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…


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.


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.

Communion in my heart

Always a work in progress… Communion in my heart

Continuing with my transition into retirement at Lent (Week 3: The Bread and Wine) and thinking about His body that was broken and His blood that was shed to bring about a new covenant.

Communion in my Heart

I come to Your table of bread and wine
to receive from You what is not mine
grace and mercy for all I’ve done
my sins are paid for by Your Son

I leave Your table of bread and wine
accept from You what is now mine
and I turn from darkness into the light
as I consider the cost of His last night

Leaving it there for now… to take time to consider communion in my heart…

@ Sacred Space Prayer Station

Washing Away the Past

Always a work in progress… washing away the past.

Continuing with my transition into retirement at Lent (Week 2: The Bowl and Towel) and thinking about servant hood and Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet following The Last Supper.

Washing Away the Past
Washing away what could have been,
what should have been – the perfect role.
The dirt and grime are not hers to own.
They simply are the situation – the causality.
Bereft of support, no program of structure,
going with the flow is the only option.
Her transformation’s encased in a secluded space
with its source of sustenance lost in translation.
She’s separated, expired, is extinct
as she waits in the darkness, prays for the light
and longs for redemption to rid them of sin.



The Pebble of Betrayal

(always a work in progress)

The Pebble of Betrayal 

She keeps a pebble in her pocket
from a time when she felt
useless, discarded – a cast-off.
Hurling insults at her like stones,
they never questioned the reason
she was leaving such a perfect role.
She picked up their stones, one by one,
and tossed them into the sea.
As the stones sank and the ripples spread,
she simply walked away.
She keeps a pebble in her pocket
and each time she touches it,
she remembers them.

(17 February 2015 at Writers’ Circle, Scarborough)

The poem is deeply connected to my emotions around letting go and moving on, probably due to my impending retirement. A change of theme at the Sacred Space Prayer Station (images below) put things into perspective for me. As two of us arranged our interpretation of ‘The Purse of Betrayal’ for the 1st week of Lent, the tomb (death) and butterfly (resurrection) seemed to mirror my emotions – thus marking the start of my journey through Lent for this year. For me personally, this is about letting go of negativity (death) in order to allow positivity a prominent place in my thoughts (resurrection).

Sacred Space is really important to me. It keeps me focused on Jesus and reminds me that he is only a prayer away… whatever emotions I am experiencing.

(18th February 2015 at Sacred Space, Burniston Methodist Church)

Sacred Space.Purse of BetrayalSS.Purse of Betrayal.3jpgSS.Purse of Betrayal.2jpg



The Pearl of Great Price

What is next on my journey now that the end of my working season is almost upon me? I need to slow down and ponder this but can’t stop the whirlwind that I find myself in. Nothing else is slowing down long enough for me to consider it. I don’t think I will know how to introduce myself as simply me when I no longer have a title to illustrate to others who I am or what to expect. But it’s what I want to be. Me. It lends itself to attracting a greater acceptance of simply being human.

Coming to terms with actually being old enough to retire from paid employment is hard. I have plans but they don’t always work out how you think they will do they? What if it all goes wrong? There’s no way back from it. No way out now the decision’s made. It’s out of my hands.

Like the man who took all his belongings to pay for a pearl he had been searching his whole life to obtain. He was left with nothing but the pearl – something he had wanted his whole life, spent his whole life working, saving and searching for. Now it belonged to him. But what was the cost? He was living in an empty room with nothing to sit on, sleep on, no lamp to shed light for him, no table to eat from, and no jug to hold water to drink. I wonder if the pearl that had cost him all he owned was worth the price he’d paid for it? (Matthew 13:45-46)

The parables of Jesus teach us a lot of things – with no right or wrong answers. We interpret them by how we feel at any given moment on our life journey. I tried to compare the man giving up all he owned to obtain the pearl as a parallel to my giving up paid work for the freedom to choose how I live out the remainder of my life; the freedom of choice being my pearl of great price. I hope it is worth the cost.

S. Kierkegaard said: ‘Life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards.’ Therefore, I will watch, wait, listen and be ready to make choices that will enhance and embrace the next phase of my life – this precious pearl that is the gift of retirement.

