I Love You, Vol. II

IMG_9452_preview

The definition of millennial modern monasticism.

I fear if I don’t write this now, then I never will. I have kept putting it off because it’s pretty hard to type when your eyes brim with tears. On Tuesday I was walking down the road and went to grab my cross and instead grabbed at air. It’s still so raw, too raw, to write a final Year in God’s Time post. But then, I don’t think it will ever become any less raw. It might change, the grief might age so that I no longer have fresh tears but a deeper longing, the permeating pang of homesickness, the staring at photographs and wishing you could walk into them and be, once more, with the people in them.

The other reason for delaying writing this is what can really be said only a week after it all ended? There were so many lessons this year, the fruit of which is yet to come. If I wax lyrical about unity or community or reconciliation or silence or service, is it too early, should I wait until the weeks and months and years to come when each of those things will become trials and chores that I will have to earnestly and desperately and deliberately seek God’s help for?

I feel the weight of expectation to be eloquent. I feel people are expecting something profound. I have nothing to say, except there is no greater thing than the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, his love, his power, his call, his making a way to the Father.

There is nothing greater than Jesus Christ and him crucified.

And he is revealed in community, in Christian unity, in the paradox of joy and pain present in reconciliation. He is loud in silence and even louder in service. He is in each person, a precious, wonderful gift. He is in the decision to say ‘yes, I will follow you,  I will make your cause, my cause.’

The Community of St Anselm has been the best year of my life. I say that totally sans hyperbole. It has been challenging, it has been glorious, it has transformed me. Saying goodbye on Monday was nearly impossible – how do you say goodbye to people you have given your hear to? But it was all these things because they all pointed to Jesus.

The things I have loved most about the Community, are not exclusive to the Community. They are possible wherever Jesus is possible. At St Anselm, we use sung worship like punctuation – that’s still possible beyond the walls of Lambeth Palace! (Although, I chickened out of trying it at PCC on Wednesday… maybe next time).

No eloquence, nothing profound, only Jesus.

And to Gabi, Becky, Dora, Eloise, Hannah, Hayley, Israel, Katy, Laura, Lianne, Mim, Pete, Phil, Rebecca, Simon, Andy, Demarius, Esther, Eve, Nida, Prisca, Rachel, Salmoon, Simon, Sunila, Tonde, and Tollin, Simon, Keren, Asia, Oliver, Setske, Virginie, Nicholas, Ula, Sybille, Alan, Ione, Justin, and Caroline… thank you. Each one of you. I love you and I will always choose you. Go and be Jesus to the world, just as you have been Jesus – love, acceptance, joy – to me this year in God’s time.

Group-crop

Advertisements

I Choose You

36002968_1696522670401872_1932541489980637184_n

When you hand an Abbot a selfie stick… Photo credit J-Welbz/Lambeth Palace.

I was asked to give my testimony of this year at the Community of St Anselm’s Commissioning Service. Here is what I said:

A week before we first met as a Community, I messaged a friend who’d been here last year and who had persuaded me to apply: ‘this is a really bad idea, I shouldn’t be doing this. She said, ‘give me one reason why.’ I replied with eleven. When we were in this room ten months ago, I was so happy to be here, but couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was fraud, that I’d been let in by administrative error, and that I was going to have to do something to earn my place.

Before I joined St Anselm, seven years of studying and three theology degrees had made me a smartass who could talk with confidence about God’s love, but who had, along the way, annexed knowledge of God’s love to my head and away from my heart and left me with this sense that I would never quite be good enough.

A few months ago, I looked back on the eleven reasons I sent my friend for why this was a bad idea. They had a common theme I hadn’t realised at the time: why would anyone choose me? Why would anyone choose me, let alone super Christians which must be the criteria for getting to hang out at Lambeth Palace?

And then here we were, a bit nervous, arms hanging in slightly unnatural fashion as the albs were so alien to us. And we said ‘I choose you.’

To say ‘I choose you’ has been the most extraordinary gift both to give and to receive; we have said it not just in our words, but in our actions, from the depth of sharing groups, to the beautifully mundane moments around washing up stations; from the communal prayers offered in sacred thin places, to the unexpected yet wonderful intimacy bred in silence together.

