Grace - fresh vital worship since 1993

Lent blog 2008

Welcome to the Grace Lent blog for 2008.

Grace will blog their way through Lent, the themes below may guide the journey but diversions are always possible.

Temptation – Wednesday February 6th – Saturday February 16th
Wilderness – Monday February 18th – Thursday February 28th
Journey – Friday February 29th- Tuesday 11 March
Turning point/Transformation Wednesday 12 March – Easter Sunday 23rd March

he is risen

To celebrate Easter, some of us met for communion and breakfast this morning. As part of the service, we created the following liturgy together;

resurrection turns brokenness into healing and wholeness
resurrection turns war into peace
resurrection turns illness into health
resurrection turns random into meaningful
resurrection turns injustice and suffering into justice and joy
resurrection turns rejection into acceptance
resurrection turns hate and fear into love
resurrection turns incompleteness into completeness.

we have faith to believe resurrection will happen where people live on refuse heaps
we have faith to believe resurrection will happen in prisons
we have faith to believe resurrection will happen in Iraq
we have faith to believe resurrection will happen in our city
we have faith to believe resurrection will happen in Equador
we have faith to believe resurrection will happen in sink estates.

when jesus comes again people will no longer feel the need to hurt each other
when jesus comes again we won't be constrained by hips and gall stones and colitis and cancer and AIDS
when jesus comes again people will treat each other like god is in everyone
when jesus comes again we will all be alert in the morning
when jesus comes again people will know themselves as they really are, not depressed, but able to change
when jesus comes again people will look up and know god.

By Dean at 23/03/2008 - 6:44pm | Lent Blog 2008

'Holy Saturday!'

According to Radio 4 (and they should know) Good Friday is the most holy day on the Christian church’s calendar.

That got me thinking: what makes any day holy has a lot to do with how much I invest in that day. I know sometimes the sly Spirit of God can take me by surprise when following routine sacraments, but these can just as easily be empty routines as much as close encounters with my Father in heaven.

When I was a teenager – a new Christian – holy week was a busy one for me: Wednesday evening bible study; Maundy Thursday communion; Good Friday morning communion and meditation; Sunday services; and, last but not least, the Easter Monday ramble. I was seen to be investing my time into the right activities and got a lot ‘glory points’ from my peers.

30 years on I spend less hours of the week in church, take communion less often and am seen observing sacraments by fewer of my fellow Christians. That said, I think I invested more of myself when praying while walking the dog on Friday morning than I did throwing back a glass of alcohol free wine at the age of 15.

If I take time out, on any day, in any place, to invest a portion of myself in communing with God, then I think the holiness of that moment, of that place, will suffice for me. Similarly, Holy Communion with friends round a dining room table is of equal value to me than any priest-led sacrament. This is probably due to its immediacy and intimacy.

Don’t get me wrong, organised church worship is precious to me – but it isn’t always there when I need it. Take Holy Saturday for example – this day when Christ’s disciples were in hiding, bemused by the events of the last few days. I can relate to those emotions and investing in a communion with God is as important for me today as it was yesterday or tomorrow.

Perhaps you’d like to join me and light your own metaphorical (or actual) Paschal candle – an expectant vigil in readiness for the celebration of Easter Sunday, stating by faith:

“Christ is risen from the dead;
trampling down death by death;
and upon those in tombs; bestowing life.”
“May the light of Christ, rising in glory,
banish all darkness from our hearts and minds.
The lit candle is now a symbol of Christ,
risen as the light of the world, and come into the midst of the people.”

You can do this when walking the dog, when comforting your child, when washing up. It could be the most holy moment of the weekend.

By stevejeff at 22/03/2008 - 11:08am | Lent Blog 2008

And you held me

We first visited Shooting Star Children’s Hospice on Good Friday last year, just after our baby daughter, Lydia, had been diagnosed with a life-limiting condition. Since then, we have stayed on a regular basis for respite care and, one day in the not too distant future, it may be the place where she dies, or at least where we will take her body in between her death and the funeral.

The hospice is an incredible place where the beauty of life and the reality of death exist side by side. Going there always feels both life-giving and daunting, as we watch and wait with our girl, not knowing how many days or weeks or months we may have left with her.

At the hospice, the miracle of life feels tangible. It’s a light and airy building, the colours seem brighter and the joy deeper. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that the preciousness of life is more striking in a context where its fragility is all too real. I am tossed around within this mystery every time I walk down the main corridor. Along this corridor you can find the main rooms of fun: the multi-sensory room with its lights and bubbles and ball pool, the arts and crafts room with all things creative, and the warm-as-a-bath hydrotherapy pool. In the midst of all this is the entrance to the ‘Tranquil Suite’ where families can stay with their children after they’ve died. Every time I walk past this door I wonder how long it will be before we’ll be going in there, how it will feel, what she will look like.

Some days I struggle to walk past this door, I want to go in and wreak havoc in a space which is meant to be tranquil, where the flowers are neatly tended, the cushions nicely plumped and the fine china cups and saucers await to comfort the next grief-stricken family. And I know I am not ready for what is to come.

On other days, I am glad to walk past this door, glad because it reminds me of the preciousness of today, because it puts things into perspective, draws me to slow down, to breathe more deeply, to marvel at living in the middle of this confusing dance between life and death.

So the door feels like a gift, a quiet but vital reminder of the reality of death in the midst of life, there to provoke the whole gamut of emotion which accompanies the journey of grief and from which we run at our peril.

A year on, another Good Friday, and we’re invited to sit again with Mary as she watches and waits through the torment of Jesus’ death and she’s left cradling her dead son in her arms. How did this embrace feels? And who was holding who? Often, when holding Lydia, I have a sense that while it’s me that physically holds her floppy and fitting body, it is really she who holds me, who is the strong one, who is walking on this journey with all the trust and faith which I lack, who wraps me in love and assures me that all will be well, and I aspire to be more like her. I wonder if it will still feel like that one day holding Lydia’s body in the tranquil suite? Today, as we take Jesus’ body down from the cross, and cradle him in our arms, I wonder if we might allow him to hold us, to comfort us, to be for us whatever we need him to be, even just for a moment, to be held....

And you held me – by Janet Morley

and you held me and there were no words
and there was no time and you held me
and there was only wanting and
being held and being filled with wanting
and I was nothing but letting go
and being held
and there were no words and there
needed to be no words
and there was no terror only stillness
and I was wanting nothing and
it was fullness and it was like aching for God
and it was touch and warmth and
darkness and no time and no words and we flowed
and I flowed and I was not empty
and I was given up to the dark and
in the darkness I was not lost
and the wanting was like fullness and I could
hardly hold it and I was held and
you were dark and warm and without time and
without words and you held me

By Anna Poulson at 21/03/2008 - 8:04pm | Lent Blog 2008

The transformation of solitude

(photo: Jonny Baker)

I have led a Lent course over the last few weeks on desert spirituality. It meant that my Lent has been incredibly busy with preparation on top of work; I've felt like a complete hypocrite standing in front of people and encouraging them to embrace solitude and silence when I have had so little myself.

