Easter Sunday – Open our World to your Hope

At the beginning of Barney Norris’s novel Five Rivers on a Wooded Plain, the author reflects on Salisbury Cathedral. He says he’s stared at the cathedral spire every night for a year as he wrote his book. Although he professes no faith himself, he is entranced by the spire, describing it as “cutting the air” like a “diagram of prayer”. He says that the Cathedral has become a symbol of hope in his life, which encourages him to stop, to look up and look beyond the everyday, and to “imagine something greater than we are”. By doing so, he says, “it demands we look outside ourselves”.

There is something in our church buildings that speak of hope, of God’s assurance that he is with us and that his kingdom of love, compassion, and peace is already here among us. No wonder it’s been so difficult for so many when we haven’t been able to enter our buildings freely. But, of course, St Paul also reminded us that we are ourselves are living temples. In other words, each one of us has the potential to be figures of hope to others in our lives. We can, like the spire in Norris’s book, take people beyond their own personal concerns and point to something greater than themselves.

Now, over the past six weeks of Lent, we have been on a journey. This has been an inward journey, as we’ve explored what God’s presence, call, love, will, compassion, and peace means to us personally. But it is also a journey which has radical outward implications. Being transformed into Jesus’s image means we are compelled to view others as he did and treat others as he did. And so now we come to Easter Sunday. The day of resurrection and hope. This hope is for ourselves, yes, but it is also hope that we are invited to share with others, not least at such a difficult time where hope is painfully lacking in so many lives.

So today, in the light of the new life of the resurrection, I want to encourage you to be that hope to others in your life. In the latest Justice League film, Superman says these words: “Hope is like your car key, easy to lose, but, if you dig around, you’ll find it close by”. So many people are digging around, looking for hope at the moment. Be that hope for them. Help people see the light in their lives. Help them see that light both in things familiar and in things long overlooked – in their home, in their families, in their daily walks, in church buildings, in music, in the countryside around them. And open their eyes to new possibilities, new challenges, new life. That is the power of the renewal that Jesus offers. That can change lives, communities, society, and the created world. This is the power of Hope.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

When we’re confronted with emptiness

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When it all goes quiet

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we want to put away going over the past

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we want to stop worrying about the future

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we can’t keep holding our burden

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we’re convinced nothing will change

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we’re terrified of losing control

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we start to be overconcerned about what others say about us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we fail to respond to global crises

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

When we’re not quick enough to turn to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our world to your hope

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent – Holy Week: Open our Pain to your Peace

Recently, I was sitting on a bench facing our local city lake, Roath Park Lake. I noticed how calm and serene that lake was – the trees around it gently swaying, the ducks and swans gliding in the rippling water, even a heron fishing for his lunch. Peace. And then I glanced at the road around the lake – the hustle and bustle of buses taking people to and from city centre, children screaming and running as they came home from school, police cars with sirens speeding past, frustrated people in cars beeping their horns at each other.

We are now entering Holy Week. A week when Jesus faced betrayal, rejection, torture, pain, and death. And then we will come to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. The risen Jesus repeats two related phrases that can speak into our Holy Week this year. He says “peace be with you” and “do not be afraid” or “fear not”. After all, this journey from the cross to the tomb, and then from the tomb to new life, reassures us of two things. Firstly, it reassures us that Jesus knows what it’s like when we are going through difficult times –and he stands alongside us, with tears in his eyes, when we suffer. But, secondly, Jesus speaks into our pain and suffering – he says “peace be with you, do not be afraid“.

Now in Welsh we have two words for peace – heddwch and tangnefedd. Heddwch is a peace on the outside of us – a peace between people or between nations. Tangnefedd, on the other hand, is internal and eternal, a peace which reaches the depths of our souls. Tangnefedd is what Jesus offers us, “a peace that is beyond understanding”, as St Paul puts it, even when there is no peace outside of us.