And we still say ‘I choose you’ even when someone puts salt in the chocolate sauce, rather than sugar, but you’re on a silent retreat, so you can’t do anything about it!

I have been transformed by those three words ‘I choose you.’ Out of all the words in our Rule of Life, it is those three I really have carried with me each day, in the highs and lows throughout this year. Because ‘I choose you’ gives you permission to be vulnerable and says you don’t go into the wounded places alone. ‘I choose you’ says ‘I love you’ not because I have to, but because Christ is in you and that, to me, is irresistible. ‘I choose you’ says God chooses you. The God, the God who went to magnificent, cosmos-shattering, death-defeating lengths to bring you back to Himself. ‘I choose you’ undoes the lie I believed that I had to earn my place here to belong, and ultimately, undid the lie I had been believing for years, that I had to earn, to strive, to desperately beg, for God’s love.

I began this year hoping for spiritual boot-camp which would finally make me good enough, worthy enough. Instead, this has been a year of God saying ‘I love you.’ In many ways this year, nothing has changed yet everything has; I am no more loved by God than I was at the start of this year, but now I know deep within me that extraordinary and transformative love of Jesus Christ. We have all learned how to be loved this year. There’s no deep secret, it’s no elusive spiritual discipline, it’s in the gift God gives to us and which we give to one another, contained within those three remarkable words: I choose you.

We choose one another. Like Jesus has chosen us, we choose to give ourselves to one another in prayer, in service, in support, in forgiveness, in work, in play, in listening. We give ourselves to the task of learning to love one another, receiving each other as a gift from God given at his discretion, not ours. By the grace of God, we choose this way of life in the Community of St Anselm.

From the Community of St Anselm Rule of Life

Wading At The Thin Place

sclerder

Day and night let incense arise.

‘Are you hurting and broken within? Overwhelmed by the weight of your sin? Jesus is calling.’

***

The Celtic Christians had a phrase ‘the thin place,’ the rare places where heaven and earth kiss, collapsing the space between them, tectonic plates of charisms and grace where from the gaps God bursts forth in beauty and power.

If you seek them, you can find them. Sometimes they are in the most unlikely of places. Others are known, established, places of pilgrimage for many generations. Let me tell you the story of a thin place, a house of prayer, of welcome, of greeting each person crossing its threshold as a potential Christ. It is the story of ordinary exposed as extraordinary, of worship in both sacrament and household chores, of wrestling the chains from the ones you love as they wrestle your own chains from you.

It is the story of losing your life in order to really find it.

***

I’m good with seasons of life. I always have been. If anything, I am too good at them, closing them before they’ve officially closed. I’ve been ready for each school transition, to move from one degree to the next, to shift from my current working life into ordinand. But as the countdown to the end of my year in God’s time speeds up, I’m not ready. I don’t want to leave. I don’t want it to stop. I want to forever skip into Lambeth Palace on a Monday evening, stumble over the language of BCP in evening prayer, sing a chorus of praise at every opportunity, set off indoor fireworks, send back not-clean-yet plates to a musical soundtrack, share the peace, receive a hug from a foretaste of heaven, have the hairs of my arm stand on end as the harmonies of the nunc dimitis rise, leave in silence. I want to forever treasure and be treasured by these gifts of Jesus wrapped up in unique and loving and kind and beautiful and brave people, with amazing stories and incredible hearts.

I suppose, if we’re being honest, I don’t want a year in God’s time. I want a lifetime in God’s time. I want to always live with this bit of grief that this season will end before I am ready, because in this pain I will always be reminded of how much I love these people and how much they love me. In this pain, I will never again come to God’s altar with ambivalence, but over-awed by his gift of forgiveness, along with the gift of discomfort wrought by the disunity of Christians and how unity must be a priority if we want to see God’s kingdom here on earth.

We can’t all live in thin places. But we can all be thin people, vessels of God’s truth and beauty, a bit cracked, a bit bruised, but testaments to the profound goodness of God’s creation and creativity. We can all play our part in the continued creation of God’s earth, knowing it is a gift to do so and not contingent on our own striving.

