Tag: Joyce Smith

Sanctuary in the midst of storm

My friend Joyce Smith has recently returned from the Northumberland Coast where she visited her beloved Puffins.

She sent me this evocative photo and caption

The photo and caption first made me think of Elijah hiding in the cave as the Lord passes by but the Puffin is sheltering from a storm at sea, so my thoughts turned to the Gospel  where in Mark 4 we read of Jesus stilling the storm.

Many will  know the story. Jesus was in the boat with his disciples and a great storm arose. As the waves beat into the boat the disciples began to panic—even those who were fishermen who were surely used to rough seas.  Jesus was oblivious to it all as he quietly slept in the stern of the boat.  The frantic disciples woke him up and shouted, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing!”

Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, Jesus turned towards the raging sea and said, “Peace! Be still!”  A sudden calm descended.

Jesus turned to his friends and said, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”

The poor disciples had got it wrong again.  Incredibly, they went on to ask who he was, that even the wind and sea obey him.  Didn’t they know who he was?  Who did they think they were following?  Well, it’s an easy question for us to ask because we know, don’t we, just who Jesus is?  We know too that he has power to still the storm because he is Lord not just of humanity but of all Creation.  But if we were in the disciples place might we too have panicked? I suppose it partly depends on what sort of sailor we are. Or how strong our trust and faith in God is.

There are all sorts of storms in our life and some of the things that happen to us, and to those we love, can overwhelm us. That has been especially true over the past year or so. There are times when we are up against it and we just give in to despair or depression.  It’s at such times that we have to look for the Jesus in our midst—the Jesus who is constantly with us.  The Jesus who, when the going gets tough, simply holds us—be still!  be at peace!  Think of that famous story called ‘Footsteps’ – the one with the two sets of prints in the sand most of the time and then just the single set.  When the writer of the story accuses Jesus of abandoning him, Jesus simply replies that there is only one set of prints because that’s when Jesus carried him.  What we are going through may not magically go away though perhaps that’s what we expect should happen if we think about the storm at sea.  What really happens is that when life is hard for us, it is Jesus who holds us, carries us through, stills the storm within us and breathes his peace upon us. God never leaves us. But we do have to have faith to know that.

[Joyce & Mr G]

Follow the Redshank

My friend Joyce Smith has sent another Photo prayer for us to contemplate.
It is of a Redshank pausing at Welney.

There’s a story from the Desert Spiritual tradition about St. Antony

St. Antony was one day resting with his disciples when a hunter came upon them.
He berated them for their indolence.
Antony asked him to draw his bow and shoot an arrow. Puzzled, he did so.
Antony asked him to do it again. He did so but when Antony asked him a third time,
the man protested that if he carried on his bow would break with the strain.

Just so, said Antony, as we would if we did not from time to time rest and relax.

When I received Joyce’s latest tweet and photograph, this saying came to mind.

I thought too of something Cardinal Basil Hume once said, initially to novices he was teaching but it is applicable to all.
“When you are busy in the market place, always have a nostalgia for the desert.”

In the midst of busy lives, in order to keep them grounded as well as in lives often filled with distraction, yearn to spent time with God.
We need to pay attention to both the active and passive parts of us and hold them in balance. Jesus could not have done what he did do if he had not constantly gone off to be with his Father.

It’s not an easy thing for us to do which is why Cardinal Hume talked of having nostalgia for quiet.
That is also why, having the Redshank moment is important.
Seize the moment when you can be still (As St Cuthbert did in my blog about Cuddy’s Isle).

The other point, of course is, that you should be careful of using busyness to avoid being alone with God!
He knows how to get round that one, so you can’t fool Him.

As the Hunter was to learn with St Antony, without these moments you simply break.

Think about  how you can, like the Redshank, just pause and allow the water of God’s grace refresh you, flowing around and into you. That is what the Redshank shows us when she stops and allows the waters to flow around her.

Standing in this grace, God will restore your soul.

Thank you Joyce for sharing your photo and its message.

{Mr. G & Joyce Smith}

Friendship with God

My friend Joyce Smith has sent me this tweet – a photo which tells its own story.

Joyce says : In the same way as words are often not needed when sitting with good friends, sitting in quiet with our Heavenly Father helps us to absorb his love and know his peace.

