For our first wedding anniversary, my husband made me five paper flowers and left them on my bedside table. I have them framed. He had bought special paper, stayed up late at night to practise when I was asleep and then made the final pieces for me. Dedication to an act of love.
How dedicated are we to the act of love? Or is it just an abstract concept we are good at talking about but not very good at facing? We can love our family, our chosen partners, but can we love our noisy neighbour, or the person whose theology clashes with ours?
People can act in ways which make it difficult for us to act in loving ways towards them. Ways which may trigger responses in us that are anything but loving. It can take a lot of hard work and dedication to love under those circumstances. It is, however, what we are called to do.
I’m still learning. But I’m going to keep on trying. Will you join me?
How can we have joy when all around is despair? Is it even fair of us to pursue joy? Should we feel positive when there is so much pain around?
I’ve had my fair share of knocks and tough times these last two years. In the summer I caught Covid and am now one of thousands upon thousands left with Long Covid symptoms, fatigued and struggling to maintain any semblance of the life that was before. So how, pray tell, can I possibly be joy-ful?
When I felt that black dog of depression starting to loom, I made a choice. I would intentionally seek joy to try and keep it at bay. I became impulsive. I rescued a cat, because she was named after my favourite video game character and her story was so sad. I had teal streaks put in my hair, because if I was no longer to be client facing for a while, then I’d do something I wouldn’t do while I was. I started painting messy, textured, abstract works for the process of it. It all helped.
Joy to me became an act of resistance. Two fingers up at the world which wanted to grind me down. At politicians engineering weary populations so they could slide evil legislation through without challenge. At eatablishments making sure they are seen to be doing something while having no intention of doing anything meaningful at all. Joy became my rebellion. My resistance. My revolution.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit. Perhaps instead of thinking of this in terms of happiness, we could think of this in terms of the ability to find good in the darkest of times, and to never ever give in to them?
A few weeks ago, I found some unexpected space in my day. I grabbed a book, kicked off my shoes and sat in the garden with my toes in the grass. It was grounding. I was at peace.
It happens so rarely in the hectic life of a working mum of two with a part time ministry and a series of chronic conditions. When it does, it is such a treat. I need to make it happen more. A new year resolution perhaps? But also, intentionality about making peace in restless times is vital to our wellbeing.
There is so much anger, angst, vitriol and hatred out there. Social media brings it directly into our homes. The only way to combat this is to cultivate peace. Actively practice the peaceful response – if a response is needed at all! Demonstrate the disarming power of peace. It really does work!
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. If we follow his way, then we too should value peace. Whether that is holding a vigil to remember victims of violence against women, refusing to rise to provocation, or simply taking half an hour each day to be at one with God. All are steps towards a more peaceful world.
A light that shines in the darkness. That we hold at the centre of all our lives. Our endeavours. Our celebrations. Our times of desperate prayer in loss and sadness.
As we start the Advent season, we gather our thoughts around the light of the world to come, and the hope which he brings. We refuse to accept the status quo, to live in the darkness, and we look towards a changed future. One we must wait for, but know is to come.
Since the Covid-19 pandemic began disrupting lives two advents ago, we have grown used to waiting for what is to come. For better times ahead. For light to come in the darkness. Surely two years in, we should be living in the light? Our Christmastime should have come? Yet still we have longer to wait. How can we speak of hope?
Truth is, at times I don’t know. But what I do know is that to lose hope is a dangerous thing. To hold no hope is to be in a place of despair. The promise of Christmas is that hope will come. The gift of Advent is that it is ok to be still in the waiting. We don’t have to lock into repetitive news cycles and social media gloom. We can be intentional about reflection in the waiting. We can be prayerful in cultivating hope.
This first Advent Sunday, my prayer is that we may nurture hope, knowing that while the wait feels endless, Jesus is coming.
We’ve recently moved house, and with that comes lots of trips to the local tip. Nearby is a drive through coffee shop, where we often stop and reward ourselves, especially as I am still on the Long Covid recovery path and even just driving there and back while my husband does the heavy lifting is exhausting for me. So we drive through, park up, sit and watch the world go by. In front of this old Church.
Many locals think it is horrible, and wish it could be flattened. I love sitting with my lemon tart and sweet milky tea, contemplating the sight in front of me. The plants weaving through the brick work. The different colours nature presents against the stark uniform stone. The scents drifting over, reminiscent of the incense which would have drifted down the aisles but so much purer, in their natural, organic, form.
Don’t get me wrong, we’ve done a bit of online research and the interior photographs available from ‘urban explorers’ are also beautiful. There is some amazing tilework in there, and the stained glass would have been stunning. But what always strikes me about this Church is that long after the people left, nature continues to speak. We’ve made it ugly with boards, fences and wire. But the natural reclamation only adds to the story of the worship held within the building. This is the planet continuing to grow, thrive, bloom, do its thing. What is that if it isn’t worship?
