2018 - Dwelling Spaces

Friday, 7 December 2018

How do you sum up a life?

Yesterday my Grandma would have been 98.  But she died before she got there, and today we held her funeral.  As I was driving home the day after she died, my mind full of rich and abiding memories of someone I dearly loved and who dearly loved me, I kept thinking 'How do you sum up a life?'. And so I wrote a poem, and that is my tribute to her today.  Love you Grandma.

How do you sum up a life?
When the end was close, and words became noise
It was in the look of love
Resting with my face a breath from yours
Hands held tight
Eyes locked tighter still in a soul’s embrace
As I stroked your hair, I thought of your mother
Ninety-seven - nearly ninety-eight - years ago
Stroking the head of her precious first born
No words then to be spoken
Just a look of love to be shared.

How do you sum up a life?
You bookend it with looks of love.

How do you sum up a life?
You weave it through with a golden thread
Of love and care and kindness
And so many people
Those nursed, those gathered up and taken in, those family, those friends,
              those whose presence reappeared in a glance at that ornament or that cup
Things were precious because of the people that shared them.

How do you sum up a life?
With the humble exceeding of expectations 
     "Girls don't need an education to be a maid"
     But in service you grew character 
     With war came opportunity 
     With marriage came partnership
And you rose with dignity, amazed that you could eat from a table with white cloth and flowers,
      that you could travel the world
And so, so proud of your son, your granddaughters, your great-grandchildren,
      forgetting that you were the one that created us...

How do you sum up a life?
With times of loss
Different futures snatched away
Yet somewhere deep drawing from a well of courage
To reorient life again and again.

How do you sum up a life?
With simple joy and contentment
The smell of a rose, a handkerchief, a cream cake, a 'special' breakfast
Pleasure in the stories of those you love
Feeding those you love on plates that were never quite big enough
The sunshine on trees, the children playing, the little treats
A swing round the dance floor, secret delight in the words that weren't quite right
"Shall we play a VD now....?"

How do you sum up a life?
"A special lady" seems not enough
So I'll leave you with that look of love.



Friday, 22 June 2018

Seed - a poem


   Dancing in the gentle breath
   Catching light
   But so fine
   Casting but a glimmer of a shadow


   Holder of new life
   A story waiting to be told
   Coiled up
   An aching of potential


   Plunging to the ground
   Breaking open in darkness


Photo credit: Jo Pestell

Tuesday, 10 April 2018


Hallelujah or Alleluia...it's that time of year when Christians say it a lot! It means 'praise ye the Lord' or 'Dudes! Let's praise God!'.  We say it to encourage one another to recognise how awesome God is.  It feels a particularly powerful word just after Easter in the Church of England because we have tried to avoid saying it in Lent during the six weeks that run up to Easter.  Why?  Because we are waiting for Jesus to be fully revealed as a different sort of Lord and King.  A King who was enthroned on a cross, killed by those he chose to forgive as he showed that through him - Jesus - nothing can separate us from the love of God.

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8.38-9).

After Easter I went off to Spring Harvest with my church.  Spring Harvest is a big Christian conference with thousands of people gathered together to study the bible, pray and sing to God, and learn more about how to live the Christian life.  Whilst I was there we had the privilege to hear from someone who had spent many years in prison in North Korea for being a Christian.  It was a distressing and powerful story to hear which involved the killing of family members, brutal torture, hard labour, and unbearable living conditions.  In this place of sleeping on cold concrete, rat and insect infected, piled up in small rooms with people who died in the night and whose bodies were often not removed for days...in this place the whispered gatherings of a handful of people kept faith and hope alive.

As Christian believers passed each other they would whisper to each other 'hallelujah'.  What an extraordinary word to whisper into the face of unbelievable oppression. Hallelujah.  What is it about Jesus that draws praise from the lips of someone in the midst of such intense suffering?  Hallelujah.  I think it is this truth that there is no place to which God is not prepared to go to with you so that it can be healed and redeemed.  And in that truth is hope. 