Solitude is a choice to withdraw from the world to spend time with God. It’s about getting rid of all distractions and all the things that make us feel comfortable and secure. It’s more than finding privacy or personal space, or having rest and relaxation. Solitude is being honest and open with God about who we are, and whose we are - it’s the place where we discover who God really is. It’s the place where we have to admit to our own sin and brokenness. It's the place where we are transformed.

There was a brother in a monastery who had a rather turbulent temperament; he often became angry. So he said to himself, ‘I will go and live in my own. If I have nothing to do with anyone else, I shall live in peace and my passions shall be soothed.’ Off he went to live in solitude in a cave. One day when he had filled his jug with water he put it on the ground and it tipped over. So he picked it up and filled it again – and again it tipped over. He filled it a third time, put it down and over it went again. He was furious; he grabbed the jug and smashed it. Then he came to his senses and realised that he had been tricked by the devil. He said, ‘since I have been defeated, even in solitude, I’d better go back to the monastery. Conflict is to be met everywhere, but so is patience and so is the help of God. So he got up and went back to where he came from.

That monk discovered in solitude that his bad temper was not caused by other people who were being unreasonable – it was deep within him. So solitude is the place where we face our own brokenness, but it’s also the place where we dwell in the gentle healing presence of Jesus and where we are transformed to be like him. As well as being aware of our brokenness, we become more aware of the nature of God and of his transforming power.

By jenny baker at 20/03/2008 - 10:34pm | Lent Blog 2008

Giving Birth

I am sure that comparing an individual's transformation to giving birth to a child is not original, but it's a useful metaphor for me, nonetheless. I imagine that most of us go through numerous transformations during our lives (multiple births or re-births!) It has been my experience that the conception, the initial planting of the seed that leads to new life, is thrilling, joyful, and well, yes, sexy. Bringing that new life, fully formed, out into the light for all to see is generally very hard work, painful, and is preceded by a period of utter darkness. (Why is it that babies tend to be born in the wee hours of the morning??)

Which brings me to the help-mates, those who stand by us, and coach us through the darkness. Like the obstetrician or mid-wife during a physical pregnancy, those who guide us on our spiritual journeys seem larger than life during the gestation period...I have been known to develop a great attachment for those who have helped me through spiritual growth spurts much as many women "fall in love" with their doctors during a pregnancy. (I know, there's a psychological term for that!) Of course, I don't stop caring for those help-mates, once a transformation has occurred, but the intensity of our relationship is never quite the same.

Though I tend to favor growing through my relationships with others (finding the Christ in others, if you will), my ultimate help-mate is God. Presenting myself before God is the surest and straightest path to new life. This is helpful to remember, especially, when those we love disappoint us, or are not accessible. In the end, it is God in us, working in us...silently, softly, unobtrusively, and then, when we think we can go no further, bringing us out into light we could never begin to imagine within our own small dark minds.

May you have many opportunities to be transformed by God this Holy Week...and through all the years and Easters to come.

By Ellen at 19/03/2008 - 6:39am | Lent Blog 2008

a tale of two cinderellas

the in-flight movie on the way back from moscow was 'enchanted', in which a disney fairytale princess finds herself transformed by the wicked queen into a real human being in new york "where there are no happy endings". she is desperate to go back to her cartoon world to marry her prince, but when he turns up in the real world to rescue her she finds that she prefers what she has become [and the lawyer who helped her] to the fairytale. which put me in mind of another in-flight movie, 'the devil wears prada', where the heroine's life is transformed by the wicked editor-queen in a way that most would desire - "everyone wants what we have," says the editor as they step out of a limousine in paris. at which point our cinderella flees, leaving only a mobile phone behind, and returns to her dowdy old life.

two fairytale transformations, then, one accepted even though apparently 'down', one rejected even though apparently 'up'. life changes us, and god changes us. sometimes we seek it, sometimes it's against our will. do we accept or reject what we are becoming, and on what grounds? how much choice do we have? i believe we have an inner compass from god, which tells us where the true path is, where our true self in god is, even when we are dragged away from what we thought were our hopes and dreams, even when we are dragged away by god. but it's hard to tell maturity from damage, sometimes. i have to keep giving myself back to god, have to trust and say to god "who do you think i am?"

and now i have to post this by midnight, or turn into a pumpkin :)

By steve collins at 18/03/2008 - 10:24pm | Lent Blog 2008

Transformation Ecosystem

Yesterday I splashed out and bought a macro lens for my DSLR. For some time now, I’ve wanted to explore the world of the macro.

The internal world of flowers has always fascinated me. The tiny buds, which in themselves hold more intricacies, protected from the harmful world. Protected, until the flower is ready to burst forth and advertise itself to the world.

The pollen, the stamen, and the reliance on insects is a perfect example of the interconnectedness of God’s creation. Without the seed there is no life, but without the bee there is no seed.

With Easter being early this year there are less signs of “new life” springing up than we are used to, less new shoots leaping from the ground, less animal life forcing its newness into our faces.

I find myself longing to see the first bees and insects buzzing around the flowers in our garden. To see the cycle beginning again. The freshness, after the staleness of winter.

This year, with Easter just around the corner, which are you?

Are you the bud, longing to open?
Are you the flower, advertising the life?
Are you the pollen, awaiting collection?
Are you the stamen, expecting delivery?
Are you the seed, starting the cycle?
Or, are you the bee, linking all things?

For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For, "All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever. (1 Peter 1: 23 -25)

Which ever you are, wherever you are in your journey:

May the Lord bless you, may his light shine upon you, may your spirit be transformed through the new beginning that comes from Christ’s sacrifice.

By Tigermoth at 17/03/2008 - 8:19am | Lent Blog 2008

Is it just God @ work?

The Christian walk is a funny old thing. Some days you bumble along and others you couldn't be closer to God if you tried and no matter where you are at, you are still on your walk. Matt and I have been challenged over the past few years of our married life and we have only been married for 4 and a half years so that would be most of it. The other day I was reading some daily devotion and I came across this...

Submit to the Potter's hands

(Isaiah 64:8 Yet O Lord, You are our Father; we are the clay, and You our Potter, and we are the work of Your hand)
A couple went in to an antique shop one day and found a beautiful teacup sitting on a shelf. They took it off the shelf so they could look at it more closely, and they said, "We really want to buy this gorgeous cup"
All of a sudden the teacup began to talk, saying, 'I wasn't always like this. There was a time when I was just a cold, hard, colourless lump of clay. One day my master picked me up and said, "I could do something with this." Then he started to pat me and roll me and change my shape. I said "What are you doing? That hurts. I don't know if I want to look like this. Stop!" But he said, "Not yet."
'Then he put me on a wheel and began to spin me around and around and around until I screamed "Let me off, I am getting dizzy!" "Not yet " he said. Then he shaped me in to a cup and put me in a hot oven. I cried, "Let me out! It's hot in here, I am suffocating". But he just looked at me through that little glass window and smiled and said "Not yet."
'When he took me out, I thought his work on me was over, but then he started to paint me. I couldn't believe what he did next. He put me back into the oven and I said "You have to believe me, I can't stand this! Please let me out!" But he said "Not yet."
Finally he took me out of the oven and set me on the shelf where I thought he had forgotten me. Then one day he took me off the shelf and held me before a mirror. I couldn't believe my eyes, I had become a beautiful teacup that everyone wants to buy.'

