Archives for category: spiritual

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.

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.

mysticalI’ve just read the “Mystical Life” chapter of the book Franciscan Spirituality where Brother Ramon suggests that there are 3 stages on the Mystic Way: Purgation, Illumination and Union.

Meditating on these stages I immediately knew of my desire for Union with God and believe that I have experienced moments of such union in my teens and early twenties. But I realised that before either of these stages comes Purgation: repentance, penitence, sorrow; and that if I really desire Union, I should also desire Purgation.

A few years ago I completed a long questionnaire designed to show me what my strengths were. One of the was Ideation: the love of new ideas, which is certainly true. Having not gone to a congregation for many years, I have said many times that TED talks are my “sermons”. I love how many of them challenge my world-view or teach me something I never knew about others, the natural world, or myself. The idea of Illumination speaks to me of this realisation of deeper truth, something new and undiscovered in my relationship with God.

Brother Ramon makes a point that the Purgation stage is not meant to be a negative experience or filled with negative emotion, but there is something in me which dreads the process or purging, or pruning. Remembering times when I have felt the conviction of Christ makes my heart feel heavy with remorse that I had been so selfish that I needed that refining fire to burn away the impurities in me, but I also remember the joy of being forgiven and exposed before God. I will need courage and His grace to desire Purgation!