Leonard Cohen sings of hallelujahs that are cold, hallelujahs that are broken, hallelujahs that are holy.  Choosing to praise the Lord does not always come from a place of joy and peace. Sometimes it may not even come from a place of hope.  But the hallelujah that emerges as a trailing whisper from the very end of ourselves will always connect us to the One who knows our end from our beginning, who holds our lives together. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018


Another thing that struck me in Tanzania was the higher level of physical contact people have with each other.  It was fairly common to see men holding hands with each other, especially when talking one-to-one.  At the end of church services there was a great snake of people as you would shake hands exiting the building and then join the end of the line so everyone ended up shaking everyone else's hand! One of the challenges for me as quite a tactile single person is the lack of human touch I experience day-to-day, and in particular with men.  Commentators are beginning to talk more about the general absence of touch in our society (see for example this recent article from The Guardian) and the implications for our general well-being.  It is lovely holding hands with children as they skip along, or being able to hold someone's hand to offer comfort or reassurance.  I have a few friends who I might hold hands with from time to time, but none of them are men, and I have to admit that I miss that sort of contact.  So it was really great to spend time in Tanzania with lots of married men who thought it perfectly normal to hold my hand when talking!

Given the issues that arise for people in the absence of regular touch, and yet the understandable withdrawal from physical contact out of fear of it being misunderstood or abused, how should we navigate this?  I don't see any obvious easy answer, but I am sure that part of the answer must be reclaiming touch from always having sexual overtones.  When I hold hands with people, it is a sign of sharing life, of being focused in my conversation and attention with that person.  It is not a sign that I want to jump into bed with them.  We don't assume this when we see people of different generations holding hands, but I'm not sure this is our default assumption for people of the same generation holding hands.  And so it takes a lot to be secure enough in your own identity not to be undermined by other people's assumptions about you.  I have been single now for over 20 years, and confident in that as my calling, but I am still susceptible to modifying my behaviour to avoid further speculation from people about me.  If I hold hands with a female friend then perhaps people think I am a lesbian.  If I hold hands with a male friend, I am either being too forward or threatening their marriage.  I'm sure I have probably had the same horrible thoughts about other people, but what I want to do is train myself to think that this is a great sign of friendship first and foremost.  Is that too naïve?  What do you think?


Sunday, 18 March 2018


At the CNC morning service today we were thinking about tension in our faith lives. The Christian faith is full of things we hold in tension: Is Jesus fully human or fully divine? Well...YES! Is the kingdom of God now or not yet? Umm...YES again!  Is God an intimate friend or unapproachably holy? YES!   These and many other things seem like paradoxes, like both can't be true, but they are both true and trying to hold them together can cause us tension.  However, they are also things that we are not necessarily meant to resolve, because they are part of the mystery of God. As created beings we can only know our Creator through revelation, and as we sit in tension, wrestling with questions this should draw us deeper into a relationship with God.

During the service we read Luke 19.29-41.  It is the story of Jesus' triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and although it is a week too soon (!) I wanted to reflect on the story this week.  In these verses we see Jesus proclaimed as king, the one who is coming in the name of the Lord.  The crowds of pilgrims thronging the road waving palm branches seem to finally have realised who Jesus is.  And yet in the midst of the joy and celebration we see Jesus looking over the city laid out beneath him and weeping.  Jesus knows that the people will either turn against him, or be too scared, or unable, to stand with him.  Celebration and profound loss are held together.  It is right that the people should acknowledge Jesus as King, but they are blind, as we often are, to the sort of king Jesus is. When I was in Tanzania, I was with a pastor whose first born babies, twins, had been born the night before.  He said simply to me: "one died and one lived".  We somehow held that loss and joy together before God, trusting that God was present and knew the answers to all our questions.

Sometimes our different perspective leads to a different response to situations.  At the moment at CNC we are in a time of 'stripped back' worship, with no band and plenty of silence with opportunity for people to lead songs or prayers.  This is not a comfortable place for everyone, some are loving it, some are finding it more of a challenge, but together we are holding that tension and seeing where we can see God at work in our midst.

So, some things to ponder this week:
  • As you read Luke 19.29-41, how do you feel about Jesus?  Do you want to welcome him as king?  Do you feel a sense of loss because you can't recognise him as king?
  • Where are the head and heart tensions for you with your faith at the moment? Take time if you can to ask God to show you more of who God is through the tension. 