- this story encouraged me, it reminded me that I am not quite ready yet for God's purpose and glory but one day I will be. So take heart if you feel like life is hardwork and painful, just ask yourself, is it just God @ work?

Zoe Stevenson

By mandz at 15/03/2008 - 6:38pm | Lent Blog 2008

A Brief Encounter

Last Sunday I went to a party of a former colleague and good friend. Years ago, we had both worked for a demanding American company. As I went to say hello to the host, I realised he was chatting to our old boss, I’ll call him Jim. I hadn’t seen Jim in 15 years. He smiled openly at me and gave me a kiss, “ hi great to see you”. I smiled almost involuntarily and muttered something vaguely friendly, and bolted to the other side of the room, as difficult memories came flooding back. I avoided him for the rest of the party.

For a couple of years I had given my wholehearted commitment to that company, achieved things I never achieved anywhere else, stretched myself to the absolute limit. I so wanted it all to work and to be a success. The demands were beyond anything I have ever known. In the end the stress got to me, I got quite seriously ill for more than a month. Jim decided I wasn’t the right stuff, and he generally preferred healthy sporty male specimens in his team, so once the project was over, I was surplus to requirements, as far as he was concerned. I later realised that this was very typical of the way the company treated people. It was an exciting but unhealthy environment. Most of my colleagues eventually found themselves in the same position – many suffered. Even Jim himself eventually went the same way.

For me then, it was a devastating but ultimately a transforming moment in my life.

I experienced self doubt, anger, and a collapse in confidence and motivation. What was the point of anything? Why work? It probably took me about 2 years to recover and reorient myself which isn’t unusual when I see others in the same situation. It changed the course of my life. It forced me to question as never before my path in life, what I should be doing, my priorities, my real abilities. It’s partly true that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. I learned so much. I did find new directions and purposes. I can thank God now for yanking me out of there in time and setting me free. Whatever pain there was in moving on, it was ultimately for the best. But it took me years to recognise it.

Jesus was transformed by his desert experience – in confronting isolation, temptation and deprivation, he was able to take hold of who he was, and what he needed to do. And he could forgive those who hurt him and let him down.

One day perhaps if I ever meet Jim again, I might be able to share a chat and a memory. One day, with God’s help, there will be forgiveness. Transformation can happen in an moment or it can be a long long process.

By Jackie Elton at 15/03/2008 - 1:13am | Lent Blog 2008

In the days before Alpha...

As you may know, I have been making audio meditations as part of my living.

Here is a meditation based around a very famous transformation. It's about eight minutes long, but the last couple of minutes are more general prayers.

Enjoy, and am interested to know what you made of the format, please do let me know.

By ben cohen at 14/03/2008 - 12:36am | Lent Blog 2008


There is an advertisement on the Tube at the moment which announces, "You're half an hour from a more confident you". It's for a cosmetic surgery company. What are they able to do in half an hour? Perhaps that is long enough to convince somebody that they don't need cosmetic surgery, which is a valuable transformation in itself.

What does it mean to be transformed? What will it take to change your mind? To break your mindset? To refine you for heaven? How can you tell it has happened? Can you tell?

Sometimes change happens quickly, and is obvious to everyone concerned (the Road to Damascus is the proof text). But not always. Your transformation is likely to be slow-burn – something you grow into; and it may require years, even a lifetime, of self-discipline and open-mindedness. And the quick transformations which do happen are usually triggered by something external, so they are not something you can plan for.

Does this matter? Love is patient [1 Corinthians 13 v 4], and so is God. One of the standard absolutions prays that God will grant us time to amend our lives. We need to be patient as well. Trying to find the external triggers that will lead to quick change often doesn't work. A quotation which is told to pilgrims to Iona: if you don't bring God with you to Iona, you won't find God when you get there.

Even the cosmetic surgery company recognises that the superficial "transformation" they offer takes time; this is indicated by the note in the corner of the advertisement saying "Complete aftercare programme included".

By rebecca at 12/03/2008 - 8:55am | Lent Blog 2008

A Short Journey Into Light

I have just returned from a physical journey to St Croix and St Thomas. It was not a vacation but an introduction to the life I might lead as youth missioner there.

I generally feel that I rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit...but during this short and very condensed experience in the VI, I realized that I am not nearly as open as I thought--I limit the degree to which God is allowed to work in my life. Faced with unfamiliar (and at times unnerving) circumstances,I threw myself on the grace and mercy of Christ. God's response was astonishing to me. Unused to the complete and utter relinquishing of my own control, I was overwhelmed by the POWER of the Holy Spirit! A few hours earlier, where I had only seen death and destruction, I felt real hope, optimism, JOY!--and was able to offer words of God's promise and possibility to a thirsty audience. Living comfortably and confidently here, at home on the mainland, this sort of reliance on the Spirit occurs far too infrequently for me.

And where does your journey in Christ take you? How often, on your journey, do you feel completely stretched beyond your abilities and strength? How often do you freely allow Christ to work in you and through you, lighting your path and preparing a way for others?

How long will it be before I step aside again, and let Christ fully illumine me...and then share that hope, in perfect freedom, with others?

By Ellen at 11/03/2008 - 11:11am | Lent Blog 2008

Jesus in Walpole Park

Who would have thought you would find Jesus in Walpole Park?

I was out for my afternoon constitutional last week, walking through Walpole Park, when I heard loud chanting in Latin, and saw this: (apologies for the size, as I haven't figured out my camera phone!)

In case it's too small to see ... There was an actor dressed as Jesus, carrying a huge (but rather smooth, not rugged) cross, followed closely by another actor dressed as a Roman soldier who was whipping him, and singing church-y sounding liturgy in Latin. Loudly.

Granted, there was a camera crew with a boom mike following right behind. But what a surprise to see that scene, there.

Now, I usually find my afternoon walk to be a good time to connect with God. So it's not hard to believe Jesus is there with me as I stroll through Ealing. Movement, fresh air, and seeing the people in the park all help me feel connected -- to God, to the community in which we live, to myself and my own journey. I kind of expect to meet God in those moments.

But seeing a costumed Jesus carrying a cross, in Walpole Park, shocked me. I wasn't expecting it.

Where else on my journey does God want to surprise me, and show up when I'm not looking?

Is He in one of the other people I pass along my walk? Or in one of the other scenes enacted around me, which are not followed by cameras?

Will I look around me, eyes, mind, and heart open, to be surprised by Him?

By Kathy at 10/03/2008 - 9:25pm | Lent Blog 2008

By whose rules do you travel?

By whose rules do you want to travel. When do you blend in and conform, when should you stand out and be distinctive. What might be the cost, are you prepared for that risk?

Jesus in his journey made both public and private statements by which the rules of his journey were defined. Some were political for example the overturning of the tables in the temple others were more subversive challenge to the accepted order of the day.