If my time with St Anselm at the thin place of Sclerder has taught me anything (and really, it’s taught me so much) it’s that God is love.

God is love.

And he shows he is love in remarkable, transformative, dramatic, simple, ordinary, extraordinary ways. Through his word, through Christ, through the Spirit, through the bread and wine, through his whispers in the night, through the waves hitting the sand, through his fearfully and wonderfully made children – of which you are one. And that love makes striving redundant. It shouts down all lies of unworthiness or unwantedness because love is calling your name. And you wade through that love, the weight anchors you, it is balm, it is refreshment. And it changes you.

***

So seek out the thin places. Wade in the treasures of God you encounter there. But let me tell you that within every person is a thin place. Within you is a thin place. The divine spark of God deep within you meets your story, meets your life and is ready to burst forth. Unlock it receiving all the love God has for you.

 

Named. Loved. Empowered.

pexels-photo-207962

A sermon on Ephesians 3:14-21/

Good morning! It’s wonderful to be with you today; my name is Hannah and I work for Viva as Doorsteps Project Manager. Viva is an international children’s charity which grows locally-led partnerships who are committed to working together so that children are safe, well, and able to fulfil their God-given potential and last year we reached 2.2 million children in 26 countries. Doorsteps is the name of Viva’s network here in Oxford and I help co-ordinate its work with children, young people, and families. I know that for many of you here, you are already familiar with the work of Viva, you have been and continue to be, very much part of the Viva family in how you have championed and supported us over the years. So let me begin by saying a big thank you to you for your support, and I apologise if anything I say today is repeating things you already know about Viva and our work with children around the world.

So let’s begin with these great words one from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Paul loves the people in the Church of Ephesus, it’s so clear: ‘I pray that out of God’s glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’ This entire passage gets to the heart of what so much of the New Testament is about: we are a family of people together, in other New Testament letters, Paul describes this family as being one body, united in the person of Jesus Christ. Unity, togetherness, are hallmarks of Paul’s theology and this is what drives him to pray for the Church at Ephesus and to praise God for them. He loves them, he wants the best for them.

The distinctive thing about Viva, its USP if you like, is our networking pattern. We have 38 networks around the world, partnerships of churches and other organisations working together for the good of others. The founder of Viva was volunteering in Bolivia and he found that on a Monday evening there were all these different churches providing food for homeless children but then they weren’t there for the rest of the week, so Tuesday-Sunday these children starved. Through the simple act of connecting these churches, the children were fed more often. By the process of networking rather than owning, we go some way to achieving this unity that Paul, inspired by Jesus, longs for.

From this passage, there are three things I would like us to go away knowing today: we are named, we are loved, and we are empowered.

Verse 14, ‘for this reason I kneel before the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.’ Names are a big deal. It’s why names are often carried on through families, why we have affectionate nicknames for our close friends and families, and it’s why when people call us bad names, it really hurts – names matter.

In Viva’s Guatemala network, there is a project called ‘I Exist’ which is helping children from the poorest communities receive birth registration. Unregistered children lack basic rights such as education and health care. They are invisible to the stage and because of this are highly vulnerable to abuse, exploitation, and trafficking. There are currently an estimated 600,000 children in Guatemala who do not have a birth certificate. Viva has been working with the government authority responsible to change this situation. By setting up birth registration centres in local churches which are part of our network, we have so far given over 5000 children registration.

Maggie’s family has not had the money to register her. When she was five years old, she was rushed to hospital needing a gall bladder operation. What made the situation even more distressing was that her mother didn’t know if she would be allowed to return home afterwards, because she wasn’t registered and her father was unwilling to co-operate. Viva managed to step in before it was too late. They were able to obtain a medical report from the health centre where Maggie was born so they could register Maggie using only her mother’s name. Today, Maggie has recovered well from her operation. Birth registration is a complex process, but by giving this to Maggie, we are changing her life for the long-run as she can now access basic rights such as health and education.

Maggie is named. We are all named. We all have the right to accept our place as children of God, whose image we bear. We can be confident of our identity and the innate human dignity it affords each and every one of us. So claim your name which comes from Heaven.

