The Reluctant Christian

It’s 10 years today since I became a Christian so I wanted to share this brief testimony of faith with you about that special day on 10th March 2007.

God grant me your grace,
that promise of forgiveness,
unconditional

Before becoming a Christian on 10th March 2007, I set foot in a church only occasionally; for christenings, weddings and funerals. Even so, I thought of myself as a Christian because I did believe in God and was a nice(ish) person. That’s what I thought a Christian was.

My journey to faith really began a lifetime ago but, to keep this missive as brief as possible, I’d found myself at a crossroads, having become an adult orphan separated from my four siblings through the toll of years of family trauma. I was at saturation point with that, so much so that my health was deteriorating. I also hated my job and, although I am married with two adult children who I love dearly, I felt there was a big hole in my life that I couldn’t fill. I didn’t know what my life was about any more or even why I was here. It was then that I spotted a poster on a bill board asking: What’s the Meaning of Life? I thought I should investigate what this was offering.

I phoned the number on the poster but they were running the course on a day and time when I was doing something else. I’d initially thought it was one of those ‘self help’ courses and was a bit shocked to discover it was a Christianity Course called Alpha. So, I left it alone as I thought it would be too intent on trying to convert people.

Then I successfully applied for the post of administrator for the Scarborough Methodist Circuit. I thought it would be quite nice to have a spiritually-led job to bring me up to the age of retirement.

On the first day, I walked through the door to start work and there was the Alpha poster in my face. In that first week, Reverend Clare Stainsby gave me a booklet about being a member of the Methodist Church (Called By Name) and the hierarchy system of the Methodist Connexion, which was necessary to carry out the job. I didn’t know anything at all about the Methodist Church, or any other church come to that. I read the whole thing and was so fascinated by it that I signed up for the next Alpha Course, which was being run by Reverend Geoff Bowell and his wife, Helen, at their home – not far from mine. It started on 29th January 2007. I’d been in the job only 21 days and here I was on my way to God.

I expected Alpha to be for people like me who didn’t go to church so I was surprised that there were people there who did, some of whom had been going all their lives via their upbringing, some were Christians – some were not. They were searching for understanding and a personal relationship with God.

During the course, I made new friends. We laughed together, cried together, shared our stories and ideas. I found it hard sometimes as I didn’t really know what my questions were – never mind getting answers to them. I asked Geoff if I’d have all my answers when I’d finished the course and he just laughed and said, ‘Oh, we don’t get the answers, we just get a better set of questions.’

I struggled with the Trinity concept of accepting that God and Jesus were the same person – I believed in God and I could understand how He was the Holy Spirit too – I knew about Jesus but couldn’t get the sense of it all being the same person. I almost stopped going to Alpha because of this hurdle. What was the point in my continuing if I couldn’t grasp the basis of the whole context of the Christian faith? Then Helen said to me, ‘Why don’t you ask God to show you in a way you will understand?’ So I did and that night I had a dream.

If I told you what that dream was you would not know how I came to my understanding of the Trinity through it because each of us gets shown things by God in ways that are unique to us as individuals. However, when I woke up from the dream, everything was crystal clear. I knew then what Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am the way’. I had to go through Him to get to God. How on earth had I got through my life so far without knowing this? All I had to do was open the door and let Jesus in and He would do the rest. But that was easier said than done.

I felt unworthy, untrusting, concerned that I may have to do something I didn’t like if I committed myself. Soon after the dream I realised that, through Jesus, God had actually crept into my life (when I wasn’t looking). I had opened that door to take a peep and couldn’t close it again. I couldn’t pour Him back out of my life once He’d arrived. He was here to stay.

The Alpha away day’s teaching based on the Holy Spirit was on Saturday 10th March 2007 at the Solid Rock café on Newborough. I knew something had already happened to me in my heart and felt that this day was going to be special for me somehow. I felt different.

We began the day by singing the hymn ‘King of Kings, Majesty’ before the lessons started and I couldn’t get the words out. By the second line ‘God of Heaven living in me’, I knew for sure God really was living inside me. I couldn’t sing. I could only listen to the words as they were being sung because I felt overwhelmed. As I was saying the words to God in my mind, something was building up inside me.