We may not all be called to be whistle blowers, but sometimes we must refuse to follow accepted practices and remember not to throw the first stone.

By richard at 10/03/2008 - 8:07am | Lent Blog 2008

Travelling to Ithaca

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
Pray that the road is long,
Full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Constantine P.Cavafy, 1911

What sort of a traveller are you? Are you ready to set off at moment's notice, travelling light, moving on frequently, looking for somewhere new? Or do you head straight for your destination, with suitcase packed and hotel room booked? In recent years I have discovered that I fall somewhere between these two approaches and my favourite holidays have been those where with a modest bag and a car we set off to explore somewhere new or revisit a favourite haunt. We might spend a few nights in one town, a week by another beach or decide after an afternoon that it is time to move on.

Christians have sometimes accused of being more concerned about their destination than the journey - being more interested in heaven than earth. It's a stereotype and one opposed by the many Bible stories where the journey was as significant as the destination - the wandering of the Israelites in Sinai, Elijah's fleeing into the desert, Jesus' preaching throughout Israel and Paul's evangelism throughout the eastern Mediterranean. So let's remember to give some thought to our journeys - to learn, enjoy and create all we can along the way - so that we can truly cherish our destination.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithacas mean.

By SueDonnelly at 08/03/2008 - 5:20pm | Lent Blog 2008

what's the hurry

In his book Silence and Honeycakes, in an interview at the end Rowan Williams is asked:

What would the desert fathers and mothers say to young people today? and this is his reply...

They might say 'What's the hurry?' They would be amazed to see the way our culture prizes speed. They might say that the hurried urgency to possess is an index of falsehood and a misunderstanding of the kid of being you are. It's alright to take time. Only in taking time can you realise how much more you are than an individual. By taking time you are built by the character of the whole world you are in and the people around you.

It all sounds good doesn't it, the kind of sentiment I like and happily trot out on a blog for lent. But the truth is my life hasn't changed pace this lent. It's flat out and I don't quite know what to do about it...

By jonny at 07/03/2008 - 6:02pm | Lent Blog 2008

Fahren Sie mit mich?

For reasons too numerous to trouble you with, I am learning German. I started with CDs and self-help books; but I didn’t get too far with them. So I enrolled at the Goethe Institute in Kensington and my progress accelerated.

There are significant differences between the self-help route and the attending classes in learning a language. There is the fact of having made a commitment - having paid much more for the course than for the CDs you tend to want to get your money’s worth. There is the sense in which you are part of a team with your class-mates. Fellow travellers each supporting one another as they learn a new skill.

One of the most surprising things, for me, has been the way studying on a course forced me to think about how my own language works. For example, it is only since beginning to learn German seriously that I began to wonder why, in English, we ‘get in a car’ and ‘get on a bus’. Essentially we are doing the same thing and yet the preposition is different. That sort of thing really messes you up when trying to learn a foreign language.

In many ways, learning a language and journeying in the spiritual are similar. If we dare to investigate the unfamiliar, there is the danger of the familiar beginning to appear strange. And when we journey with others, we discover more about ourselves than we can discover on our own. Of course you could go it alone; but then you wouldn’t be getting your money’s worth, would you!

Gute Reise!

By andrew sillis at 05/03/2008 - 12:46am | Lent Blog 2008

not belonging

i'm posting this from the golden apple boutique hotel in moscow, which is my address for the week. it's expensive and overstyled [to reassure you that it is expensive and that you are someone]. i find myself wondering how i got here. i'm not really comfortable with luxury. i was not brought up to expect it - not poor by any means, but 'ordinary' - expecting the plain, the simple, the good even, but not the kind of 'good' that shows off how 'good' it is. i don't feel that i belong here [and yet i'm sure that some people rush to embrace it].

the trouble with journeys is that they take you to places where you don't belong and don't feel comfortable. you have to deal with situations you don't know how to deal with and with people you didn't want to meet. you have to trust that god who got you into this place will get you out of it. journeys stretch your trust in god and your dependence on god, and also extend you as a person - although that's often like extending elastic, you wish you could snap back into your old shape!

of course there's also the fascination of seeing new things. i wonder if elijah saw new things in his time in the desert? or jesus? had they seen the desert bloom as well as burn? was the burning beautiful, too? what were the scenes they chose to remember afterwards? the memories that made them glad to never go back there again, or the memories that made them glad they went?

By steve collins at 04/03/2008 - 2:30pm | Lent Blog 2008

Journey's Hurdles

On every journey there are distractions – unexpected hurdles to clamber over.


At work, there’s a game of chess
with all the pieces white.
The board’s perfectly circular
and tilted to the right.
The grandmasters use strategies
that no-one’s ever tried.
They change their mind constantly,
but never break their stride.
It’s not the place for a pawn
to question that last move,
but I cannot help but think
that I’m going to get screwed.

But whatever the hurdle – we can rely on God to have got there first – going ahead of us, preparing the way. 2007 was overshadowed for me by a drastic cutting back of staff at work and then an extensive recruitment campaign. A lot of upheaval, a lot of mixed feelings. Out of it I have established firmer relationships with work colleagues – we’re more united now. I’m not saying it’s all turned out rosy, just that the new challenges have their positive side. More reason to pray in the mornings; more reason to rely on Christ for direction throughout the day. Christ has been there for me.

Matt 10:28-30
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows."

On to the next stage of the journey.

By stevejeff at 03/03/2008 - 3:18pm | Lent Blog 2008

The clarity fog brings

I spent an afternoon recently walking on Watership Down. Richard Adams, in his book inspired by the place, has one of his rabbits say, "from here you can see for ever", but on my visit, thick fog made it hard to see anything much at all. I loved the way that as I climbed up the hill, indistinct shapes grew in solidity and detail as I approached them, and faded back into oblivion as I left them behind. Past and future were both hidden; only the present moment was clear.

I'm the kind of person that usually has my eyes on the the future; what i'm doing later in the day, problems to be solved, things to plan, good times to come. The fog on the hillside was a forcible reminder to me that sometimes its good to be thoroughly immersed in the present; to recognise that this now is a never-to-be repeated gift from God, to be relished and treasured.

As I reached the bottom of the hill, the fog was thinning and giving way to cloud. For a few moments the clouds rolled back and a ray of strong sunshine pierced a world that had been drained of colour all day. I stopped and stared at the vividity of green in front of me.

Sometimes silent wonder is the only way to respond. But sometimes I take a photograph, too.

By Dean at 01/03/2008 - 7:08pm | Lent Blog 2008


God invites us to 'journey'- for Him, with Him, and to Him.

To journey FOR HIM, we become his feet to travel, so that we can then be his hands to do his work, and his mouth to speak his heart to others. I've always admired people who have had the courage to up sticks and go with God: the Bible is filled with stories about such people – Abraham, Moses, John, and Paul of course. In our own times, there are stories of those like Jackie Pullinger, whose courage I find amazing given that she didn't know her destination until God told her to disembark (the boat) when it sailed into Hong Kong. She said 'Yes' to God and that Yes took her on many adventures – and through it God has worked miracles in one of the world’s darkest places.