Just thinking out loud

I’ve been so busy procrastinating (successfully) and learning how to say no (unsuccessfully) to other people’s requests that I haven’t had time to write my December blog… until now. I had planned to write it on the first Sunday of Advent (30th November) but here we are almost approaching the third week! Advent is a good time to stop and think as we begin to prepare… and I wanted to write something about that at the onset of its season – but it slipped by me whilst I was busy enabling others to be ready (through my work in the North Yorkshire Coast Church Circuit – paid and voluntary). It’s as though I’ve been waiting for my own Advent to begin … waiting for my time to be my own so I could simply be still and silent.

Each year as Christmas approaches I like to use the Advent period of waiting to take stock – a little like you do on New Year’s Eve before the onslaught of another year. This year though I’ve been busier than ever and feel I’m waiting for so many things that I have been jumping ahead of myself every step of the way. I’ve barely had time to ponder my faith journey through Advent… because I’m trying to get my head round the reason why, if I am due to retire next year, my job has not slowed down enough for me to prepare for that gift of retirement – my reward for having worked my whole life. I have hardly had time to think straight as I live from one day to the next filling it up with things I love to do. It will be quite nice not having to fit my regular job into that and I am looking forward to a diary that displays things of my own choosing. See? I have jumped ahead of the waiting time again… trying to sort next year out already. Really, there is no need for me to do that because God will have it all in hand anyway.

After an extremely challenging week fraught with anxieties and concerns, I was finally brought to my knees on the evening of 6th December at the community carol service between the villages of Cloughton and Burniston (where I live). The service began with the carol Silent Night’s first verse being sung in German by Revd. Mike Leigh (vicar with a beautiful voice!) then the congregation joined in using English. When a re-enactment of the Christmas Day Truce in the 1st World War was portrayed as a silent sketch by the young people, it really brought it home to me how trivial my anxieties and concerns had actually been that week. I let them go as I listened to a short sermon by Revd. Peter Cross that challenged me even further – to make peace with someone I was experiencing conflict with. Though I have chosen not to discuss this particular issue here, I did come away from the service feeling hopeful.

The following day (7th) was the second Sunday in Advent and, as if to mark the turnaround in my attitude regarding that certain situation, a double rainbow appeared over Cloughton and Burniston villages – arching over the place where the Truce had been re-enacted the previous evening. It felt like the hope of Advent had arrived for me. I believe that when God shines his light into the darkness, like he did that Christmas Day in 1914 and as he did for me at that carol service, there is hope for mankind.

rainbow carol serviceI’ve decided not to prepare for retirement as I know what I want to do with the gift and what God has planned for me will fall into place in its own time. I am going to go with the flow of it and relax, have fun and enjoy what is in store for me, as I enter into that new phase of my life – whenever it arrives.

Cliché, Cliché, Cliché

I don’t like it when writers, with all their talent and knowledge of language, sometimes resort to blasphemy to create an effect. OMG and, even worse, OMFG, and ‘Jesus Christ’ with all its variants, have become such commonly used expressions that they should be classed as bone fide clichés – and be ‘avoided like the plague’. Clichés in writing are boring – according to experts – but at least we don’t have to keep on reading. I don’t agree with the experts that it’s more acceptable in speech because we don’t have time to search for alternatives – it’s still boring (and offensive) – even more so because it’s forced upon us when blasted out in public places.

People who use these expressions don’t realise what effect it can have on a believer. For some people, using the words ‘Jesus Christ’ is like using ‘Gordon Bennet!’ or ‘Chuffin’ Nora!’ and they don’t think twice about it. I don’t suppose either of these two people would be pleased that their name was being used in this way so imagine how God must feel whenever he sees his or his son’s name spat out without a second thought. And what do we do when we see or hear it? Sit there like ‘Piffy on a rock bun’ and put up with it.

I wonder how the instigator might feel if someone were to use the name of their father or brother in this way? Maybe next time someone will use this tactic and detect an inward cringe from them at the name of their own kin being taken in vain (that same inward cringe – whenever a blasphemy is uttered – that is experienced by those who think of God as father and Jesus as brother). Would their epiphany through empathy make any difference to future considerations in their choice of vocabulary?