Wednesday, 14 March 2018


I was so engaged in Tanzania with the smiles and openness of people’s faces. It was so lovely to see the joy and laughter pouring out of people, and on the flip side to see when people were bored, fed-up or sad.  The contrast to the UK where people seem much more 'closed' was striking.  I wonder if this openness is partly due to the absence at the moment of cameras, and to a degree mirrors...  Following the #liedentity conference I was thinking about our obsession in the UK with our image.  Studies, for example, show that people take an average of 7 minutes to post a selfie, this involves selecting one image from a number of photos, applying filters and choosing good hashtags. I wonder how much this attention to how we look impacts on how we control our facial expressions?

People have often told me I smile a lot.  Even getting off the aeroplane this trip one of the air hostesses stopped me and said 'thank you for smiling - every time I saw you you were smiling'.  Is it really that unusual?!

Having seen the faces of people in Tanzania, I cannot really remember seeing people looking anxious. There were certainly plenty of things to potentially be worried about there with the level of poverty and limited infrastructure. The existence was much more day to day and felt to me much more outside personal control. There was a big contrast with the situations of relative affluence around me in the UK where we believe to an extent we can provide for ourselves and control our lives.  I wonder how much this illusion of control is anxiety inducing?  When Jesus talks in Matthew 6.24-35 about not being anxious food or clothes but instead seeking first the kingdom of God, the passage ends: therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
We in the UK and those in Tanzania all have plenty of troubles to face, some similar and some different, but we are all meant to be living lives in partnership with God and each other.  To do this well we have to be vulnerable, and to be vulnerable is to shake off the desire to control both our image and our independence.  A carefully controlled image will only ever separate us from others, as it becomes harder to maintain integrity between our inner life and what we allow others to see.

Thursday, 8 March 2018


During our time in Tanzania we met so many amazing women.  Women who were bringing up large families, women with important jobs, women walking miles with heavy loads on their heads, women doing hard manual labour with babies strapped to them, women who were overlooked despite their skills because of their gender, women who were studying hard, women who exuded joy, women who seemed crushed.  It was a privilege whilst there to have a week as a group teaching and spending time with the students at Lake Tanganyika Theological College. This college runs to train priests and evangelists and anyone who wants to undertake, and can afford to undertake, theological training within the Diocese of Western Tanganyika.
At the moment in the diocese, women cannot be ordained priest, and because four of us in the visiting group were ordained women, this generated some great conversations.  Everywhere we went people were very gracious and accepting of our ministry.  The principal of the theological college is keen to encourage women to study and train for ordination in the hope that the diocese will approve the ordination of women in the near future, and one of the things we did during the visit was to lay a foundation stone for a new women's dormitory at the college. Money that has been raised through offerings in Gloucester Diocese, including at my own ordination, have been sent as a gift to help with this building project.  It was a joyous moment to see the building emerging from the mud, and we prayed for the women who would study there.  £25 a month will cover their tuition fees, and sponsorship is needed as it is harder for women to get funded than for men at the moment.

During our time teaching at the college, we looked at several different biblical characters, and the leadership lessons that we could learn from them.  It was a really good learning experience for us and for the students as we looked at the Bible from very different perspectives.  At the end of the week the students gave feedback to the whole college, and it was really encouraging to hear a shift in the perspective of the (all male) students.  I wrote down a couple of things they said:
"I learnt from studying Deborah in the book of Judges that the service of God is not just for men but for women. We can support them to become brave. We can empower them to become good leaders."
"We learnt women can do everything a man can do. They can be brave strong leaders."

If we did nothing else during our trip, it was worth it to hear these things, and we pray that it has opened the door a little wider for the women God is calling to serve in the church in that diocese.

Thursday, 1 March 2018


I have really enjoyed going round the markets here. Such a huge range of fresh produce and all sorts of other things piled up ready to sell. Haggling is a big feature of buying anything but my heart hasn’t really been in it. Huge juicy pineapples available for 40p and I bought 500g of salt that I’m hoping to get home ok, from a woman who was so pleased that I hadn’t haggled her down from 15p that she gave me lots more! Most of the fruit and vegetable sellers have one or two items to sell, so you walk through the onion area, then sweet potatoes, maize, carrots, spinach, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, peppers, avocados, pineapples, passion fruit, bananas  etc etc. Each seller has a  pile in front of them and they are nicely washed and arranged on a groundsheet. I asked whether people grew their own produce for market but it seems most buy from the farmers and then sell on. I can’t quite imagine what the farmers are being paid if the sellers are making a profit on the prices they sell on.... It feels hard not to buy things from every stand.