Friends of mine did much the same a couple of decades ago, leaving their home in San Antonio and following God's calling to Japan. They then waited for 9 years before they started to see fruit in their calling there (a long wait!), but thereafter - I guess once God had laid the foundation he knew they would need - people started to be drawn into their home. I was there right around the beginning of this period, one of a small group of mainly international people that formed the group with which their church began. For me, it was a turning point in my faith journey – it was the first time I felt God’s touch personally and in a real way - and God will have moved in many more lives through them. A further 9 years on saw them return home, leaving behind them an established church that had long since outgrown their home, filled with Japanese and other nationalities.

Then there is journeying WITH HIM, which we are all invited to do in our Christian lives, or 'walks'. And in response, Jesus promises to stay with us, to walk alongside us. 'I am with you always', he says, and Paul repeats this as he writes to the Philippians: 'The Lord is near. Do not be anxious' (Philippians 4). David tells us that the reason for this is that 'He makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer' (2 Sam 22). But I think it is for much more than righteous lives and sure-footing that he encourages us to journey with him: he knows our need for intimacy, how destructive loneliness can be, and how we need to be able to share our lives with others. So he offers to share our lives, our journey, with us.

And finally, our Christian walk brings us TO HIM. In Philippians 3, Paul speaks of journeying onwards: “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”, he says, “…straining toward what is ahead, I press on towards the goal...” The wonderful thing is that as we press forwards, reaching out to him, Jesus also promises to reach towards us: (John 14)"If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him". Wonderful.

By Emma Leach at 29/02/2008 - 1:10pm | Lent Blog 2008

Hidden Truths

By cntrst at 28/02/2008 - 8:53pm | Lent Blog 2008

after the floods... the wilderness?

A family living in Oxford have had their house flooded five times in a year. They have had to stop using the ground floor altogether. Is this the future?

A father is arranging a family holiday in the USA. When he comes to book the flights, he finds that the obligatory carbon levy on the flights is more than his family spends on food for an entire year. He then has the unenviable task of breaking the news to his children that they can't afford the holiday after all. Is this the future?

An office worker overrides the heating time switch, so that the radiator is left on in his office overnight. Since energy is too precious a commodity to waste, his employer treats this as a serious disciplinary matter, and he receives a written warning. Is this the future?

I've seen the future, and quite frankly it sucks.

It is all very well to read in the newspaper about environmental refugees and wars over resources in distant parts of the world, but it is only when they see the effects on their own lives that many of the people in countries like Britain will recognise the wilderness ahead, and then they may take action. But will it be too late?

[Explanatory note: the scenarios described above are all straightforward projections into the future of real scenarios that I observed over the space of about three days. The photos were taken in Oxford last summer].

By rebecca at 27/02/2008 - 8:59am | Lent Blog 2008

Sarah's Blog

This Blog was written by Sarah and dictated to me in hospital on Saturday.

Here there is no water but only rock
Rock and no water and the sandy road.
The road winding above among the mountains.
Which are mountains of rock without water
If there were water, we would stop and drink.
Amongst the rocks one cannot stop or think.
Sweat runs dry and feet are in the sand.
If only there was water amongst the rock
Dead mountain mouth of carious teeth that cannot spit
Here one can neither stand nor sit.

16 days ago, part of my contribution to the Grace service on possessions and Hagar were a couple of fragments of TS Eliot’s, What the Thunder Said” and a station on how overlooked a necessity, water is. At cruel times in history, when people are forced to flee at a moment’s notice, they almost invariably grab their “valuables” – jewellery, a gold watch to bribe the border guards – and neglect to take water with them.

4 days after Grace, I was screaming and writhing in Holland Park tube station in the throes of a severe attack of colic; a gallstone was blocking my pancreatic duct. This gallstone had been overlooked last December, when I had my gall bladder and the rest of the doings extracted – a one in seven chance.

The endoscopy to remove this naughty stone carried a mere one in seventeen chance of complication, but the rollover jackpot of my medical history ground remorselessly on, and I have lying wired up and tubed up in various hospitals and units ever since.

My hastily packed bag contained not silver candlesticks nor gold watches but books, chocolate, knickers… and no water. I was kinda expected to be provided with that. Instead, I’ve been nil by mouth for sixteen days.

I dream of water.
A glass of water

A jug of cold water, with ice, lemon, beads of condensation forming on the outside.

A glass of water. Half full, half empty.

A sponge passing between parched lips.

A scrape of the tongue a damp rag.

I crave no chocolate, no pasta, no champagne, no lobster, no sausage and mash. Only water

If there were water
And no rock
If there were rock
And also water
A Spring
A pool among the rocks
If there were the sound of water only
Not the cicada
Or dry grass singing
But sound of water over a rock
Where the hermit-thrush sings in the pine trees
Drib drop drib drop, drop drop drop

But there is no water

By Jackie Elton at 25/02/2008 - 11:37pm | Lent Blog 2008

Just a Drop

Have you ever been in a desert? I mean, a real one?

As a native Californian, I grew up in an area reclaimed from the desert, and the real, wild deserts weren't too far away. As a Girl Guide I had many a camping trip in the desert, and learned about the wildlife, the fragile availability of water, and the dangers of the sun.

Deserts are intriguing places, with a fragile, changing beauty. The sheer heat of the day makes them dangerous in peak sunlight. Yet, as the light changes in the morning or evening hours, the entire place changes. The colours, the shadows, even which creatures are popping out of the ground change as the light changes. There is mystery, uncontrollable beauty, contrasted against the real dangers of the heat.

However, a little bit of water immediately changes things. After even the tiniest rainfall, things turn green, very quickly. Flowers open. After a bit more rain, there is even danger of flash floods. How quickly the desert changes, with just a little refreshment.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.
~~Psalm 84:5-7

"Set their hearts on pilgrimage"... to the Israelites who first heard that Psalm, a pilgrimage would have been to Jerusalem, taking them through some dry, dusty, desert-y valleys.

"Valley of Baca" ... I've seen this "Baca" word translated as "Bitterness" in the footnote of one Bible. Another translation calls it the "Valley of Weeping." Imagine, the desert as a place of bitterness or weeping. Then, it's turned into a pool, a place of fun and refreshment.

"Strength to strength"... May you, if you are in a desert of bitterness or weeping, find strength to go on to the next strength. And if you're not, then may your heart be set on pilgrimage.

By Kathy at 24/02/2008 - 11:16pm | Lent Blog 2008


Ever thought of being spontaneous, wild, throwing caution to the wind, saying bollocks to responsibility, not even thinking just doing? Go on JUMP…JUST DO IT!

Sounds a bit like a mid-life crisis (actually I’m on my second!) It is fascinating how Peter the apostle seemed, to my mind, just to do that – have a mid-life crisis and JUMP (except I haven’t jumped, I have just had the crisis).