After the song, we continued our learning until lunchtime but I was in a daze and didn’t really take anything in. I felt impatient, waiting – for more of this feeling I had experienced. I wasn’t prepared for my response when we sang that hymn again at the end of the day.

Following the lessons and discussions, we stood in a circle and Geoff prayed for the Holy Spirit to descend on us. I said to myself, ‘OK, this is it – it’s now or never. Open your heart and you’ll maybe find what you’ve been looking for. Just let Jesus in.’

I could hardly breathe because I was trying to keep my emotions in check as we sang ‘King of Kings, Majesty’ once more. My whole body tingled and trembled as an overpowering sense of love struck me dumb. When we sang the second line ‘God of Heaven living in me’, I was saturated with a feeling of unconditional love and peace. Tears poured down my face. It was as though I was being washed with forgiveness. I sobbed throughout the whole song, knowing God was forgiving me for every single thing I had thought, said or done in the past that was wrong.

That was the exact moment I gave my life to Christ.

***

I wrote the following as a celebration of that day:

First Rites

Anoint me from the golden chalice
pour your presence from above.
Through your light let me come to glory
as you lead the way with righteous love.
My door was open only slightly
yet you took my breathlessness away
with forgiveness of a lifetime’s story
freeing doubt, and fear, and pain.
My tears, in silence all around me,
flow through fingers, sooth my sorrow
as feathered whispers brush my skin
with promises for a new tomorrow.
Your love, now rising through my soul
leaves my sins beneath,
in sudden triumph takes me whole
and, waiting underneath
is trust and faith – born anew.
I have found myself in you.

***

All it took was a small step to open the door to Jesus’ knock but on the other side of that door it seemed so far away. It took me years to let him in. Thankfully, it’s never too late. God never gave up on me and when there was nothing left for me but God, that’s when I discovered that God was all I needed.

Text © 2007 Julie M Fairweather

PS I thoroughly recommend Alpha if you are searching for the meaning of your life. It’s a place where you can ask anything… even those questions about suffering… the suffering in the world that many blame God for. I hope you will be surprised and encouraged by the answers and that these answers will offer you a better set of questions to take with you as you journey on.

Finding my way

I woke this morning with ideas for mapping my life story in readiness for a writing project I’m undertaking in January and, as if reading my thoughts, Facebook had produced a video highlighting events from 2016. This cheered me immensely as it proved that I did indeed have some wonderful memories to celebrate in my writing… in-between the days that I had been dogged with depression (as yesterday’s personal journalling informed me).

I pinned a copy of an old map of Manchester on my office wall as a starting point to the planning of the project, ringing the places that mean something to me. (The map is one of many that will inspire The Studio’s Art Exhibition early next year – my own contribution will be a simple book of appropriate Manchester map poems on hand-made paper.)

That decided, I embarked on a personal journey through the Advent Labyrinth at Holy Trinity Church in Eastfield. There’s no doubt that my current mood has an affect on how I embrace this annual journey and life experiences I hold on to do tend to come to the fore during part it.

The first station was a star – a symbol of God’s light. I was invited to light a lantern and carry it with me as a guide to show me the way. I thought about the darkness of the depression I’d written about in my journal the previous day. It’s comforting to know that God can lighten whatever feels dark for me… when I remember to ask for His help that is.

At the station of burdens, I picked up the large, heavy stone and imagined an image etched into it of God reaching out to me saying, ‘take my hand’. I poured out my pain in connection with my brother’s alienation of me and realised (yet again) that I can’t change him or the situation so I gave the stone to God to carry for me. I picked up the holding cross and the contrast in weight was such a relief that I had to admit to knowing that all I needed to do was hold on to the cross instead of the stone. I asked God to break down my brother’s barriers to forgiveness and left the station with the weight of that lifted from me.

At the gift box station, I gave thanks for the gift of writing and how I had been drawn to use it as a voice for prisoners of conscience on behalf of Amnesty International. I am grateful that this opportunity enhances my gifts of understanding and compassion for others and, through this, I am being led towards becoming involved with welcoming refugees to the town where I live. I want to be part of a people who belong to one another.

