candleI grew up in an evangelical Christian family and church, so Liturgy was very alien to me. When I came to Manchester for University I tried out some local congregations including the local Anglican church which had a lot of students, but I couldn’t hack the Liturgy, the standing and sitting, the repeating things together, the lack of creativity.

But yesterday at the Manchester Third Order meting I found myself surprised at my joy at doing the Liturgy. I hadn’t been able to go to the group meetings for the last few months, and didn’t really have any “Franciscan time” over Christmas, but I was surprised to find myself feeling joyful to be able to share the Eucharist, and refreshed by the Liturgy we went through.

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I have been finding these blog’s and videos useful and challenging this Advent as I try to understand the mystery of Advent and Christ’s incarnation.

alt.Advent is an animation series spilt into 26 parts so I have been catching up on the episodes each of my “Franciscan evenings”

Kester Brewins Advent posts were written in 2009 but are still very provoking and insightful.

The Emissary blog (by Juan somebody) is also posting a reflection each day this advent. Some of these thoughts have already been on his blog and I found them inspiring then, so it good he’s collecting them together this Advent.

24-7 Prayer have a video podcast of Advent reflections this year which I am finding useful.

I saw this picture today explaining the difference between information, knowledge and wisdom. The first 2 panels were created by Hugh MacLeod (Gaping Void) and Bob Marshall added the last panel about wisdom.

gapingvoid_wisdom

It challenges the idea that wisdom is simply the accumulation of knowledge with the right connections, and suggests that wisdom is perhaps more about knowing what information is important and relevant.

Tonight I read Matthew 11 v 25-30 in Matthew for Everyone where Jesus exclaims how his Father has hidden “these things from the wise and intelligent and revealed them to children!”. Perhaps children know instinctively what is important in life (close relationships, dancing, physical presence, singing, the wonder of discovery, bonding, failing, trying again, etc!) and it often has little to do with accumulated knowledge.

Growing up in an evangelical church and household, Advent never meant much more than the opportunity to open some cardboard windows to me.

But the lest few years, while I have been on my Franciscan journey, I have realised Advent means alot more to the Christian faith and have glimpsed something mystical about it I never saw before.

adventWikipedia suggests Advent is the “time of expectant waiting and preparation for the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas” which confuses me. “Expectant waiting” suggests we’re waiting for a surprise, but we know what happened, Jesus was born, and what will happen, Christmas day will arrive on the 25th. Also, what are we in “preparation” for? Christmas day? Making sure we’ve bought the presents and food?

Clearly this “expectant waiting” and “preparation” is for something much deeper, which is what I have wanted to discover. Lest year I thought I would take a month off work this Advent time to devote myself to exploring what Advent really means. I really wanted to dive deep into it, but I forgot, and haven’t made that space in my work.

I intend to discover diverse ideas and resources about Advent online to challenge and expand my understanding of this time. But at the moment I guess that the fact the Advent period culminates in the revelation of God through Jesus, the waiting and preparation is really for the continual revelation of Jesus in and through our lives, and the shake-up that is bound to bring!

GoodnessLast week marked 7 years since Amy was Stillborn. We have a tradition of going somewhere different within an hour or so of Manchester as a family so we went to York this time.

Since I started going to the Third Order meetings I have struggled with a line we say together as part of the Liturgy we do:

You are good, all good, supremely good,
Lord God, living and true.

To begin with I simply didn’t say it because I couldn’t admit that God was good. How could he be good and let Amy die, causing Mary-Lou, myself and others so much suffering? I still felt angry.

But eventually I decided that I wanted to be able to say this about God again, so I forced myself to say these lines with my fellow Tertiaries. I don’t think I feel as angry towards God, but I am still very confused.

This evening I was reading St Francis’ paraphrase of The Lord’s Prayer and got stuck again at this line:

… you, Lord, are the supreme good, the eternal good, and it is from you all good comes, and without you there is no good.

I began asking the question “If all good comes from you, and without you there is no good, then where were you when Amy died? In that moment of non-goodness, where were you, God?”

In the immediate days and weeks following Amy’s stillbirth, I felt God close to me and it was a source of comfort. After a few weeks, I no longer felt him near as my anger and confusion grew. So if God’s goodness was close to Mary-Lou and myself afterwards, where was it when Amy died?