Bizarrely for someone who is attributed to founding the church, Peter seemed to be a typical alpha male, doing his own thing with scant regard for others. Shortly after Easter Day, Peter and some of the other disciples were fishing but with no luck. Man on the shore says to try the net on the other side and they have a catch fit to burst. Man then says to Peter that he is Jesus back from the dead (his best mate, mentor and God) – Peter JUMPS into the water and I assume swims to Jesus. But in doing so, all the others had to back-breakingly tow all the fish and the boat to shore – selfish I know. Peter’s demonstrative behaviour was, to my mind, unashamedly Jesus-obsessed and equally self-obsessed. I would love to totally abandon all caution and care and jump and be obsessed with myself and………………God.

I’ll jump if you jump.

This is Nazar's blog

By Jackie Elton at 22/02/2008 - 10:34pm | Lent Blog 2008

Rumours of Light

In the Land of Shadows, rumours of light abound...

I had always greeted such news with scepticism, mocking my compatriots in this wilderness for their misplaced hope. God had no business here, I would tell them.

I came to this land seven years ago and like the millions who had come before me (and no doubt will follow after) I arrived totally unprepared.

At first, I tried to deny my situation: wilderness? Oh no, it’s Hertfordshire somewhere, I’m sure of it. Besides, I’m a Child of the King. I only do mountaintops, darling. Do you hear me? Hello! Anyone?

I was alone, this was not Hertfordshire and the darkness descended with a ferocity that only drugs could temper. I had never known such sorrow.

The early years were hardest and at times I was not sure what I would lose first – my mind, or my life. Voices I had suppressed for so long (anger, doubt and cynicism) now burst forth at every opportunity – Christians their target of choice. Their noise was unrelenting and I had no way of silencing them, nor did I try. But, as my eyes adapted to the Land of Shadows, I began to take stock. Whilst I was now uncertain of so much that had once constituted faith for me, I was certain that God existed. This can be an inconvenience, however, when one is determined to stay pissed off with the Almighty.

One day, I remembered a prayer I had prayed not long before I came to the wilderness as I struggled to hear God. It was a prayer of desperation:

“God, do whatever you must do. If necessary, BREAK ME!”

Oh dear. And I meant it. And still do... every single word of that prayer. I meant it God, ok? So He did... and is... breaking me. But at times, in fact too often, it’s easy for me to lose sight (and hope) of the process and wallow instead in the darkness. Sometimes, I even find myself saying: I wish I could just unlearn all this stuff / ignorance is bliss, or as cypher (The Matrix) puts it: why oh why didn’t I take the blue pill!

Just lately, I have taken to listening to my compatriots again. I no longer mock them but listen respectfully and hopefully. I am thankful for their rumours of light for without them there would truly be no hope in this god-forsaken place.

By Joe Silmon at 21/02/2008 - 11:47pm | Lent Blog 2008

Gracelet for Lent

Sunday, 24 February, 8pm at St Mary's

Space to think, to pray and continue our desert theme.

By SueDonnelly at 20/02/2008 - 10:08pm | Lent Blog 2008

Lonely Places

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5 v16)

I am an urban person really - born in Liverpool and after spending my student years in small towns I happily settled in London. I'm the kind of person who considers a cinema within walking distance one of life's essentials. But every few weeks I feel the need to get away from houses and traffic - and particularly people - and head out of town for a few hours walking in the Chilterns west of London. The neat villages and well walked paths of the Chilterns are hardly an remote wilderness but after a couple of weeks of dodging the traffic on High Holborn they seem refreshingly empty.

In Luke 5 we read of how even in the busiest times Jesus would pull himself out of the hectic round of healing and speaking to be by himself and pray. I was brought up with images of Jesus kneeling under an olive tree, praying hard, face full of concentration – it really always looked very hard work. But walking in the Chilterns on a glorious February day I thought - what if Jesus was really going for a quiet walk in the hills away from everyone - letting his thoughts wander randomly rather as mine were doing - occasionally making them a formal prayer - at other times just letting ideas, people and God wash over him. Being refreshed by simply being rather than having to be the teacher/healer/master/leader.

We all need some way of finding this space in our own particular way - for some it is a place, for others a time of day or a particular activity. Orthodox Christianity has the concept of poustinia – the desert of the heart – a place where we are able meet with God alone. A poustinia can be a physical space – a cabin or room set apart as a place of retreat – but it is also a state of mind. It is a call to find a ‘wilderness' within our own lives, a place where we can rest and recuperate, a space where we can be challenged, change and grow. Then we can move on in our daily lives.

By SueDonnelly at 20/02/2008 - 9:55pm | Lent Blog 2008

Wilderness and paradise

Deserts are harsh, inhospitable places; places of danger and risk where death walks close behind you.

But they are also places of significant encounter with God – both for those whose stories are told in the Bible - Jesus, Hagar, Elijah, Moses - and for the desert mothers and fathers who fled there in the 4th and 5th centuries, first to escape persecution and then as a deliberate choice.

Henri Nouwen writes about the paradox of the desert:

The desert has a double quality: it is wilderness and paradise, It is wilderness because in the desert we struggle against the wild beasts that attack us – the demons of boredom, sadness, anger and pride. However it is also paradise because there we can meet with God and taste already his peace and his joy. Amma Syncletica – one of the desert mothers – said: “in the beginning there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that there is indescribable joy. It’s like building a fire:: At first it’s smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.”

In the Planet Earth episode on deserts there’s some great scenes of flash floods in the desert that lead to flowers blooming, and seeds that had lain dormant for 30 years springing to life. These scenes echo Isaiah 35 where God promises:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.

My problem is that I want the refreshing water and the beauty without having to endure the wilderness and fight the demons. I need to go and build a fire.

By jenny baker at 19/02/2008 - 12:05am | Lent Blog 2008

Hold the rice, I'm on Atkins...

A while back, word reached the West of an Indian holy man who had so mastered his asceticism that he was able to live solely on one handful of rice a day.

Curious to find out how this was possible, some American scientists shipped him over to the States to try an discover the secrets of an enlightened metabolism. After only a couple of weeks on the diet he began to weaken. For some reason, the same handful of rice was suddenly insufficient for his dietary needs.

Finally, the scientists realised the problem: In the States, all rice is painstakingly cleaned and all impurities are removed. In the swami's village, quality control was rather more lax; there were small quantities of weevil cheekily hidden in his normal daily diet. This tiny protein fix had been sufficient to keep him going.

My spiritual desert has been doubt. Once upon a time it troubled me to think that even fairly minor planks of my Christian worldview might be a tad wobbly. Don't certain passages in Ecclesiastes conflict with certain passages from Obediah? What about the Christadelphians - Part of the elect?

Then, a few years ago, I stared atheism in the face (OK, that's strictly speaking agnosticism). Maybe everything I knew was completely and utterly wrong. Suddenly my dietary priorities changed; before, I was concerned if there was no truffle oil to go on my spiritual equivalent of seared guinea fowl. Now the weevil was my friend; when the World seemed a random and Godless place the tiniest rumour of God's presence was a cause of celebration - protein for my soul. A cause to give thanks that there is, after all, some purpose behind all this blasted random strutting and fretting. A reason to keep going...