And so this week, I want to challenge you, through remembering the suffering and abandonment that Jesus himself felt, to allow his peace to soothe your own worries, your own pain. Even though the stress, busyness, and anxiety of the world continues all around, your hearts and minds can have something of the calm and peaceful Roath Park Lake. It’s not that God’s peace will take away our problems. But it centres us, calms us, and helps us to view those concerns differently.

With everything we have been through over the past year, peace of heart may sometimes seem a distant dream. But Jesus speaks to us through our stress and struggles – he says: “peace be with you… do not be afraid”. Even if the world around us is turbulent and chaotic, our hearts can still be opened to the living water of peace, of tangnefedd. As theologian Andrew Todd put it when reflecting on the pandemic: “this is the peace which touches and holds us when we cannot touch and hold each other”.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

As we wonder about the ups and downs of your final week as a human

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we contemplate the highs and lows in our own lives

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we ask ourselves how we can best use of our days

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we are conscious of our own limitations

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we look upon our own wilderness

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we reflect upon the causes of the world’s suffering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we call to mind people who are wrongly convicted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we try to identify with those who are betrayed

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we ponder that isolation can occur anywhere

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we think about being transformed by you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we remember that you are the God who brings peace out of pain, strength out of weakness, triumph out of tragedy

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 5: Open our Actions to your Compassion

In the most recent version of the film Ben Hur, Pontius Pilate is discussing the threats to the Roman Empire in first-century Palestine. At that time, it was the zealots, the revolutionary Jewish group attempting to overthrow Roman rule, who were the greatest worry to the authorities. But Pilate’s concern was rather an obscure Jewish prophet called Jesus of Nazareth, who was teaching people that love is the true nature of every person. Pilate concludes with these words: “this man calms people with his compassion – he is more dangerous than all of the zealots combined”.

Like the word love, “compassion” is another word that’s rather lost its power in recent years. We so often hear politicians, journalists, and world leaders use the word. Sometimes it can seem a rather insipid and bland way of saying that we should be nice and kind to people. The reality is, though, that the call of compassion is a revolutionary call. Compassion demands that we treat others, whoever they are, whatever they’ve done, as if they were in our families, that we share both their joys and their sorrows. This is a radical way of viewing the world around us. Indeed, it even goes beyond human relationships and challenges our attitudes to the environment and non-human life.

Not that this radical compassion is an easy choice for us to make in our day-to-day lives. So much so, that we often end up sidelining compassion and taking the less-potent steps of charity, sympathy, or pity. I once watched a documentary where Tom Shadyac, the director of the film Bruce Almighty, was interviewing his father, who had founded a hospital for children with cancer. His dad described witnessing so much love and compassion in his church each week. But at the end of the service, so many of the congregation would go out to their cars, go home and just get on with their lives; their compassion will be switched off for the rest of the week. He finishes by describing himself sitting and crying at the end of a service when reflecting on how infrequently we live out God’s compassion. Perhaps we can adapt a quotation by G.K. Chesterton – “it is not that compassion has been tried and found wanting; rather, it has been found difficult and so left untried”.

So I want to challenge you this week to recognise, embrace, and then live out what is radical about compassion. To break through the “us” and “them” attitudes so prevalent in our society. To embrace those who are stigmatised and demonised in our world. To recognise the beauty and worth of God’s creation and of each and every person, whoever they are, whatever their background; to recognise them as our brothers and sisters, to look at them and see Jesus himself looking back at us.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

Because you want us to keep thinking big

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to imagine what other people are going through

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to develop a thin skin

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to contemplate what will happen if we don’t get involved

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to be confident that we can make a difference

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to bring remote issues close

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to reflect on what we can do

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to be stewards of our world

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to look out for those who are on the margins, in the shadows, in too deep, on the brink

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Because you want us to do all this to help bring in your kingdom

Lord we ask you to

Open our actions to your compassion

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 4: Open our Ways to your Will

“What are the chances of that happening?” I’ve said that phrase so many times recently that I’ve been researching whether there is any meaning behind coincidences. Not so long ago, a BBC Radio 4 series recounted spectacular coincidences – like in 2001 when 10 year-old Lucy Buxton in Staffordshire released a balloon from her garden with her name and address on it. It landed 140 miles away in Wiltshire in a garden of another 10-year-old girl… who, amazingly, was also called Lucy Buxton! Now, coincidences in our own lives may not be so spectacular, but they can still stop us in our tracks – like when we’re thinking of someone and the phone pings and it’s a text from them. “What are the chances of that happening?” we say.