Wandering around an unsuspecting visitor has to be careful not to fall in drainage ditches which are all over the place. We’re on the edge of rainy season so have had a short period of heavy rain each day. This makes the red mud into sticky, slippery clay and I’ve had a few close shaves! Once again though the simplicity strikes you. When we haven’t been eating meals at churches we’ve enjoyed bread, tomatoes and avocado followed by pineapple, banana and watermelon with a handful of peanuts. Perhaps I would get bored in the longer term but at the moment it is so good to eat well and simply. I find myself valuing what we have so much more, and it is so good to know it hasn’t travelled more than 5 or 10 miles.

Simplicity is a Christian value, but not widely part of our tradition now, except in monastic life perhaps. But it is good to be reminded in Lent that fullness of life does not come by striving for things.

Tuesday, 27 February 2018


I have been very struck here by greetings. Everywhere we have gone we have been introducing ourselves, and it is very important to say your full name, details of your family, and then to bring greetings from your family and church communities. It has been an interesting thing for me to navigate because if I say I’m single then everyone laughs and nudges all the single men and then I have to deal with endless questions about that. If I send greetings from my parents then everyone thinks they’ve done a bad job by not making sure I’m married at my great age! So I have settled on bringing greetings from ‘my family and my churches’, and that seems to be working!

It is interesting that in the UK when we greet each other we often immediately ask each other what we do, here they say they ask ‘who is your uncle’? Establishing family connections and knowing names helps people connect to each other. There is still such a strong sense of community here, people looking out for each other, and of love and support. It highlights for me another thing that is lost from our society at home. It feels a constant challenge to build a strong sense of community, and I wonder how possible it is when we move in and out of areas much more and are not involved in the lives of our neighbours in the same way? I wonder what it would do if we did ask each other a different question as a greeting? One that values our connections rather than our productivity. Maybe I will have a go when I am back: ‘Hi, I’m Jo, tell me who is important in your life?’

Monday, 26 February 2018


We have been to visit several different parishes now, plus the Cathedral, Theological college and a Compassion child sponsorship project. Everywhere we have been we’ve been met with great joy and celebration. Singing and dancing and many many handshakes and welcomes. This evening we went to a parish a little way out from Kasulu. The church had been planted with a small group 6 years ago and now has lots of members, and mainly women leading small groups in the church. They had two choirs and they sang songs of joy and thanksgiving complete with excellent dance moves! They enjoyed watching us trying to join in!

As I was sat there looking at the mud floor, wooden frame building covered in nailed on canvas sacks, benches and some colourful cloth drapes, physically it was so poor, and yet there were 100+ men, women and children with the biggest smiles.  There was a real sense of joy and thankfulness to God for all they had, and for our visit. And it made me think that we seem to have so much at home and so many things that make us ‘busy’ and yet here life is difficult, people live so simply and yet they seem have a deep joy, appreciation and pleasure in things that I suspect we would just pass by at home.

Being single

I knew before I came out here that my being single was likely to be a talking point. Today as we got deeper into conversations with people, more challenging questions began to emerge. It seems to be virtually unheard of that a woman would choose to be single. It would leave her very vulnerable both financially and in later life when care would normally happen via children. Every conversation partner has asked when I’m going to get married. 

It is interesting to reflect on the cultural difference with the UK. Here the priority is to have children and the only way to (acceptably) to do that is to be married. When I mentioned that Paul says in the Bible that it is better to remain single than have your attention distracted from God by a husband/wife/children, then they understood more conceptually but I’m not sure in reality that the status of being single and being married would be considered equally acceptable. I found out more about the cultural background, and there is a strong tradition that by choosing to be single you are a ‘world destroyer’ because being married and having children destroys death by allowing your family line to continue. If you choose not to marry and have children you give death the upper hand... More to explore as the week goes on.