I chose this passage in Ephesians to reflect on today because it is one of my favourites, with this bit in particular just the most moving and wonderful: ‘And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.’ Just take a moment to reflect on that, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ for you, for me, for everyone. It’s really quite astounding.

If you are familiar with any early years studies, then you may know that being loved in the first year of your life really has the power to make or break a person. There was a report on this recently by the BBC titled ‘the children who are confused by love.’ It looks at children who have suffered abuse and neglect who can often become violent and distressed at the thought of being loved and that, once shown love and affection, become fearful of it going away.

Being loved can and does have a transformative effect on people. At Doorsteps, Viva’s Oxford-based network, we run a project called Find Your Fire which is for young people who could do with a bit of extra input in building their resilience and realising their potential. We had one young guy show up to the first session and he spent the whole of that session with his hood up, crying and we had no idea why. It was only afterwards that his school told us that he has ASD and a host of other learning disabilities and so he was just really overwhelmed by being in a new environment with new people. And we had weeks go by where we barely got a word out of him and he wouldn’t engage and he wouldn’t make eye contact. But we kept persevering. And now he engages with us and with the programme, he makes eye contact with us, he gets involved in group discussions – he has blossomed. At a recent session when he had a bit of a wobble and one of the youth work team went after him and he said to them ‘why are you doing this for me?’ To which she replied ‘because I care.’

Realising you are loved and letting that have its transformative effect can be a slow process. It’s been a long year at Find Your Fire where there were weeks where I thought we’re not making any progress, this is exhausting. But the week in, week out, showing up, showing we care, showing we think each of these young people is inherently valuable has paid off.

And how much greater is the love of God for each and every one of us.

There’s a song by an American worship pastor which has these lyrics, ‘oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh it chases me down, fights ‘til I’m found, leaves the ninety-nine. I couldn’t earn it, I don’t deserve it, still you gave this love away. Oh the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God.’

God’s love, it’s of unfathomable proportions. Do you know just how fantastically and wonderfully and how overwhelmingly you are loved?

Paul’s final exhortation in this passage to his named and loved friends in Ephesus is that they may know the power of God at work within each of them, how they are empowered beyond anything they can dare imagine.

When we take up the call on our lives which God has empowered us to do, amazing things happen. Halima lives in Uganda. She left school are she fell ill and her family could no longer afford her school fees as all their money was spent on her treatment. Thinking she would never go to school again, Halima began to lose interest in education. Then she met Stella. Stella had been a student at a Creative Learning Centre, an initiative part of Viva’s network in Uganda, which help build confidence and catch up with missed education with the ultimate aim of reintegrating the children back into mainstream school. Stella encouraged Halima to enrol in the Creative Learning Centre in her community. There she received teaching and mentoring which inspired her to return to school. Today, Halima loves studying and has enrolled at a nearby school where she hopes to pursue her dream of becoming a lawyer and fighting for the rights of others. She is empowered to make a difference.

Then there’s Puja, who lives in India. She’s seventeen years old and she has a disability and has suffered from low self-esteem because of the physical abnormality she has. She took part in Viva’s network programme in Patna, called Dare To Be Different. It gives the girls who take part value-based life skills training dealing with issues including rights abuse, self-esteem, media impact, peer pressure, sex and sexuality, adolescent health and making the right choices. Puja said that the training has infused in her the realisation that she is unique and beautiful saying, and I love this, ‘I feel confident and believe I lack nothing.’ I feel confident and believe I lack nothing. To be empowered is not just to believe you can change the world, it is to know that who you are is wonderful, is known, is loved, is created by a relational and powerful and living God. Claim your name, claim your love, and claim the empowerment by God to change the world around you.

You are named by the God of the universe, you are loved with a love of unfathomable dimensions, through God, you are empowered to follow his call and his leading to where you can make a difference. Viva doesn’t care about its own name, but the names of the people all over the world bringing help and hope to children at risk. We know names like Maggie and Halima and Puja because we know the names Carmen, Mim, and Devesh, the people in those countries who just wanted to make a difference to the children in their community. We love them and so our work is to empower them in their work.

God knows us. He has named each and every one of us. And he loves us. Receive the empowerment that comes from those two foundational and indisputable truths.