I can understand why people resort to clichés – because they are a comfort when looking for hope. I mean, you can always rely on a cliché – you know where you stand – no messing about with fancy comparisons or metaphors – just straight out with it – and you have all the imagery you need. But, in my view, the only cliché worth clinging to for hope in daily living is ‘Jesus Christ’ – because our hope is found in his love.

Where will you find your hope today? I wonder if you’ll find it by whispering that cliché slowly – ‘Jesus Christ’ – whilst imagining Jesus himself standing next to you? How would it make you feel using the cliché in that way? You know that the shortest sentence in the New Testament is ‘Jesus wept’, and how he must weep still when we resort to blasphemy instead of asking for our hope in this way.

So now, what will you do with the remainder of this day, with the gift that is the rest of your life? Will you search for an alternative cliché or will you open your heart to the hope and love that is available from the clichéd Jesus Christ?


PS: I was an atheist before becoming an agnostic before becoming a believer. Jesus really does save but many of us don’t know we need saving.

Young at Heart

I’ve been a Christian for just over 7 years now. It seems so young, yet I feel I’ve been a Christian forever. I can’t imagine living my life without God in it. Whenever I’m asked to share testimony about my faith, I think it’s such a privilege to be able to do that so I say ‘yes’ immediately.

Then, I panic. I spend days agonizing over what I’m going to say because, no matter how ‘young’ a Christian we are, our lives are full of incidents that have led us, and are still leading us, to that moment of commitment to God. I call these God Incidents.

As we journey through life, each new experience brings a new experience of how God is working in our life, whether we believe in Him or not. And because testimony changes through these experiences, I never know where to start, where to end, what to put in, what to leave out, which experience to talk about, which experience not to talk about. I tie myself up in knots and become anxious about it, wondering if I’m doing it right. Then, when I finally remember to stop trying to do it on my own and give it to God, I calm down. And do what I should have done in the first place. Pray about it.

I do this by bringing myself closer to God through scripture and this is the passage that I use when I’m preparing to speak about my faith:

It’s from Jeremiah Ch.1 verses 4-9:

4The word of the Lord came to me, saying, 5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” 6“Alas, Sovereign Lord,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.” 7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. 8Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the Lord. 9Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth.”

From my heart, I believe that God has already brought whoever needs to hear my story today to this place.

The phrase ‘God’s love’ kept coming to mind during the quiet time leading up to this writing and I was thinking of how I first became aware of God’s love in my life. How God touched my life with His love, even before I came to have a personal relationship with Him. I remembered incidents, coincidences, moments in my life when I had felt God near me, nudging me, I suppose waiting for me to open the door of my heart to him, to Jesus, initially. I call these God Incidents now. All links in my journey to God and, since, with God. All part of God’s plan for my life, even before I was born.

I’m going to tell you about two incidents today that instigated a search which brought me to the core of God’s love for me.

The first incident had more of an impact on me than I realised at the time and this was a conversation I had with an RE teacher (Religious Education) when I was a bit of a rebellious teenager at school during my 15th year. I spent each lesson debating the existence of God. It was purely that I was so full of anger towards God then. I wanted someone to blame for things in my life that were wrong.

It stemmed from my home life. My mother had led a very difficult life, dogged by mental health problems, and was always being carted off for electric shock treatment (or ECT as it was known at that time in the 1960s). Each time she came back home there was a little bit more of her missing. She was unable to show love, was scared to show love. She said once it was that she didn’t want us (her 5 children) to love her too much because when she was gone it would hurt us. It was hard for the whole family living with this barrier to love. We could never speak about it with each other while she was living – or even after she passed. It didn’t stop me (us) loving her though and I (we) knew that she did love me (us) even though she couldn’t show it.

It was during a period of her ‘absence’ that the conversation with the RE teacher happened. I was aged 15, my two sisters were 14 and 9, my brother 7 and half-brother 3 months. My mother had been in the psychiatric wing for a month this time, and I was made responsible for the cooking and cleaning in the home, my 14 year old sister was responsible for seeing to the baby’s needs.

None of us had ever been church goers but we had experienced glimpses of church-like things through our lives, eg, weddings, christenings, funerals. We all went to Christian schools where they held assemblies etc., so we were aware of God through those and the bible stories in scripture class. But always this barrier to my mother’s love made it difficult to believe there was a God who loved me (us).