In the UK, in some ways the church is not that much better at valuing singleness as a status. And this quite probably roots back to not dissimilar reasons. But I’m hoping to explore here some of what the Bible has to say about the way Jesus redefined the meaning of family. Jesus was a single man with no children and yet the Bible talks about him delighting in his offspring. The Bible is also full of language about those who follow Jesus being children of God and brothers and sisters together. Most importantly perhaps in a culture that values the continuity of names, God promises to remember people’s names, a promise also given to eunuchs (men who couldn’t have children). For me, all this is important in feeling valued as a single person, knowing how God sees and values me in a different way to the culture(s) that surround me. God is interested in my relationship status, but it is the relationship I have with God that is the key one. 

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Giving what you have

How do you gather a full day of new people and experiences in one reflection? Today we’ve visited the Cathedral, Theological College, a Compassion child sponsorship project, the market, a village community and ended the day at the bishop’s house for dinner with a football team he sponsors! 

Today has also involved a few tears. My niece and nephew gave me some of their pocket money to buy paper and pencils for children here. It was very moving to see the children of very similar ages rushing to queue up to each get a pencil and a couple of sheets of paper. They were so excited and grateful with something so little, it made the contrast with home so stark. I wished my niece and nephew had been there to see how much impact their little gift made.

And there we were also given a gift in a ceremony that involved lots of singing and dancing and bowing and smiling. Each of us received some lovely African material which they wrapped around us once we’d unwrapped it. Together with feeding us meat, they blessed us generously from the little they had.

It all made me think about how God is in the business of taking the little we have to offer and multiplying it. In the story of the feeding of the five thousand, it was the packed lunch of one boy offered to God that fed the crowd. But nothing multiplied by anything, however big, remains nothing. We have to be prepared to offer something if we want to see God multiply it. And I think God is often waiting to surprise us with what God does with even the smallest thing we give with an open heart. As they say here all the time: Bwana asifiwe! 

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Out of Africa

We have been in Tanzania now for 16 hours and I already feel quite overwhelmed by new sights and sounds, the people we’ve met and the early taste of a very different culture. The international airport of Dar Es Salaam quickly gave way to sunrise over the plains and mountains and on arrival at Kigoma taxiing across compacted earth to a tin roofed shelter where our suitcases were passed one by one through a hatch brought it home that we were now somewhere very different.

The smiles of our hosts gave a warm welcome and then it was amazing to see our suitcases piled on to the roof of the land cruiser and we were piled inside! First stop was to see where Livingtone met Stanley then we visited a couple of parish churches before stopping for breakfast of fish soup and chapati. The whole fish winking from the bowl had been caught a couple of miles away in Lake Tanganyika earlier. As we left the restaurant we had our first encounter with significant poverty as 3 boys aged 4-7ish fought over a small bottle of water one of them was given. We were told they were too poor to be in school. Tanzania has about 25% of children not in primary education. As we began the 2 hour journey weaving up the mountains that border Burundi, we saw many children on or playing by the road aged 2 and upwards mostly with no adults or older children. The contrast with home was stark and increased as we saw many women carrying huge items on their heads, people moving piles of mattresses and firewood balanced on bicycles, and road side stands selling piles of fresh pineapples and more.

Our final destination was reached and it has been a blur of meeting new people and familiarising ourselves with where we’ll be staying and what we’re doing. Much more could be said about the animals we’ve seen and the new sights and sounds. But all day I’ve been wondering about how I glimpse God when everything around me is so different to normal. Kim said one of our challenges is learning to be guests not hosts. To graciously receive food that’s costly to give and yet you’d avoid in other situations, to feel helpless in the midst of an unfamiliar language and culture. These are the places we glimpse God, because we are discomforted and out of control. When everything is cosy and controlled I can begin to forget I need God. So here we go, adventure underway and I wonder what will come out of Africa...?

Thursday, 22 February 2018

The Glory of Becoming

The Glory of Becoming

The Glory of Becoming
    is not the toil of individual pursuit

The Glory of Becoming
    is the realisation of purpose
        the joy of connection

The slow swell of a roof edge raindrop
    the becoming of an upside-down kingdom
        light and life held in the pregnant pause
And should it fall....
    What then?
        life lost?
            life given?