And I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few posts on social media recently referring to such coincidences. Last week, I read about a friend of mine who was listening to Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” on his car’s CD Player and he thought to himself “it’s not as good as the original”. So he turned his CD player off and his radio kicked in. What was playing? Yes, Dolly Parton’s original version of “I will always love you”!

Now, such coincidences in our own lives can easily be dismissed as, well, just coincidences. But perhaps, if we open ourselves up, we can recognise these coincidences happening more often in our lives and even recognise meaning behind them. And I’m certainly not the only one to believe this. From the great psychologist Carl Jung to the contemporary Cambridge University biologist Rupert Sheldrake, others have suspected these synchronistic moments have deep meaning. In fact, these may be moments when God reveals himself to us, guides us and speaks to us. One popular book in America suggests this is when God is winking at us, reassuring us of his presence or pointing us in some direction he wants us to take.

So, we can open our ways to his will by noticing him wink at us in all sorts of ways – sometimes this comes through coincidental events, but other times it is through things people say to us, or little signs we notice in our daily routine, or loving thoughts that flash across our minds, or something we read or watch and find inspiring, or perhaps even something we dream about.

So, this week I want to challenge you. Ask yourself… What is God pushing you towards? What little signs has he given you? Are you awake to his movement in your life? Have you noticed him wink at you? How is he guiding you to live out his love and compassion in your life? How does he want you to serve him?

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

In the week of Mothering Sunday –

So that we always recall that mothering happens in many places and in many ways

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we recognise the mother in ourselves

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we value the role of all forms of mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we bring our own experiences of mothering to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we support those who are mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we learn from mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we recognise that mothering is hard

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we can reassure those who think they’re not cut out for mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we let ourselves be mothered

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we see you as the model of all our mothering

Lord we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 3: Open our Hearts to your Love

Recently I was introduced to an album called “The Anarchy Arias”. It is a collaboration between the English National Opera, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Glen Matlock, who was in a famous punk band in the 1970s. These songs are the punk, new wave, and rock songs that I would listen to as a teenager, but played by a wonderful orchestra and sung by talented opera singers. What isn’t there to love about that?! Well, in one particular way, it misses the mark and misses the point. These songs were brash protests against problems that still exist in our society, and now they suddenly seem tame. In this new setting, even the lyrics just don’t have the radical and shocking punch that they had in the 1970s, and much of the power and protest has now been lost.

When I was considering what it means to open our hearts to God’s love, I was reminded of the Anarchy Arias. For two thousand years, Christianity has been known as a faith of love. Jesus’s teaching on love, not to mention his life of love, has inspired groups and individuals to challenge the status quo, to stand up for those are oppressed, to speak for those with no voice, and to lay down their lives for those in need. Yes, people like St Francis, William Wilbourforce, Corrie Ten Boom, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa; but also countless other nameless people who lived out the sacrifice that Christian love demands of us. This call on our lives is radical and revolutionary and it bucks the prevailing individualistic and materialist worldview in today’s world.

The reality is, though, that we’ve probably heard the phrase “God is love” countless times by now. And it’s easy to hear things so often that we just get used to them. The power and inspiration can be drained away from even the most life-giving and profound messages. Just like the Anarchy Arias, Christian love can become something bland and staid, worse still it can become sickly sweet and saccharine.