At the final station I visited, I reflected of my journey and confirmed my trust in God that He can help me make sense of and heal my memories so that I can move towards reconciliation of self to enable me to help others more effectively. Therefore, in God’s hands I place all these things today.

It’s hard to let go and let God and I was tempted to revisit the burdens station and pick up the stone but I resisted because I prefer the weight of the cross.

On my return home, I received a beautiful Christmas card from a friend which reads: ‘Christmas is more than just a season. It’s a feeling of hope in our lives. It’s the promise of peace in the world. It’s the blessing of God’s love in our hearts.’(author unknown)

I’d like to add that Christmas is about Christ… and realising that truth can set us free.

Daffodils of Shalom

On Holy Saturday night, a vase of daffodils surrounded by glowing candles was the focal centrepiece of the evening. Friends circle-danced around it in time to the meditative rhythmical melodies as harmonic voices sang songs of Shalom.

Later, I prepared the Sacred Space Prayer Corner at Burniston Church in readiness for Easter Day, placing the gift of daffodils from the dance as a central focus below the cross – to celebrate our risen Lord.

On Easter morning, as the scented narcissus filled the room with Shalom, the congregation’s joyous rhythmical melodies and harmonic voices rang out in praise and worship.

Easter Day 2016 Sacred Space

Doorstep Daffodils

Yesterday, I walked along the roadside taking in my turmoil of thoughts – the result of a traumatic few weeks’ events… and I prayed with each step to regain my peace of mind. I prayed for the return of that sacred space in my heart that brings me close to a spiritual presence. I didn’t notice it happening. I didn’t notice anything on my journey as I was intent in my prayer. I came to a bench where I decided to sit and wait for my bus into the busy town.

As I gazed at the green fields on each side of the road, a watered down sun appeared and its rays began to filter through – startling the green meadow into life. Horses trotted playfully across the wide open space facing me. The birds’ intense conversations filled the air and, in the distance, their songs welcomed in the morning.

My ears were deaf – dulled with age perhaps – to the occasional whoosh of a passing car, only noticed because, in their passing, my eyes were alerted to the daffodil-lined verges. I hadn’t noticed them before. How could I have missed such a display of yellow happiness dancing in the day as I’d walked that route moments before?

If I hadn’t stopped to sit and stare I would have missed all these things.

I gathered in the peace that I’d prayed for and, as the bus pulled in to the stop, I took the peace with me for the remainder of the day.

At the end of a perfect day, I arrived home to find an anonymous gift of daffodils on my doorstep.

With love and gratitude,

Julie

Doorstep Daffodils

Sacred Space at Lent

 Welcome to Sacred Space Prayer Station (Lent 2016)

Burniston Methodist Church, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

SS lent Week 1.201614th February – Purse of Betrayal
21st February – Bowl and Towel
28th February – Bread and Wine
6th March – The Whip
13th March – Crown and Robe
20th March – Palm Branches
24th March – Maundy Thursday
25th March – Good Friday
27th March – Easter Day

On Easter Day there will be a vase of water available in which you are invited to place a flower in celebration of our risen Lord.

AMEN

Read about Jesus’ Betrayal, Arrest, Crucifixion, and Resurrection here (John 18:1 to John 20:31)

 

1st Sunday of Advent

‘Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for him.’ (Psalm 37:7)

We think of Advent as a time to take stock of our faith journey – to see how far we’ve come and how far we’ve yet to grow. This year why not let go to let God decide what we’re waiting for – instead of having something of our own to contemplate. Therefore, instead of rushing around trying to be still long enough to think what it is we’re waiting for, let’s wait inside a silent prayer each day to listen to what God wants. In taking one day at a time through Advent in this way – like an Advent calendar not to be opened prematurely – we will not miss a single moment of the present day – a day that the Lord has made and given to us as a gift to enjoy with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness.

Dear God, help us to find a silent space.

We say ‘amen’. Then we think again,
and instead of rushing away
to fill our day with this and that,
We stop. We sit. We wait. We stay
to listen to what you have to say
in-between the tick and tock
of our life’s busy, noisy clock,
and your voice fills the silent space.