So yes, I believe - God help me in my unbelief. And yes, I still subsist on weevils...

OK, they're small, but they're packed with goodness. Actually with a spot of truffle oil they go down a treat...

A weevil, yesterday. They wobbled but they didn't fall down. During the Toronto Blessing John Wimber tried to have them banned. Allegedly...

By ben cohen at 18/02/2008 - 10:46am | Lent Blog 2008

Back to life

We've been doing some gardening today. The sun has been shining, there's a frost on the ground and the snowdrops are coming through. Part of the process of getting the garden straight has been to clear away the rubbish, dig out the old roots and plant some new specimens.

I know it's a cliche to use the garden as an illustration of decay, preparation and new life, but I can't help feel excited. For me it really is wonderful seeing this small patch of land springing back to life. We've even been looking at garden furniture and a new chiminea.

By markwaddington at 16/02/2008 - 11:27pm | Lent Blog 2008

Beauty from Ugliness

As we sometimes (so often?) fall under the crushing weight of temptation, who could imagine that something so beautiful could arise from something so ugly?

With God all things are possible.

By mattkemp at 15/02/2008 - 12:00am | Lent Blog 2008

Take a Short Walk

Love, Temptation, and Valentines Day.

Oops, what a combination!

Images of flashy underwear, pink pulsating hearts and sloppy valentines flicker across my mind as I sit down to write today’s lent blog entry. The years spent waiting by the door for that card by an unknown admirer never came to much.

It’s tempting to write up an entry about all the visual temptation that surrounds us in today’s media rich society.

It’s tempting to draw a conclusion that we are being educated to look, rather than to see the true being behind the surface.

It’s tempting to rant on about how much of our 21st century understanding of love is driven by Eros, rather than the many other types of love.

Instead let’s sit back, take a deep breath and close our eyes.

Wash out all images that invade our minds and clear the picture.

Allow an image of the desert to form in our minds.

Not the sweeping vistas of the Sahara, but more the hilly, slightly mountainous land that Christ knew.

Imagine setting out to walk in that desert, still dripping wet from a head to foot baptism, imagine leaving the comforts of home and friends behind for a few days, setting out to be alone, setting out to wait.....

OK, hold the image..........

So how long before the world started to intrude and your thoughts drift?

How long before our complex, demanding world called us back to the “here and now”?

Me? I lasted about 20 seconds!

Finding that time to be apart, or that space to deny something from out lives is not easy. It is not a quick fix to get closer to God. Jesus took 40 days.....

“Then Jesus was led out into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to be tempted there by the Devil...........Then the Devil went away, and angels came and cared for Jesus” (Matthew 4, vs 1 & 11)

So, why not get up and walk out your door right now?

Go on, get up. Remove yourself from the computer, iPhone, or other device; and take a little time out of context.

Take a walk, follow a different path, make space and see where God leads your thoughts.

By Tigermoth at 14/02/2008 - 7:33am | Lent Blog 2008

Mind the Gap

Giving something up may be easy, it might be tricky, but however you find it, there will always be a gap left behind...












[this space left blank]












Whether it's chocolate, alcohol, TV or anything else, it'll leave a gap. A hole in your habits, your routines, your time. Whether it's your sweet tooth or the busyness of your diary, something will try to drag you back. The temptation of the known is an easy way to fill the space.

When a defiling evil spirit is expelled from someone, it drifts along through the desert looking for an oasis, some unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. When it doesn't find anyone, it says, 'I'll go back to my old haunt.' On return it finds the person spotlessly clean, but vacant. It then runs out and rounds up seven other spirits more evil than itself and they all move in, whooping it up. That person ends up far worse off than if he'd never gotten cleaned up in the first place.

You may think you have cleaned out the junk from your lives and gotten ready for God, but you weren't hospitable to my kingdom message, and now all the devils are moving back in. - Matthew 12:43-45, The Message

Perhaps it's a stretch to consider chocolate, alcohol or TV as evil spirits in our lives, perhaps not. But it's clear that trying to improve ourselves with giving things up shouldn't be the end of the process but the start of creating space for something else.

We need to make a choice and decide what we want to fill the gap before an old temptation creeps back in. Finding something to fill the space is part of giving things up. Taking something up needs to be as much a part of Lent as abstaining.

By adam at 13/02/2008 - 1:42pm | Lent Blog 2008

Temptation makes me happy?

At grace on Saturday we thought about what we might choose to take with us as we entered a place of wilderness. However difficult the circumstances there is still some choice – a decision to be made.

Choice makes us happy – a little but not too much. If I want to buy a pair of jeans the amount of choice makes me very unhappy. Straight leg, slim fit (dream on), boot cut, loose fit, selvedge denim – the variations are endless and that’s before I even start to think about whether the denim is organic, whether the dye is natural and satisfy myself that the producers have been paid a fair price.

Wants and needs are different. I might want the more expensive pair of jeans but I don’t need them. Happier people don’t get obsessed about wants.

We’ve been allowed to make choices as an inevitable consequence of temptation. We aren’t robots or avatars. As Steve said yesterday, ‘take the mercy – accept the help’. Make the right choice.

Jesus described himself as completely happy: “I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am. Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you. The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. And you are my friends, if you obey me. Servants don't know what their master is doing, and so I don't speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me.” John 15 vv 11 - 15

How do you feel today (0-10)?

How happy you are affects how happy you will be.

By mikergrace at 12/02/2008 - 8:59pm | Lent Blog 2008

Temptation - take the mercy

I can resist all things but temptation said someone witty.

Jesus was tempted in the desert but resisted. When he pleaded in the garden for his Father to change his plans – that looks like temptation too.

So we know temptation is no sin.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray – he included the words ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’ (NIV) or ‘keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil’ (The Message).

Jesus knows our weakness – it's OK to pray to be spared temptation, to do so is mandatory.

However, temptation, doubt, weakness, conflicted thoughts can take each of us by surprise - and our Father will provide a way out.

“No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 – The Message)

The key to resisting seems to be prayer and accepting help.

“Now that we know what we have — Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God — let's not let it slip through our fingers. We don't have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He's been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let's walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help.” (Hebrews 4:14-16 – The Message)

And the key to recovery when we succumb to temptation seems to be the same: take the mercy, accept the help; for Jesus also taught us to pray; “forgive us”.

“When you pray, do not say the same thing over and over again making long prayers like the people who do not know God. They think they are heard because their prayers are long. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.
“Pray like this: 'Our Father in heaven, Your name is holy. May Your holy nation come. What You want done, may it be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us the bread we need today. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Do not let us be tempted, but keep us from sin. Your nation is holy. You have power and shining-greatness forever. Amen, let it be so.” (Matthew 6:7-13 – New Life Version)

My memory verse for today is: Take the mercy – accept the help.

By stevejeff at 11/02/2008 - 7:28am | Lent Blog 2008

Giving things up is so last millennium...

People don't give up stuff for Lent much any more. I once went to a luxury chocolate shop and asked them whether they sold less chocolate during Lent - they noticed no difference.