So, this week, let’s try and recapture something of the radical and revolutionary thing that is Christian love. Imagine that you’ve never even heard of Jesus. And then someone explains, first, that the creator of all loves you completely, unconditionally, so much so that he would die for you. This is a huge comfort. And then they go on to explain that, because God’s love is for all, we’re not simply called to put up with one another, or like each other when it’s convenient, but to love one another. This is a huge challenge. So, this week, embrace the comfort; feel his deep, unwavering love for you. But also embrace the challenge; in whatever way you can, reach out to others in love, help them in practical ways and reassure them of their ultimate worth.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

If we take happiness, health, success for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take where we’ve come from and where we’re going for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take our present surroundings for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take others for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take ourselves for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we perceive that others take us for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we witness others being taken for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we go along with a system that takes people for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we forget that you never take your creation for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we want to follow you, grant our prayer:

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 2: Open our Ears to your Call

As a teenager, I vividly remember sitting next to the house phone, with Blondie’s song Call Me blasting out of my tape deck, eagerly waiting for a call from a girl I’d asked on a date. When the call came with the deafening ring of those old phones, I was to be disappointed – the answer was not simply “no, thank you”, it was “no way”.

These days, of course, awaiting a call from a friend or a family member can bring a similar anticipation, especially during a year when we haven’t been able to meet up with as many as we usually do. On top of that, there can be a real excitement about the ping of our mobile phones telling us we have a text or WhatApp message. Scientists tell us we have a rush of dopamine firing around our heads each time we hear our mobile phones ping.

But what about the idea of being called by God? Do you have a similar anticipation of God’s call? Or a similar excitement that he might be speaking to you? It’s important to remember that God’s call is not some scary, supernatural, otherworldly thing that’s restricted to special and holy priests or prophets. God speaks to all of us, he calls all of us – whoever you are, whatever your age, whatever your background, however close you feel to him, however far you feel from him. He’s calling all of us; calling us to use our gifts and talents to bring his kingdom of love to our communities. How exciting is that? Far more exciting than the ring of a phone or the ping of a mobile!

So, the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?” The Rule of St Benedict, written in the sixth century, may have been written for monks living in community, but its teaching is as relevant to us now as it was 1500 years ago. And what is the first word of that book? – “listen”. Listen. St Benedict goes on to write: “let us open our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out: if you hear God’s voice today, don’t harden your heart; you have ears to hear, so listen to what the Spirit says”.

So, this week, whoever you are, young or old, lay or ordained, church attender or not, I want to encourage you to open your ears to God’s call. What is he calling you to? Perhaps it’s something big that will mean significant changes is your life. Or perhaps is something small – something loving he wants you to do for someone right now. Remember… the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?”

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

When you want us to walk before you faithfully

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to follow you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to call a crowd to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to talk to us individually

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to make us very fruitful

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to deny ourselves

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to forfeit the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to help change the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to remind us that your covenant is everlasting

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

And when you want to remind us that you are always asking something different of us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

Amen.

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 1: Open our Eyes to your Presence

Ever since he heard it mentioned in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, my youngest son has become obsessed with Turkish Delight. We have to buy it in bulk for him. It’s not particularly great for his teeth, so he’s only allowed one small slither a day. Yesterday morning he asked for his daily treat of Turkish Delight. I told him that if he ate it then, he wouldn’t have another treat for the rest of the day. He thought for a moment and then said: “imagine a treat that lasts forever”.

We’re now at the beginning of Lent. And it’s been a strange and difficult year, with so many churches, shops, schools, colleges, and workplaces having been closed. But this week, I challenge you to view the beginning of Lent as an opportunity to open up – to open up your eyes to God’s presence all around you. After all, through connecting with God‘s presence we connect with something of eternity. We connect with “the treat that lasts forever”, to use my son words.

But how does that relate to Ash Wednesday and to Lent? Well, the monastic tradition has always seen the contrition, the saying sorry, at the beginning of Lent as not simply being sorry for the things we have done. It’s also about being sorry for the things we haven’t done – and, in particular, according to the tradition, it is being sorry for the times we haven’t appreciated and savoured those moments of beauty, love, hope, and joy that break into our lives. The beginning of Lent gives us the opportunity to say sorry for those times and then commit ourselves to doing things differently from now on – to consciously open our eyes to where God comes to us in our lives each day.