Dear God, help us to be still in the silent space.

We don’t say ‘amen’. We start again
because we don’t want to rush away
to fill our day with this and that.
We want to stop. To sit. To wait. To stay
and listen to what you have to say
in-between the tick and tock
of our life’s busy, noisy clock,
as your voice fills our silent space.

Dear God, help us to listen in the silent space.

Dear God, help us to hear you in sacred silent spaces.

Circle of Love as a Celebration of May Day (With God at the Centre)

A brief glimpse of the May Day celebration held at Cross Hill Methodist Church, Hunmanby on Saturday 16th May 2015 from 11.00 a.m. until 3.00pm.

Central Focal Point Candle for May Day Celebration.16.5 (1)A lighted candle was the centrepiece of a circle of chairs on which those attending were seated. The candle flame was there to remind us of the light of Christ and how the darkness can never put it out.

Our day was spent weaving in, out and around this circle of love – symbolic of a maypole dance – through quiet reflection… activities… prayer… and interaction with one another. As we weaved around God at the centre it reminded us that God is the centre of us. And through weaving in, out and around the circle throughout the day, during various activities, we were able to contemplate on the greatness of God’s love for us and recognise our own love for God.

 

Central Focal Point Candle for May Day Celebration.16.5 (2)We celebrated the dance of creation with a dance around our maypole (above). Those who chose to remain seated danced in the spirit by mirroring/improvising the actions of those dancing in the circle, thus enabling full inclusion, as the light of Christ radiated from the core of it.

This meditative dance afforded time and space to focus on the day’s silent prayers of our hearts and our offering of them to God from within our shared creativity.

A good day of fun and fellowship with love at its heart.

Julie

(top photo: candle is shown as unlit for its return to my home)

Sacred Space of the Heart

Poustinia is a place where you can physically go and shut the door on the world to be alone with God – it’s a desert place where you can meet with God in silence, solitude and prayer to listen to what he is saying to you.

The following is an adaptation of Poustinia for Sacred Space Prayer Station, Burniston Church (Scarborough) during Easter. I pray that people who visit the prayer station over the Easter period will find their Poustinia waiting.

…….

Sacred Space of the Heart (Poustinia)

Seek the open heart and listening soul of a silent contemplation by locating a sacred space within your heart. This is a desert place where you can meet Christ in silence, solitude and prayer. This type of stillness can fulfil a yearning for those who desire communion with God.

Leave the noise and harried pace of daily life to enter your place of silence and solitude – and shut the door on the world around you. Contemplate the Easter story in visual form at the Sacred Space Prayer Station. Maybe this will be the place where you encounter Poustinia, your personal desert where you can return whenever you need silence, solitude and prayer.

Once you find Poustinia within your heart you will have it with you always and everywhere – God within you (Immanuel). You can return to that sacred space anytime in your imagination: in the marketplace, in the midst of countless conferences, traffic jams, bus trips, or a hospital ward – and find consolation within your vision of a personal desert that can bloom in simple, profound prayer.

…….

text adapted from http://www.madonnahouse.org/publications/store/shop/doherty/poustinia/ where you can read about Poustinia in its entirety.

 

Cruel Thorns

Lent 5 was on 22.3.15: Sacred Space Prayer Station Symbolism at Burniston Church:

A Circle of Thorns and A Purple Robe

I thought retirement during the Lenten period would be a fitting end to my working life as Administrator for the Methodist Churches in the North Yorkshire Coast. This particular role in my employment history began in Lent 2007 (the same time as my journey to becoming a Christian began). On reflection, I don’t think it was the best time of year for me to retire. I’ve found it difficult to hold space for these important things in my life at the same time and have been caught up in a whirlwind of chaotic anxiety – trying to balance them for the past 5 weeks – as well as keep on top of my creative writing projects. Impossible!

I processed and justified the emotions I’d been through since my notice of intent to retire in 7 points – which felt a bit like stages of grief. Without elaboration, these were:

1. Admitting I was old enough.
2. Denying it was happening.
3. Challenging self and others.
4. Accepting.
5. Acknowledging value of self.
6. Disassociating.
7. Letting go.