We ran a poll on Christian Connection, 40% said they didn't believe in doing anything for Lent, and about 20% said they tried to give things up, and another 20% tried to do something spiritual. That's apparently active Christians - so for the other 90% of the population, it's probably even lower.

I went to a service on Ash Wednesday, and the preacher was very robust: he said don't patronise God by giving up trivial things, that isn't what God wants. He quoted the words of a famous theologian who kept himself humble by saying:

Remember who God is...and who I am.

The message was in essence give up your pride....

Well yes, quite good stuff and I will try and keep it in my head and even put it in my screen saver. And may be it will make a difference to me, to those around me and to God.

But while giving things up has had a bum rap recently, I believe that self discipline, learning to be without, and a little bit of sacrifice can be beneficial, it can be loving and it can honour God.

That is where my mum comes in. All the time I was growing up I never saw her smoke. Not once. I knew dimly she had smoked as a young woman.

Then one day when I was 18 years old, I caught her redhanded. As she hastily stubbed out the cigarette on the saucer, I asked WHAT SHE THOUGHT SHE WAS DOING..

She looked at me guiltily. She had smoked right up to the time I was born. Then when I was born with the cleft lip and palate, she blamed herself and her smoking habit. So she vowed she would give up smoking not just for Lent, not even forever but for 18 years until I was an adult.

Its possible but unlikely that her smoking had affected me. It was lovely NOT to grow up in a smoky environment. It is amazing to think that she cared enough and loved enough to stop herself lighting up all that time. She started up and smoked for the 19 years she lived after that. And enjoyed it tremendously. Despite my sanctimonious disapproval..

Giving up can be a very special act – lets not knock it…

By Jackie Elton at 09/02/2008 - 11:59am | Lent Blog 2008

Wake up to the wonder

When you cross a border things look different. This week I visited Norway for the first time in my life. As we flew in to Oslo we saw hundreds of snow covered fir trees. Apparently it's been a mild winter so it hasn't 'really' snowed yet. But I still felt a rush of excitement. After all, living in London I haven't seen any snow yet this winter.

Sadly it was a very short visit so I didn't get to see much more than Oslo at night and the grounds of a Baptist Seminary where I was teaching. But I still found it energising to be in a different part of the world. The seminary overlooks a fjord which was frozen. The cold air creates a misty horizon giving it an air of mystery.

Chatting to a couple of people from Norway, they were very dismissive of the weather. It's been grey and raining and not much snow. I guess if you see a lot of snow you can afford to be fussy and I have no doubt that there are parts of Norway that would take your breath away. But I was filled with a sense of wonder every time I looked out - the different horizon, people skating in the city centre, breath in the crisp air, a boat moored in the ice, reflections of headlights in the wet roads and even the site of snow ploughs whizzing up and down the airport runway.

These two reclining chairs caught my eye. I bet the fjord is a wonderful spot in the summer. They also seem to invite you to sit down and look and enjoy the moment now, snowbathing maybe beside the fjord?

So what? Well my thought for lent today is this...

There's this world of wonder in Norway, maybe not at its stunning best moment, but astonishing none the less. I was renewed, filled with thanks, and reminded of the gift of the world that is our home, this stunning planet earth. As an outsider I had fresh eyes to see. For those who were used to it they had lost or become numb to the sensation of wonder (to steal a phrase from Douglas Coupland). When people visit London (or wherever it is you live) they probably have an experience of wonder? Have you lost or become numb to the sensation of wonder in your neighbourhood? Are you tempted to go round with your eyes shut?

Today as you go about your "everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life" * open your eyes, look up, pause to let a bit of gratitude well up, wake up to the wonder, whisper a prayer of thanks...

[*phrase from Romans 12: 1 in The Message ]

By jonny at 08/02/2008 - 9:20am | Lent Blog 2008

lead us not into temptation?

"If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread"

"If you worship me, all this will be yours"

"If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here"

The devil faces Jesus with three temptations at the beginning of his ministry. But why those three? Why didn't he tempt Jesus to wipe out the Pharisees or drive the Romans from Jerusalem instead? A few years ago I heard Greenbelt speaker Ched Myers argue that each temptation the devil threw at Jesus mirrored a temptation that the Israelites had succumbed to at a key point in their history. I can imagine the devil cooking up his plan and muttering "Jesus' ancestors fell for this one; I bet it will catch him out too!".

But Jesus didn't fall for it; he found new answers to the bad choices of his people, and showed them a different way of living.

When I say the Lord's Pray I come to the line 'lead me not into temptation' and sometimes think it needs a bit of expansion, a little qualifier that says, "and give me strength to recognise the temptations that I need to face." Only Jesus, the God man, could redeem the ways that his people fell in the face of temptation. But sometimes we need to face again our own failures, and seek the grace to find a different answer.

I heard a quote from Thomas Merton yesterday that, from memory, goes something like this;

If you want to know me, ask me not how I take my tea,
but rather ask me how I wish to live,
and why I don't live as I wish to live.

By Dean at 07/02/2008 - 8:22pm | Lent Blog 2008

Indigestible Portions

Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree
In the cool of the day, having fed to satiety
On my legs my heart my liver and that which had been contained
In the hollow round of my skull. And God said
Shall these bones live? shall these
Bones live?

Well, here we are at Lent again already. I’ve decided to give up booze this year; last week I realised with a shock how easy it is to go over the BMA weekly alcohol guidelines.

I think maybe I ought to give up checking my emails quite so obsessively too. Actually this will be simple to accomplish; Tiscali keep disconnecting me.

I have lifted the interesting stuff for this blog from TS Eliot’s Ash Wednesday, a poem that seems appropriate for a time of repentance and meditation. Taking stock at the beginning of Lent I am conscious of happily drifting from one week to another, the whole God-thang a mild seasoning to routine but not significant enough to interfere with my aspirations.

But when I decide to get a bit more serious, and sit down to read the Bible I start thinking….”Is it true? Is it worth bothering with?” I’ve spent a while tracing the movement of stories from India, Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent to the West; what makes the O.T. any more important than Gilgamesh? And some stories about Jesus – the Virgin Birth for example – bear an uncomfortable resemblance to ones about Buddha, or Apollo.

I haven’t worked it all out yet, but what does seem important are the differences. Buddha, Apollo and Christ all have miraculous births; but one is in a park, another on a floating mountain, the last in a stable. A little bit more gritty reality.

It is this which recovers
My guts the strings of my eyes and the indigestible portions
Which the leopards reject.

By Sarah at 06/02/2008 - 12:31pm | Lent Blog 2008

Welcome to the Grace Lent blog 2008

Please bookmark this page and then revisit this page from the start of lent. Or if you wish to add it to your RSS reader use the orange button below.

Grace will blog their way through Lent, the themes below may guide the journey but diversions are always possible.

Temptation – Wednesday February 6th – Saturday February 16th
Wilderness – Monday February 18th – Thursday February 28th
Journey – Friday February 29th- Tuesday 11 March
Turning point/Transformation Wednesday 12 March – Easter Sunday 23rd March

By admin at 16/01/2008 - 8:41pm | Lent Blog 2008

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