Wide-eyed prayer

I usually pray with my eyes shut.  Shutting out awareness of the world around me helps me focus and centre without so many distractions.  I like to pray in the garden, down at the wild end, and if I don’t shut my eyes, I end up day-dreaming about the trees or the grass or the birds or the fence that desperately needs mending.

I remember Ishmael once saying that you should pray with your eyes open when saying grace, in case your brother steals your sausage, and it’s good advice.  And I find it can be helpful to look at someone if I’m praying for them/with them.  But, on the whole, I pray with my eyes shut.

Today I was reading an interview with Jurgen Moltmann in Third Way magazine.  Among several challenging and interesting comments, he said that:

“To pray means to open one’s eyes and watch what is happening, what is coming, the dangers and the opportunities.”

Perhaps if I shut out the world around me in order to pray and hear God, I limit my prayer and it easily becomes all about me.  If I pray with open eyes – and open hands – it connects me with God and with the world God loves and saves.   The trees, the grass, the birds, and the people all matter.  Standing to pray with open eyes and open hands is prayer that’s ready to act, ready to participate in God’s deliverance, like the Hebrews eating Passover dressed for their escape from slavery to freedom.

At a lunchtime meeting today there was some prayer and I joined in with my eyes open and it did help me feel connected with the people I was praying with.  I think I will try more of this wide-eyed prayer and see how it goes.

Life in the bike lane

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Life in the bike lane …

… take it at your own pace.

… stop and admire the scenery.

… stop and chat to an old friend (or make a new friend).

… see the world from a different level.

… slightly separate yet at the same time part of the general flow.

… the sun on your face, the wind in your hair and the blood in your veins.

… free.

Saving the world is a spiritual matter

It’s feels hard to convince Christians that ecology is important.  Perhaps it’s a sign of how solidly most of us western Christians have bought into our consumerist culture.  Maybe it’s just that ecology comes some way down the list of priorities for the church.  It’s hard to compete for priority against shiny new (or renewed) buildings with state of the art equipment, or, if we’re feeling more spiritual, with evangelism, social action and youth work.

BThe Earth seen from Apollo 17ut if most of the world’s population has died because of flooding, starvation, water-borne disease or fighting over scarce resources, it will be hard to tell them about the love of Jesus.

I think that there are theological reasons for the church to take ecology seriously.

–       It’s God’s planet.  How dare humans lay waste to it?  How dare we commodify God’s creation and take power over it to serve our own ends?

–       The people belong to God and he loves them.  Food aid to the starving is one thing; mitigating climate change so that fewer people starve seems like a better thing.

 

–       Jesus’ risen body is flesh and blood, still human even if of a different order.  Stuff you can drop on your foot still matters in the new creation.

Then there are practical reasons why ecology is a spiritual issue.

–       It encourages thoughtful living.  Thinking ecologically makes you think about the consequences of your actions on the world around you.  This deepens your connection to people and planet, enhancing your awareness valuing of the world and of your place within it.  This is profoundly spiritual.

–       That thoughtfulness and care also leads you through a journey of making the way you live more creative and less destructive.  So ecology is a discipleship issue.

–       ‘Green’ thinking places an emphasis on community, where collaboration and sharing resources are important.  That kind of connection in practice is spiritual and is at the heart of the gospel anyway.

In John 3.16, John (or was it Jesus?) says that God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son …   If the church cannot find the same love and compassion for the world and turn its resources outwards, how are we following Jesus?

Don’t be a squirrel

There is a mature horse chestnut tree in the grounds of Mabbsonsea Manor.  Five years ago, it was given a severe pruning, and for the next two springs, the pesky squirrels ate all the sticky buds.  The tree still produced enough leaves to stay alive, but no flowers survived.  I tried telling the pesky squirrels, “No flowers = no nuts.”  They paid no attention.  This year, the twigs must have grown thick enough to support the weight of a pesky squirrel, and once more the ground below is littered with half-developed flowers and leaves.  The pesky squirrels are almost human in their short-termist, destructive greed.

Yesterday, I had to make a link between the stories of the Good Samaritan and the Creation.  (The Boys Brigade had made short films re-telling the stories, which we showed in church).   I’ll give you a moment to make the link . . .

What I came up with is that the beautiful, good Earth God made is like the man who’d been beaten up and left for dead, with people passing by and refusing to help.  We’re so addicted to burning oil that the melting of the polar ice is a good thing for us because it makes the polar oil reserves more easily (and cheaply) accessible.  Never mind rising sea levels, increased flooding, droughts, food shortages and refugees.  As long as we can keep heating our buildings in the winter, cooling them in the summer, driving, flying, eating lots of meat, clear-cutting forests, mining, polluting, and generally sitting comfortably.  Let the poor foreigners suffer if necessary – we can always make a donation to Comic Relief as an offset.