I hadn’t been prepared for my unexpected mood swings and behaviour in response to a backlash of comments from other people. This is ongoing as people seem to think they have to tell me what I want from my retirement – as though I have suddenly become incapable of making a decision and am unable to discern what’s important to me in my own life! I know they are trying to help but it is winding me up further – so please stop if you are reading this and are one of those said people.

Therefore, it was appropriate today that I could spend a day of reflection with the resident staff at Madonna House, Robin Hood’s Bay, to try and catch up with myself or, to be more exact, for my soul to rest in stillness and hold the space so I could simply ‘be’.

For the last 5 weeks I have been so busy planning my retirement (or trying to without being influenced by what others think my retirement should consist of!) that I have failed to spend quality time listening to God. So, I prayed and meditated on what stood out for me in The Little Mandate – a creed lived out by the Madonna House Movement and instigated by its founder, Catherine Doherty.

I began with the line: ‘Pray – I will give you rest.’ I needed that. I prayed for God to bring me rest and peace so that I could find some space to hold and allow my soul to catch up with me. Then, when I was ready, I moved on to pray and meditate on the first words: ‘Arise! Go.’ When I was ready, I walked down the stairs of the building and was drawn to a shelf that housed cards, reflections, inspirational books, pebbles and icons. I picked up ‘Peace Will Abound’ an inspirational booklet published by Salesian Missions. When I opened a random page, a poem by Steven Michael Schumacher, entitled ‘Love shall lead you home’, found me.

It read:

Love shall lead you home,
When you’ve lost your way;
Love kneels down beside you,
When you need to pray.
If it’s very dark,
Love will hold your hand.
There’s no need to speak,
For love understands
When it’s just all wrong,
Love will make it right,
Love is God himself,
The fullness of life.
…….

Enough said…

Julie

poem © 65837 Salesian Missions

Next: Lent 6 (29.3.15): Palm Sunday Sacred Space Prayer Station Symbolism at Burniston Church:Palm Branches. Blog re Postenia Prayer.

Self-Discipline, Sin and Selflessness

I was aware that Week 4 of Lent at Sacred Space Prayer Station for Sunday 15th March was symbolized by The Whip as I began the ‘Lent in a Day’ Quiet Day at Cross Hill on Saturday 14th March. To be close to God was the reason I attended the Quiet Day. I needed to get back on track with that. I have drifted away recently and been quite neglectful in my walk with God because of my busyness. The title for the day was Self-Discipline, Sin and Selflessness and I felt that this added to The Whip’s symbolism for me personally.

The following thoughts are prayers that came to me during my reflective meditations from the four sections: What is self-discipline; being out of step with God; Jesus and Forgiveness; Forgiving Others.

Self-Discipline, Sin and Selflessness

I admit a need to find new ways to lose old ways,
to resist distractions that keep me away from you;
To discipline the ‘I’ in sin;
To use self-control;
To take time out for reflection;
To be aware of Christ; and the Holy Trinity.
I hope Lectio Divina offers a fresh start.

If I repent (from temptations I have given in to)
with a broken spirit and contrite, humble heart,
the truth will set me free from my old ways –
if I trust that you have put an end to my sin .
And the grace and mercy of Christ will shower me
with colours of love to create in me a clean heart
and renew a right spirit within me.

Am I healed? Am I forgiven?
How can you forgive the things I’ve done
when I cannot forgive myself?
I keep a record – you do not.
I go fishing in the past – you do not.
That’s how.
And this…
that you sent your son to die for me
on that torturous cross
as an atoning sacrifice for my sin.
How then dare I even ask ‘Am I truly forgiven?’

Help me to accept your forgiveness
so I can be healed enough to forgive myself.
For my dear brother, I pray for healing
from the bitter agony of choices he’s made.
Let his unforgiving heart learn to forgive himself
thus ending the pain of our estrangement –
and setting us both free.

Amen

The colour of forgiveness is blue – a healing calm – those who love much, forgive much… and God forgives ALL our sins (much) because he loves ALL of us (much)… no matter what.

He sent His son to die on that torturous cross as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.