So, this week, I encourage you, however difficult life might be at the moment, to recognise God all around you – in your daily walks, in the green shoots of nature that are starting to spring up all around us, in the birds in your gardens and parks, in your family at home or further afield, in the friendships you are fostering through text or phone calls, in the music you listen to and the films you watch, in inspirational sacrifices (such as we’re seeing from NHS workers, teachers, and other workers at the moment), or in the small moments of kindness that you witness as you go about your daily lives. By doing this, you can experience just something of that “treat that lasts forever”. Or, in the words of poet William Blake, you can experience “a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower… Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour”.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

If we want to take a deep breath at the start of Lent

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to set off in a different direction

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to increase our openhearted awareness of the world around us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to recall what we haven’t done

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to do better next time

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to stop over-complicating things

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to cut down on our tendency to catastrophise

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to keep being patient and kind

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to remember why we’re doing this

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to look beyond death to life

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Why open up this Lent? Introducing ‘Opening our Lives’

“What is your binge-viewing TV recommendation?”, asked a friend of mine on Facebook recently. Over 50 people replied with their enthusiastic recommendations – from rebooted classics like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to the contemporary trends like Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit. We have discovered a more unusual series that is presently gripping our evenings. For Life is inspired by a true story of a wrongly-convicted prisoner in a US jail, who trains and qualifies as a lawyer so as to fight against his life sentence. Produced by, and starring, the rapper 50 Cent, it is a fascinating series. Granted my view is rather biased, as I have always been a huge fan of prison films like Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke, and Papillon. If any of these films were simply about the hardship and pain of prison, though, they would not inspire me as much as they do. What I love most about prison films and TV series is the fact that at their heart is one little word – “hope”.

It has certainly been a difficult year and the lockdowns have been particularly hard. I would never have guessed that I would spend so much time indoors in one calendar year – sometimes it does feel as if we are imprisoned. With the season of Lent on the way, I am not sure whether penance and self-denial will be top on my list of priorities this year. I usually give up chocolate, but sometimes I feel that an occasional chocolate orange or double decker is the only thing keeping me going through these difficult times!

When I started to write my new Lent Book, the word Covid was completely alien to most of us, Corona was a Mexican beer that we might occasionally enjoy on a hot summer’s day, and bubbles were things that made my kids scream with joy outside. By the time I was finishing writing, though, its theme had come to hold far deeper significance. That theme can be summed up by the title of the book: Opening our Lives. In so many ways, our lives have seemed shut down over the past year. Many of us have spent most of our days indoors, with even shopping being delivered to us. Our work patterns have changed, quite a bit of schooling has taken place at home, and appointments are increasingly on the phone or online. So, while most of us remained shut indoors, to be writing about “opening” our lives seemed hugely relevant.

After all, it is by opening our lives that we Christians can connect with that little word that runs through all my favourite prison films and TV series – hope. Lent is certainly a time when “giving up” something can be a helpful discipline. Likewise, “giving to” a charity or “taking up” particular acts of compassion can contribute so much to others. “Opening up”, though, especially at a time when our lives are so challenging, allows us to discover that hope is at the very centre of the Lenten journey. We open our eyes to recognise God’s presence, however difficult our journey. We open our ears to hear him call us to lives of transformation and justice. We open our hearts to his love, as we view the world around us as God himself sees it. We open our pain to his peace, as we allow him to be balm to our wounds. Then, on Easter Sunday, we open our lives to that wonderful hope that brings freedom and liberation despite the hardships we are facing: “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies” (Shawshank Redemption).

Opening our Lives: Devotional Readings for Lent is the BRF Lent Book for 2021.

This blog post was originally published as a BRF Blog.

What has the Trinity got to do with everyday life?

