‘turn around’: to turn from wrong to right – is perhaps a daily occurrence for many of us and one not just limited to 40 days or so in the Spring. Many people live with the mistakes and regrets of the past and their impact on the present and the future. Many people live in a wilderness. Whether spiritually, physically or emotionally, such wilderness times can feel dry and barren.

When we live in the wilderness we can feel that we are wanting, wandering and waiting.

We might think about what we want from God and what is it that God wants, not from, but for us.

Sometimes we can feel a lost in the wilderness. We wander around and don’t know where God is. Times when we want to know God’s presence and how we can trust him in the uncertainties of life.

And in many aspects of the wanting and the wandering, there are times of waiting. Waiting for a way forward or a decision, or waiting for a deeper understanding of what God wants for us.

But, and perhaps paradoxically, it is often in such wilderness times that we experience God in much deeper ways. A God who brings us out of the wilderness. Who restores us and renews us, giving us strength and the ability to see life from God’s perspective.

This is the last full blog post until after Easter (yes, I’m giving up writing for Lent…!) but I’d like to offer you a companion for your own journey out of the wilderness.

This travelling companion comprises a series of short films. An introductory one you may like to watch today and then one for each of the weeks of Lent. There are a couple more for Holy Week and Easter as well.* There’s also a free Companion Booklet you can use to make a note of any reflections or insights you have during this period.

When I was a child I used to love doing a rather strange thing. I would stand on my bed in the very corner of my room, getting up as high as I could and look down over all my toys and books. I’m tempted to say you should try it sometime… but maybe do a risk assessment first! It’s a bit like being in an aeroplane looking down on the countryside.

So often we struggle to see this bigger picture when we are so caught up with the wanting, wandering and waiting. God understands the day-to-day practicalities of our lives more than we will ever be able to fathom. Seeking to see our lives from God’s point of view gives us a whole new perspective. Perhaps that is what God wants for you this Lent.

 

 

*There will be a short post on each Sunday in Lent with a link to the film. If you’d like a personal reminder about each film for each week then simply enter your e-mail address in the ‘Subscribe’ box on this page and you’ll receive a notification. It’s free and secure and your details won’t be shared with anyone else.

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In my own words

Have you heard the one about the rock star, the actor and the bishop?

To be honest, I’m not really a fan of autobiographies but in recent weeks I’ve ended up reading three of them. Now, lest you think poorly of the all-male choice (yes, I do need to read Michelle Obama’s…) that was just the way the books were given to me.

Where’s my Guitar? by Bernie Marsden. Now, have to admit I hadn’t heard of him but for 4 years in the 1980s, he was lead guitarist with British rock group, Whitesnake and co-writer of their superb mega-anthem, ‘Here I go again’. His is a story of rock ‘n’ roll excesses and successes. Of ego and energy. Of achievements and arguments. And yet amidst proclamations of greatness (although one senses the hands of editors) stand humble qualities of thankfulness to others and acknowledgement of many mistakes and misjudgements.

Behind the Lens by the wonderful British actor, David Suchet takes his lifelong hobby of photography as a basis. Using many of his own photos, he tells his story of becoming and being an actor and of those who had influenced his life and Christian faith. Like Bernie Marsden, he too writes about achievements, mistakes and gratitude to others.

Finally, a Lent book, You are Mine by my fellow BRF author, David Walker, Bishop of Manchester. With the writer apologising for the degree of self-disclosure within this book of daily reflections, it too contains a strong sense of autobiography and similar features exposing the inner man in the public eye. A third book unlocking the box marked ‘not to be opened’.

Even parts of the Bible, Paul’s letters for example, contain elements of what we would now call autobiography and many of the other books (not least, the Gospels) are distinctly biographical. We can read about the lives and times of many people from Abraham and Moses through to Jesus and the figures of the early church such as Peter. There are stories of success and excess, achievement and mistakes, ego and energy. They each have their own story to tell.

So, what would your autobiography include? What have been the achievements? The mistakes? Who are you grateful to? What’s in the unopened box?

But maybe the more interesting question to be asked is what would we like to read in our biography? What would we like other people to write about us?

And… what would God write about you?

Why not try writing it?

 

 

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Let’s ‘Give it up’… for Lent

Lent begins. Thoughts turn to chocolate, booze or bacon sandwiches.

Rather like making a New Year Resolution, giving up something for Lent is one of those long-standing traditions which is often short-lived.

We might view giving up something as winning ourselves a few points on the self-righteousness scale. A personal sacrifice. A way to feel good about ourselves. If you read the previous post, you may have thought about giving up some aspect of technology – but that would be too much of a challenge perhaps.

For some, Lent is a time of fasting and focussing on what we’ve got wrong. It contains a very serious and dedicated purpose. So is giving up chocolate, booze or whatever really going to make a difference to the person we are?

Giving up something for the 40 days of Lent is a traditional way of making a token alignment with the suffering experienced by Jesus when he spent 40 days in the desert. (Forty is one of those Biblical numbers that means a long time: like when the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years or the 40 days and nights of rain which floated Noah’s ark.)

Aged about 30, Jesus was beginning the main period of his ministry on earth. Having been baptised by John the Baptist, Jesus then went in to the wilderness and was tempted by the Devil to give up his status as the Son of God. (Matthew 4:1-11).

It was a significant period in Jesus’ life. A life of remarkable teachings, healings, miracles and ministry. A life which was to last for just three more years before his betrayal, crucifixion, death and resurrection – all of which we mark at the end of Lent at Easter.

Lent is the Anglo-Saxon word for Spring and connects with the word ‘lengthen’. The daytime is getting longer. Growth is taking place.

In recent years, there has been an increased emphasis not on ‘giving up’ but on ‘taking up’ something that will deepen our faith in God and trust in Jesus, the one who went through that wilderness experience. To do something which reflects that Springtime meaning of ‘Lent’ – something that will help us to grow.

There are many ways we can do this…

  • There are plenty of books written especially for Lent – some offer a reading for each of the 40 days, others one for every Sunday in the season.
  • Your local church may be running a Lent course – a time to build up our faith with others.
  • Develop a specific pattern of prayer – setting aside a time and place.
  • Keep a journal: recording your experience of seeing God at work in your life and those around you.
  • Going on a retreat or Quiet Day: making time just for you and God – a time for giving God some intentional attention.

In his Rule for monastic living, St Benedict wrote ‘The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent… and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.’

So let’s ‘give it up’ for Lent. A time of change and growth. A period of listening more to God and increased stability. Of looking forward to the future with joy and spiritual longing.

 

New for 2020, Out of the Wilderness – a series of films to watch for Lent, Holy Week & Easter

 

 

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