The Glory of Becoming
    is the coming towards
                the gentle exploration of the in between
bookended by beginning and end

The Glory of Becoming
    lies beneath letters of law
        hidden in the glistening pulse
            of a human heart
                thrilling to freedom's call

The Glory of Becoming
    lifts the shy veil of hope
        and breathes

(c) Jo Pestell 2018: A riff on 2 Corinthians 3.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018


Today I have been at the #liedentity conference run by the Diocese of Gloucester (click here for more details). The campaign around this hashtag is addressing the growing issue of negative body image and the resulting mental and physical health difficulties especially for young people. The message the campaign is promoting is that who you are is more important than how you look. Not that appearance doesn't matter, but our image-focused society is over-emphasising this. 

I was struck by the degree of inevitability of this shift with the advent of social media. When our relationships are conducted at arms length, and often now with people we don't physically meet, then the image we project has the potential to become much more significant than our character. And yet what came out so strongly today was that when young people were given the tools and opportunity to say what they valued in each other the real basis for deep friendship and true identity was revealed.  And of course it was never about the way someone looked.

So my challenge coming away from today, that I challenge you with too, is to be less lazy in my conversation, particularly with young people.  If I really value the person I am talking to, it is not enough to say, 'that's a pretty dress', or 'love that jacket on you', or 'that makes you look so slim'. These are nice things to say, but they are all about valuing appearance.  What about asking why they chose to wear them, or just go for a different conversation starter: what has made you smile today? What's the best thing about living here? What were you thinking about when you woke up this morning?

The Christian story is one that believes in the uniqueness and value of each person, and is totally committed to healing and restoring relationships between us and God, between each of us, and between us and creation.  This is only possible when we know, value and love who we are, and are truly interested in knowing, valuing and loving others. So take a risk, be vulnerable, and get to know someone deeper than through their appearance.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Ugly bulbs

For the first time in a few years I have been growing an amaryllis lily.  When I planted the huge ugly bulb 5 weeks ago in a pot that was almost as big as the bulb I had forgotten what an extraordinary process it is watching the stem, bud and flowers emerge.  The stems are now 72cm!  And the flowers that have been opening in the last few days are quite beautiful. Who would have imagined all that life and beauty was waiting to burst free?  Certainly the look on my little nephews face when I showed him the bulb at Christmas said something along the lines of 'you must be mad, that is like the worst and weirdest Christmas present in the world!'

A couple of weeks ago my sermon was on 2 Corinthians 5.11-21.  In that passage, we are reminded that Jesus looked like nothing special, but turned out to be God, and so we should learn from this not to judge people by what we see.  God is at work in people bringing new life (new acts of creation the verse says). It can be pretty discouraging sometimes looking around at the world, wondering if things are going to change or whether they will stay ugly and broken.  And then I look at myself, and think about the changes that God has helped bring about in me, sometimes in the blink of an eye and sometimes in the imperceptible process of reflection, repentance and forgiveness.  We all look pretty ugly inside from certain angles, maybe in places so hidden from others that only God sees.  But watching my lily grow reminds me that God is not fazed by the ugly and the broken, because God sees the potential of life and beauty held within that and always wants to call it forth.

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Dragons (or being distinctive)

It's Chinese New Year (well it was yesterday really) and so it was fun to see some dragon dancing for the first time in a while. The colourful outfits, drumming and well choreographed dancing transport you to a different place, seems so incongruous seeing it moving down the High Street past Poundland!

It made me think a bit about being Christians in our culture.  The Bible talks about Christians being in the world but not of the world (John 17.15-18).  The dragons today really stood out as something different. But surveys have shown little difference between Christians and non-Christians in our society. What does it mean for Christians to live in such a way that we stand out (for good reasons)? I find it a challenge.  I meet many people who seem more generous or kind than me.  What makes my decision to follow Jesus, to try and live the way I think He is calling me to live, distinctive?  

Friday, 16 February 2018


Today I popped in to visit a lady who moved into a care home a few months ago. She is an amazing woman who worked as a missionary teacher in India for many years. I enjoyed hearing her talk about disembarking the boat at Bombay (as was) and the close to 24 hour journey by steam train to Madras. As I prepare to go to Tanzania it was good to be reminded that even though my trip is going to take me well out of my comfort zone, it is nevertheless considerably more accessible and connected than similar ventures in the past!