Today is Trinity Sunday, when the Church remembers that God is “one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. Three in one, one in three. If that has always confused and perplexed you, then welcome to the club! It’s no coincidence that many priests make sure their curate is on the rota to preach on this particular Sunday! But just because it is a complex doctrine, it is far from an outdated or pointless belief. In fact, as much as any other Christian belief, the Trinity gets to the heart of what God is all about and what he expects of us. There are, after all, two important things we can say about the Trinity.

Firstly, the Trinity is a mystery. However much thought goes into it, however much we study, we’ll never fully understand the Trinity. I used to ask my students to think of analogies of what “three in one” could mean – some would follow St Patrick in suggesting shamrocks (three leaves in one sprig), others would suggest water, one element that can be three forms: liquid, steam or ice. And I even remember one group being particularly inventive by suggesting the theology of a creme egg – one sweet in three parts: the chocolate, the sickly sweet white part, and the smooth yellow centre. All this, of course, is not particularly helpful to understanding what is essentially a great mystery about God. And perhaps understanding this mystery is less important than asking why our faith teaches this mystery – what does it mean to us that God is three in one?

Well, that is where we come to second point and this turns everything else about the doctrine upside down. The philosopher Martin Buber wrote: “In the beginning was relationship”. And that little word is at the heart of what the Trinity means – “relationship”. The early church theologians described the Trinity as a dynamic dance of love between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. After all, love can’t exist in isolation, it can’t exist by itself. So, yes, the Trinity is a mystery. It is, though, a mystery that discloses something very simple about God. It reveals that God, in the very depths of his being, is relationship; God is love.

This has huge implications in our world of suffering, illness, grief, oppression, prejudice, violence, and inequality. It is when we step out of our isolated, selfish selves, it is when we enter into caring, peaceful, and compassionate relationships with each other, with nature, with our environment, that God is revealed to the world. The Christian philosopher Gabriel Marcel talks about “absolute availability”. Because God is relationship, love is not an optional extra for Christians and that has, in our local and global world, far-reaching expectations of each of us. The doctrine of the Trinity demands that availability, responsibility, relationship, care, compassion, and love permeates all that we are and all that we do, whether in person or online, in our thoughts, in our words, or in our actions, in how we spend our money or how we spend our time.

In other words, the Trinity demands that we are “absolutely available” to others, to be a loving and life-enhancing gift to them – to stand alongside them in their pain, to weep with them in their grief, to rejoice with them in their good news, to stand up against oppressive systems that dehumanise them, to shine the light of justice on those who misuse power, to call to account those who blindly ignore our groaning earth, to expose those who pedal lies and falsehoods, to speak up for those whose voices are silenced. After all, it is because God is the Trinity, because God is relationship, that Martin Luther King stated that life’s most persistent question, life’s most urgent and important question, is: “What are you doing for others?” So, I challenge you to reflect on your life and ask yourself that little question – “What are you doing for others?”

A prayer
Father God,
Through the Power of your Spirit,
And the Grace of your Son,
Help us to each to play our part in turning the world upside down
Through your compassion, care, peace, hope, and love.
Amen.

Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word – An Appeal to White Majority Churches

This is a tale of two photos. Two photos that show the difference between what following Jesus has too often become and what following Jesus should be. One a photo of the so-called “leader of the Free World”, after having ordered tear gas on peaceful protesters, holding the bible aloft in front of a church. The other a photo of tearful white Christians kneeling in front of grieving black Christians in the hometown of the murdered George Floyd, asking for forgiveness for many decades of bigotry and racism. One a photo that encapsulates dominance, force, abuse of power, arrogance, and injustice. The other a photo of humility, contrition, equality, compassion, and love.

The world has recognised the photo of the US President for what it is – a shameless and shameful hijacking of the spiritual. The other photograph is taken from a video of a prayer service that was shared widely on social media. It has been described by Piers Morgan as the one powerful moment during the past few days that gives us hope that the present situation differs from many past protests. Not that all commentators have viewed the incident so positively. A British journalist in Russia Today, who also writes for The Sun newspaper, describes the moment as a “cringeworthy and ostentatious display of self-flagellation”. The article even quotes from the Bible (Deuteronomy 24:16) in criticising this group for apologising for the sins of the past. “They will not help heal racial divisions,” the author concludes, “they only serve to heighten them”.