The trouble is that the story tells us that the poor foreigners are our neighbours and God wants us to love our neighbour as ourselves.  In fact, in the story, it’s the poor foreigner who saves the beaten up man.  Maybe it will only be as we rich & powerful Westerners start treating the poor foreigners as our brothers and sisters that we will realize that we are the ones who need help – we are the ones who need salvation.  A few words from 1 John: “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (3.17); “Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” (4.20).

We can be better than the pesky squirrels.  Don’t forget: No flowers = no nuts.

 

Meat is Murder II

The Mabbsonsea family has been abstaining from eating the flesh of animals during Lent.  We have enjoyed trying out new recipes; the kitchen bin is less smelly, and Mrs Mabbsonsea says she feels healthier.  Now, with one week left to go, there are heated discussions over the lentil bake about our future diet.

I would like to continue, but the rest of the family would like to eat some meat sometimes (especially bacon), and Mrs M is looking forward to eating fish again.  It will be difficult for the family cook to cater for different diets, and as the family cook is me, that’s an important consideration.

I have felt better in my soul that no animal has had to die to feed me.  I have not been benefiting from a meat industry that is inhumane, wasteful and violent.  As I have said before, I really like meat (see previous post – Meat is Murder), so I see not eating it as the kind of sacrifice we in the west will have to make towards a sustainable, equitable world.  I have felt better for acting on a belief.

On the other hand, vegetarianism can be anti-social.  It can be awkward for hosts (especially meat-and-two-veg people) to be told that you won’t eat meat.  Or is it just that I was brought up to eat what’s put in front of you, and to object feels rude?  Also, there’s this basic fact – for me to live, something has to die.  There’s an Easter thought for you.  Whether it’s a chicken or a mackerel, a carrot or a wheat plant, or even the potential life in milk, eggs and seeds – something has to give.  It’s just natural.

The family consensus that seems to be emerging is that we could eat meat occasionally.  Perhaps this is the best compromise.  We could continue to be thoughtful about all our food – organic, fairtrade and local, wherever possible.  We could make sure that any meat is reared and slaughtered humanely, perhaps seeking out farmers markets or farm shops as an equivalent to our ancestors going hunting.  That effort should keep it really occasional.  We could buy fish from the fishermen’s stall on the beach, since we are lucky enough to have that option.  When away at a conference, I think I can be vegetarian without being antisocial, even if it probably means eating too much cheese.

I suspect that’s where we’ll end up.  It’s not my preferred choice, but – hey – that’s communal life for you.

Archaic language

We were watching Romeo and Juliet the other day, the film version starring Leonardo Di Caprio.  I was struggling to keep up with the Shakespearian language.  The actors spoke so fast that I found it hard to tell what they were saying, let alone translate it in my mind into English I understood.  I grew increasingly impatient with it.  Then I turned around and saw my 12 year old daughter in tears, utterly engrossed in the story.

Maybe if I, like her, focused more on the emotion and the music of life and less on the words in the foreground, less of life would get past me un-noticed.

 

 

Connecting through disconnecting

On Saturday, Mrs Mabbsonsea and I took our daughter and her friends ten-pin bowling.  Three things made me sad (apart from Mrs M getting a higher score than me):

–       There was a DJ and the music was so loud that you had to shout.

–       The girls were on their mobile phones all the time – talking, texting, gaming or watching a video (with earplugs in, of course).

–       As I cycled back (no room for me in the car), dodging the people on their phones or iPods, and being blasted by the piped music as I went past the pier, I thought – ‘The modern world is rubbish’.

Partly, I’m just having a middle-aged moan about piped music.  But my greater sadness was the way something that used to be a fun social occasion was turned into an individual activity because those taking part were more interested in people who weren’t there than the people who were.  The girls didn’t engage much with each other’s bowling or talk much with each other.  They were in their own little worlds, connected through their phones – which disconnected them with the real world that was right there.

I think I am a Luddite.  I don’t like many aspects of the way the world is shaping up.  I find it offensive when I am with someone and they answer their mobile or read a text.  I don’t like the idea of being contactable at any time or place, and I don’t like feeling such a strong attraction to check incoming emails or texts and the way being contacted makes me feel important.

I guess it is easier to be in touch with people you can’t see, especially in short bursts, rather than engage in the longer haul with people who are actually there.  But I wonder if our souls can cope with being so thinly spread.  Would we be better off trying to go deep rather than broad – to be more fully present in the present – right here, right now?  It’s the person in front of me who can help me grow and help me encounter Jesus – especially when she is beating me at bowling.