As we chatted she showed me the Bible that she is currently reading.  It is in the Tamil language as she maintains the vividly remembered connection with India.  And we talked about the last meal she ever made for herself, cauliflower cheese, and the suddenness that big changes can arrive with.  Then we talked some more about the Bible, and I was amused after yesterdays post to hear her talk about the Bible she received for her confirmation, that was edited by Stirling and included what sounded wonderful illustration, in that the 'boring bits' (her words!) were in smaller font and three columns to a page.  So we shared a chuckle at what I had written about yesterday.  I was wondering if she still had that Bible, but no, she had recently given it to one of her carers who asked if she had a Bible the carer could have. I was touched by the generosity of giving away a Bible that obviously had many precious memories. And she just said, "well I had read it right through!"

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Bible's boring bits

This year I am reading the Bible through in a year.  I try and do that every other year so I can keep in mind the big picture of the story of God and God's people, whilst on the alternate year I try and drill down deeper into themes or books.  Anyway, each time I read it through I of course find myself getting to the 'boring bits' that we can often just feel like skipping over. And I have to admit that I approached the start of the book of Numbers a couple of days ago with a slightly heavy heart. If you know me, then you know that I am the sort of person who finds it hard to skip past a footnote, and I want to work out the connections between things. So the book of Numbers can be a bit tricky because I find myself checking the numbers do add up and that the relationships between people match what we know from other parts of the Bible.  It makes for a lot of calculating and page turning!  However, leaving my personal quirks to one side, as I was reading Numbers 7 I was asking God: why on earth is this same list of gifts for the tabernacle just repeated over and again 12 times?! (and yes, I did check it is exactly the same!)

As the tabernacle is dedicated as the space for worshipping and meeting with God, each of the twelve tribes of Israel sends exactly the same gifts (see picture above) with their leader to be given to Moses.  But rather than saying that in a sentence, the Bible has 60 verses detailing the gifts.  And let's be honest...that is just not as gripping as a virgin birth, astonishing miracles, or the simple confirmation that God is love.

So what should we do when we are faced with a 'boring bit' of the Bible?  I think the answer is to read it with the same question in heart and mind with which we read the 'exciting bits': "Lord, what do you want to show me through what I am reading?" And as I read those 60 verses, the importance that this act had in the early life of the nation became clearer.  We are meant to dwell on the significance of the presence of God, and the worship that results, being at the heart of the peoples lives. Whilst a summary would've saved time, it would also have rushed past the 12 days of each tribe taking their turn to make their offering. I thought how wonderful that every tribe gave the same, whether the tribe was bigger or smaller, each gave exactly a twelfth of the offering.  Each tribe equal before God, named and valued, and fitting into the plan and purpose of God's intended life for God's people.  In its own way quite beautiful as a passage in its simplicity and constancy.   

I wouldn't want to read a passage like that every day, but that is the joy of the Bible, so much variety and different ways of telling this one amazing story.

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Ash Wednesday

This morning we had 'ashes imposed' as part of our communion service. The sign of the cross is made using ashes which often come from the burning of the previous years palm crosses from Palm Sunday. While the sign of the cross is being made on your forehead, these words are said: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.

Today I was struck for the first time about the significance of using the palm crosses for ashes.  The palm crosses remind us of the welcome that Jesus had as he came into Jerusalem the week before he was crucified. As he entered Jerusalem that day, the crowds hailed him as their king in great hope that Jesus was about to save them and bring about the restoration of Israel. The palms were all about how people expected God to meet their hopes and expectations.

But of course, Jesus was about the business of salvation on a much grander scale - for all humanity in every generation - setting aside nationalism and hopes driven by selfish desires. In the end the people who had welcomed Jesus as king either didn't get the truth, or didn't want it, and so their cries turned to 'Crucify him'!

So I was struck today how right it is that we burn up our palms. To follow Jesus is to decide to stop trying to conform Jesus to our expectations, but to begin to conform ourselves to his expectations.  This can feel like death, and the bible tells us it is in fact putting our 'flesh', our selfish desires to death. We are 'but dust', but we are dust with the life of God breathed into us, created out of love, and for purpose. I cannot imagine a 'better' life than deciding this is true, and so turning away from sin (doing things my way) and back to God (doing things God's way).

So Happy Ash Wednesday! And Happy Valentine's Day! May you know and love the one who fully knows and fully loves you.