As a church leader in a white majority church in the UK, though, I believe apology and contrition is the only place we must start in response to the brutal murder of George Floyd and to the racism and bigotry that still blights our world. Make no mistake about it, the burden of guilt is on all our shoulders. Speaking out against arrogant politicians or corrupt law keepers is imperative, but this must not hide our own culpability or blind us from our own propensity to bigotry, prejudice, and hatred. Not that our contrition should incarcerate us in self-reproach and shame. It must be, instead, a step towards recognising our common humanity with all and towards the promise of new beginnings and new life.

Rather than contradicting Scripture, as the Russia Today journalist maintains, this is what our faith demands of us. It is not by accident that Jesus taught us to pray ‘forgive us our sins’. Sin is not merely a personal and private problem. There is corporality and communality in our transgressions. In Romans 3:23, St Paul maintains that “all have sinned and fall short”, using a Greek aorist tense which implies everybody’s cumulative past and employing a Greek phrase (‘fall short’) which suggests a continuing present. In other words, our personal wrongdoings are linked to the entirety of humankind’s sinful history, and so we are called to confession and repentance for the deafening silence of both our country and our church on so many atrocities and hurts, as well as for the hate-filled and dehumanizing rhetoric that groups of innocent people have faced, whether those of a different race, faith, sexuality, gender, physical ability, or nationality.

However, when it comes to acknowledging our complicity in acts of exploitation, injustice, hatred, and cruelty, sorry seems to be the hardest word. It is costly and painful for us to look at the perpetrators of historical crimes and see our own faces reflecting back. Our history, though, is littered with the evils of our ancestors. Our compatriots have been involved in dreadful atrocities, and our faith has so much for which to be remorseful. Humility, empathy, and compassion lead us to confess our own part in driving the nail into Christ’s hand, thrusting the sword into the so-called ‘infidel’ in the crusades, screaming for death to young girls accused of witchcraft, fervently applauding the charismatic Führer of the Third Reich, burning crosses on lawns in 1960s Alabama, preaching hate against our gay neighbours, and signing contracts to destroy swathes of rain forest.

But contrition alone is not enough. Asking for forgiveness for the past holds pressing implications on both the present and the future. Repentance is not simply a case of saying sorry – we need to act out our sorry. In the Old Testament, Nehemiah did not simply confess the sins of his ancestors, he committed himself to rectifying those transgressions. By saying sorry for the sins of the past, we commit ourselves to standing alongside the oppressed, to repairing relationships, to giving voice to the hurting voiceless, to championing love, service, and justice in our own lives, and to imploring God to keep us from descending again into prejudice, hatred, or abuse.

So, we ask for forgiveness for years of mistreatment of his wonderful creation and we shed tears for the treatment of numerous groups of people in the past and present – black people, women, the disabled, gay people, transgender people, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, aboriginal people, native Americans, and many other groups. By repenting of the transgressions of all people at all times, we enter a place of healing, hope, and new life. In this place, we commit to identifying where prejudice, inequality, violence, exploitation, greed and abuse still occur in our communities, society, and world, and we commit to playing our part in birthing a future of equality, compassion, and love. And it all starts with standing with those in George Floyd’s hometown and, with our tears mingling with those running down the cheeks of both black and white, repeating the prayer that they prayed:

“Father God, we humble ourselves before you and we ask for forgiveness from our black brothers and sisters for years and years of systematic racism, of bigotry, of hate. We pray for our white, black and brown brothers and sisters who have had the courage to expose the blatant racism in our own hearts. We pray that black men and women be free from fear and hopelessness. We take a knee as a sign that we honour them, we love them; as a sign that You love them. In Jesus’s name, Amen”