Silence & Prayer
inspired by Joyce’s photograph and caption

Some people find silence uncomfortable but in our praying to God, it’s more than an absence of exterior noise.
Real silence before God is actually quite an active thing.

Prayer has been likened by the late Mother Mary Clare SLG, as a ‘Love-Affair with God’ in which all the emotions are engaged from silent hand-holding to tempestuous tiffs. It’s about sitting with God in a state of loving friendship.

Another teacher of prayer, Father Benson, the founder of the Cowley Fathers (SSJE) said:

“The soul in its littleness looks upon God in his greatness; and God in his greatness looks upon the soul in its littleness and loves it.”

This understanding of prayer is reinforced by a quite famous story connected with Jean Vianney, (known to us as the Curé d’Ars). He noticed that an old man came regularly into church and just sat there for hours, staring ahead.
Eventually the priest asked him what he was doing all day, to which came the simple but profound reply,

“I looks at Him and He looks at me.”

These words remind us that in our personal praying we should be thinking about God. Prayer is not always  bombarding him with requests.

Mother Mary Clare, makes a valid point when she says:

Let us be clear that what we are seeking in prayer is God Himself; not thoughts about Him nor about ourselves in relation to Him.

This involves silence. A silence which, as with the old man, is about sitting with God. When we do, we may express our love for God just by spending time with Him. Almost certainly, we will also discover God’s deep love for us because whilst I looks at Him, God will be looking at me and at you, and, as Fr. Benson puts it, God looks upon our soul, and loves it.

[Mr. G]

Mother Mary Clare SLG:

Some of the teachings on prayer by the late Mother Mary Clare SLG can be found in ‘Encountering the Depths’ a short but rich book about the nature and practice of prayer.  Price £4 plus postage from the SLG Press. Go to the website. If you are not familiar with the SLG Press you will encounter a feast of books about prayer, spirituality and the Christian life.

Website: https://www.slgpress.co.uk/shop/

God’s love lies open before us

Joyce Smith has sent us a new photo reflection.
Our resident pair of mute swans have been leading their 8 newly hatched cygnets on a daily journey of discovery in Waltham Abbey. These two are enjoying the ride and are feeling protected by their mother’s wings.
With my love and prayers.
God bless, Joyce

It has been the custom of Christians to pray together in various ways but with one intent – to nurture the World and bring people, including each other, and nature to a closeness with God.  Joyce has given us an illustration of this in the photograph of the tiny mute swans gathering under the safety and protection of their mother’s wing.

There is something rather gently protective in this scene. We can sense a warmth and security and a restfulness. The caption under the photo could easily have been ‘Safe in our Mother’s arms’.

Joyce has chosen a sentence which is part of the first part of Morning Prayer or Matins as it is sometimes known.

How does this connect up with the protection and safety of the little swans ?

The problem sometimes with ‘Liturgy’ (the format and composition of worship ) is that it can be said unthinkingly. Or perhaps as part of a repetitive rhythm which encloses the Word of God it seeks to proclaim. Whereas, the Word of God should free and enclose us. That itself can be seen as placing ourselves under the protecting and nurturing of God. Maybe we aren’t too different as those baby swans after all. As we pray and recite the words of the services provided for our nourishment, we snuggle up to our protective and loving God.

There is always a sense that Morning Prayer is a beginning. We begin the day in prayer – whatever form we use.
And we have therefore come through the night safely.
So as a preparation to say : The night has passed, and the day lies open before us; let us pray with one heart and mind, begins a daily re-turning of our lives to God.
If we add to it, the second part of the sentence, that becomes abundantly clear: 
As we rejoice in the gift of this new day, so may the light of your presence, O God, set our hearts on fire with love for you; now and for ever. Amen.

Whatever the day will bring; however we feel about ourselves; whatever fears we face; however lacking in confidence we are; and how lonely or sad or bored we feel, combined of course with whatever joy, hopefulness and friendship we shall share, we can remind ourselves  very soon after wakening – God holds us; God protects us; God cares for us with a love beyond words. We are beginning our day in God’s presence. We know that we are secure in his protective, motherly love.

Our response to this is surely Thank You.

As the 12th century Dominican friar and mystic said:
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘Thank You’ (God) – It will be enough.

I’m quite sure that those cute baby mute swans will agree!

Thank you, Joyce ( and thank you, God.)

[Mr G]