So back to the RE teacher incident – it was my final class with him and he asked me why I didn’t believe in God – almost immediately I said, ‘cos I can’t see him’. He then asked ‘what do you believe in then?’ I said, ‘love’. He said, ‘but you can’t see love either.’ ‘I know,’ I said, ‘but you can feel it, can’t you?’ He just looked at me, smiled knowingly and walked away. I never understood why he smiled like that, until almost 30 years later, at my mother’s graveside, when I ‘felt’ God’s love for the first time.

The vicar was reading from 1 Corinthians 13 but I wasn’t really listening until he read verses 4-7. My head jerked up of its own accord because I’d felt a strong need to hear the words about love.

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’

I felt it was God talking to me about my mother and the last part of the reading, verse 13, was directed straight at me:13 ‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’

It was as if God was saying that my mother was okay, she was at peace, because she had known the love of her family, she had taken the love with her and was with Him now, God. God who was love itself. I felt comforted. That was the beginning of God’s call on my life, the beginning of me opening up my heart. He’d broken down a barrier in me.

It took me another 10 years to open the door to Jesus, and let God in completely.

That moment came in the middle of an Alpha Course when I’d finally ‘got it’ about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit being one and the same. (I’ll tell you more about this in another letter soon). I felt God’s love and forgiveness pouring through me as I told Him I was sorry for all I had done in the past that was wrong, and I let God come into my heart and my life. I have never looked back.

All those years, I’d been scared to open the door to Jesus because I knew I would never be good enough, worthy of his love, I felt I would have to do things I didn’t want to, give up things I didn’t want to, but when I finally did take the first step and open the door, God accepted me as I am – or was then – on 10 march 2007. He began to change me from the inside, simply by loving me. Thank goodness God never gave up on me, and kept nudging me with God incidents until I chose to take notice, because now I love him so much that I want to be the person he wants me to be. He doesn’t see us how we see ourselves, he sees the potential in us and he has already written our names on the palm of his hand, and planned out our lives, even before we were born.

It’s never too late to open the door to Jesus. It seems so hard on the other side of it but once you open it and let him in to your heart you wonder why you didn’t do it years ago – it’s that easy.

I’d like to share a final scripture with you, to end this letter, if I may. It makes my heart brim over with love for God and all people.

It’s from 1 John 4: 7-17 (NIV)

God’s Love and Ours

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.


A Prayer for Deaf Awareness/World Hunger

Deaf awareness week (19-25th May)/ World Hunger Day (28th May)

How then shall I pray Lord?

I communicated with someone today who is deaf. I saw the hearing aid so I knew I had to shout – as if my shouting would make him hear me, understand me, somehow.

I moved my lips in such a way that he could lip read my loud words to help him hear me, understand me, somehow.

I exaggerated my hand gestures to sign my words to him – with what little knowledge I have of that (and who knows if he could speak that language too anyway?) – to help him hear me, understand me, somehow.

How will I ever know if he did hear me, understand me? We did not engage in a conversation of two equal halves. When we parted he simply smiled. I smiled too – hoping I had made a connection and that he had heard me, understood me, somehow.

I tried Lord. I really did.

Maybe he was smiling at the foolishness I’d displayed as a hearing person in flapping my hands and mouthing my words at the top of my voice… to no avail… as if I could make him hear me, understand me, somehow. My smile had to be worth something to him though, didn’t it?

And hunger? I’ve known hunger Lord – for an hour… maybe two, for a day… maybe two – but not much longer than that – with my belly rumbling greedily for food as I recover from an illness – or other short-lived fasting period. Sometimes, I even waste food – too picky – eyes bigger than belly with too much on plate to finish my ungrateful meal. I do not know real hunger, like those who have no choice but to suffer starvation – with bellies swollen through lack of food, malnutrition – those who have no means of their own to obtain food enough to survive – let alone waste.

So, tell me Lord… how then shall I pray for you to show me how to act instead, to help them Lord, as they hungrily wait, and I thank you…for my daily bread?

How then shall I pray Lord?

 Julie Fairweather 19.5.2014