I can only assume that God and his goodness was with Amy and us when she died. Even writing that makes be begin to feel angry again. But my question has shifted to Why? It’s the classic Why? which ties suffering and death with a loving, all-powerful, good God and leaves the big question mark.

I think I’ve accepted knowing that I will never know the answer to this giant question. Perhaps an answer would add to my confusion and pain – I don’t know.

matthewI’ve started reading “Matthew for Everyone” by Tom Wright during my Franciscan times as a way to get a bit deeper into the context and message of the New Testament. I plan to go through all of these books through to Revelation. Today I read Tom’s reflection on Matthew 7:1-6 about not judging people.

I have recently begun pondering about becoming a Magistrate. I only found out the other week that you don’t need any specific qualification or training to become a Magistrate and that the whole point of Magistrates is that they are “lay” people. Perhaps it is due to the current search for my Vocation, but the thought of being able to make a real practical (and hopefully positive) change in people’s lives and situations got me excited at the idea.

Along with this excitement has come a nagging feeling that I shouldn’t Judge people. Who am I to judge someone who comes to court? I accept that I am a sinful (though redeemed) man, and when I hear of the bad, and sometimes horrific, things someone has done on the news, I can only imagine that I too, given similar circumstances and background would do the same.

Tom Wright’s reflection of Jesus’ words points out that Jesus isn’t suggesting that Christians should not become Magistrates because they shouldn’t judge anyone. On reflection, I realise there is difference between judging someone in your heart, which I think Jesus was talking about, and judging the facts of a situation as a Magistrate, for example.

This nagging feeling of doubt about the idea of becoming a Magistrate may actually be due to the knowledge that my decision, were I to become a Magistrate, would have such a dramatic impact on another person’s life. It’s a daunting responsibility!

I am not currently able to apply to become a Magistrate where I live because the Court isn’t recruiting at the moment. But I intend to apply when they do recruit again, and we’ll see where it goes. I’m quite fascinated at discovering, if I were to become a Magistrate, how liberal or conservative I really am.

This Magistrate idea has got me thinking about Justice which is such a large subject especially when you throw God’s Mercy and Grace into the mix! I’ll have to save my pondering on that for another time.

I have been pondering about my Vocation recently – I don’t think I have one.

2419959_origI am a Freelance Ruby on Rails developer which basically means I build complex web sites (or apps) for my clients so that they can make money – and it really doesn’t feel like this is a Vocation. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t put here by God to make rich people richer. I’d like to imagine that I may be able to use my programming and developer skills and knowledge as part of my Vocation, but I don’t know what that would look like.

So I’ve been stuck, not knowing how to figure out what my Vocation might be. Might I need to retrain and gain different skills? If so what skills and when? Could I create a brilliant web app for the non-profit sector to help raise their income or efficiency and feel that growing that product could be my Vocation? Am I understanding Vocation correctly? Would I only have 1 Vocation?

I’ve had a sneaking suspicion that I was missing something in my efforts to figure out my Vocation. For example, the guy who created the Ruby language has left a legacy which has changed the world. Many web sites and tools, such as Twitter, GroupOn and thousands of other products, services and tools have been made using the Ruby language he invented, and have changed the way people across the Globe do business and communicate. He didn’t create these tools, but he created the language that enabled these tools to be built.

A few years ago, at some leadership training thing I was at, I was asked what I would like to have written on my Gravestone. After some thought, the word “Catalyst” stayed in my mind and it felt just right, and still does. So I was thinking that perhaps my Vocation would be along these lines, to build or invent or create something that might catalyse others to change lives and communities.

The other day I decided to ask God (it took me a while to realise this was a good idea!). After I explained my thoughts and spent a while imagining what this super web app might do, I listened, hoping that God would reveal this missing something, this incredible but simple something which would fit this idea of being a catalyst and make it clear what my Vocation would be. I asked a simple (but dangerous) question: “What do you want from me?”

The answer was very clear and not what I expected. I felt God say that He wanted to know me and be known by me. Essentially that He wanted me to draw closer to Him and be open, naked, vulnerable with Him. And it hit me: the only way I will ever discover my Vocation is to know my God more, to know His heart, His desires and hopes, and to allow Him to know me too. It wasn’t the practical idea or action I was wanting to hear, but instead it was God’s desire to share a deeper intimacy with me. I have to agree: to discover my Vocation, it’s a good place to start.