It also reminds me of the ongoing tussle within the church as an institution. The traditional, trying to stand firm while the cracks continue to widen. The organic, growing theologies, often seen as weeds but beautiful in their own right, just trying to thrive. Intrusive or complimentary? Harmful if not tended to, will pull the building down if neither is adapted to the other. It strikes me there is a powerful analogy there to explore. Natural reclamation within the Church?
And above it all, the cross stands proud still. A symbol of God’s enduring presence as everything continues below Them. Very striking.
I took this photograph on my last trip as I think there is still a lot of meditation and reflection on this to be had. You are welcome to share in this with me.
Sometimes, in the dead of night, I wake and I think in the stillness. I think of the pain that wakes me, the noises that disturb me, the problems crowding my brain and preventing me from drifting back to sleep. I know I should be able to lay them at your feet, Jesus. But worry wraps around me like a weighted blanket, heavy yet somehow soothing, and I just can’t ever seem to let it go.
Be with me inside my cocoon of worries, God. Meet me where I am. Maybe all these prayers of release are just a step to far. Right here, right now, I am tired, sick, fractious. Before I can give it all to you, Yaweh, draw as close to me as the breath I take which echoes your name. Be with me in the midst of the here and now, with the peace of rest and the anxieties of life.
Then, wise Spirit, you decide the prayer. Lead me in what to ask for. You know my heartfelt needs better than even I do. Draw into my consciousness the next step towards healing and wholeness, so I may prayerfully co-create my journey forward with you.
What do we do, when peace is so fleeting, and conflict so rife around us?
Look to the sky. See the soft, rolling clouds and watch the gentle movement of the earth. On and on it turns, in a constant, life-giving path. Know it turns to give you the sunlight you need, and the darkness to rest. That is how much God loves you.
Look to the earth. See the green shoots, abundant in the country or persevering through the cracks in urban space. On and on they grow, in a constant, life giving effort. Know they grow to give you the air you need, and to clean the air in turn. That is how much God loves you.
Look to your heart. See the space within where the Spirit lives, rests and resides in you. On and on They work, in a constant, life giving endeavour. Know They are there, purifying, pruning, gently weaving the strings of your heart together with their own in a beautiful braid. That is how much God loves you.
Feel the Peace that comes with the knowledge and understanding that this is how much God loves you.
‘That’s mental!’ ‘There are crazy discounts right now!’ ‘He’s just blind to the truth’ ‘You’re so lame’
If you really start to think about it, our language is absolutely rammed full of ableist terms and phrases. As a disability activist, I will hold my hands up and say I have got it wrong, publically and recently. On an almost daily basis I find myself about to say something, thinking about the root of what I was about to say, and choosing differently.
When I was little, it was common to use terms like spastic (and derivatives), mongol (and derivatives), retarded (and derivatives) to describe people, all coming from authentically used disability language. I have Music Therapy text books on my shelf which are still set texts and still use such terms. We would not use them now as mainstream language, we know they are offensive and in general society has actively chosen better. We choose to honour the wishes of the communities living with those disabilities, using person first language, or not, as guided. We choose to listen to the experiences of harm indicated to us by people living with such disabilities and adapt our behaviour accordingly.
So why is it so difficult to do the same with more mainstream disabilities? Mental health, visual impairment, hearing impairment? ‘I told you to put the washing on this morning, are you deaf?’ ‘Come on ref, are you blind?’ ‘That tune is mad man!’
The same context applies. We have clear voices telling us using such terms and phrases are problematic at best, harmful at worst. Yet as a collective there can be a sense of ownership, even entitlement, to use our language, metaphors or phrases from literature that comes above our acceptance of the impact these terms have.
Our use of one word or phrase may not cause clear harm in the moment. But consider the impact if we all challenged our own language habits, made new actively inclusive choices, listened when innocent responses were pointed out to be problemmatic, and learned from disability advocates instead of seeking to defend the status quo? I’m happy we no longer use ‘handicapped’, ‘invalid’ and ‘uneducable’. Let’s keep the movement forward.
Recently, I was introduced to The Beatbox Gospel by Rev’d Gav Tyte. I was raised in the classical music tradition. and the one beatbox training session I had for my Music Therapy course was more hilarity than success. However, I have used it to connect with people in my work, my son and I have an incredible ‘Charmander Rap’ on video for his 18th birthday party, and I love the way beatboxing can open doors in a way other forms of expression cannot.
Cue my very confused husband walking in on me joyfully beatboxing the Magnificat in full Sister Act 2 style with pure joy in my heart and tears in my eyes.
This work is a piece of art. It is beautifully constructed, and wholly true to the essence of the Gospel of Luke. The care which has been taken to make it as accessible and usable as possible was plain to see, and it has been a true pleasure to explore. What a fresh and vibrant way to engage wirh familiar texts!
You can download a recording of Rev’d Gav himself performing, or a script for your own perusal – but don’t just read it, this work is meant for ‘lectio divina’ as it has never been done before! Find it at https://thebeatboxgospel.com/ and enjoy!
(Rev’d Gav is a member of our Ordinary Office community, this is not a review for commercial gain but purely a blog sharing how fab I think his work is!!)