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presbytery prayer 21 Oct

Hello, everyone,

If “overthinking” were an Olympic event, I would have a gold medal in it! I’ve been thinking about overthinking (!) since a very pleasant conversation about it this week, with another person who self-describes as an “overthinker.” It’s made me think… (!!)  In fact, it led me back to a word I’d encountered a while ago – a wonderful big conversation-stopping word. 

This has been a period of much thinking, in congregations, Presbyteries and the General Assembly. Some of it has been – here’s the word – “metacognition”. It’s a concept that goes back to Aristotle – and that’s something the Wikipedia article “Metacognition” will tell you.  In fact, Wikipedia gets quite uncharacteristically poetic! It describes metacognition as “”thinking about thinking”, “knowing about knowing”, becoming “aware of one’s awareness”.  It’s an idea that leads us into a deep exploration of how we think, why we think as we do, how we plan and strategize – and how we might do these things differently and better. 

We will need that, as a Presbytery. We are going to have to do a lot of thinking; in fact, we already are. And we will need to think about how we think. But reflection and introspection in the Christian spiritual tradition cover a vastly larger territory than mere thought.

I’ve loved the Book of Revelation since I read it in one go, from JB Phillips’ translation when I was a teenager. John, as he sat imprisoned on Patmos, was engaged in something other than just thinking, or even “metacognition.” He surveyed the Seven Churches from his isolation, and no doubt he did a lot of thinking. But his thinking was immersed in the mind of Christ. Without that, he would have had nothing to say. 

The Greek Orthodox tradition teaches us, startlingly and straightforwardly, that “theology is prayer. Before it’s thought, and creeds, and weighty books, theology is prayer.  The whole thinking of the Church is a prayerful seeking of the Mind of Christ. We must think. We must “think about our thinking.” But if we are truly to be the Church, and a Presbytery of the Church, our thinking must seek to be grounded in the mind of Christ. We know that. 

But pausing to stock-take at this point in our strange journey across this pandemic landscape, I feel that our awareness of these things has been deepened by our experience.. That’s my own starting-point this week, and I hope it’s helpful. 

Anyway, I won’t overthink my greeting this week!

Yours in Christ, 

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So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… Philippians 2:1-5

I John, your brother, who share with you in Jesus the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Per’gamum and to Thyati’ra and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to La-odice’a.” Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me… Revelation 1:9-12a

1

We start our prayers here, Lord. 

We remember John, on Patmos, 

staring at the walls of his cell – 

physical, palpable, confinement and restriction – 

yet in the Spirit, gazing out over the Seven Churches, 

their life, their challenges, their troubles and joys.

Shut away, he was sundered from them. 

Yet immersed in Christ, he was immersed in their life, 

their situation, their reality – 

given to see, in Christ,

even the things about themselves that they could not see.

That is not us, Lord, and we would never claim it! 

We are not that sequestered saint on his rock in the sea. 

But we have been shut away, cut off from each other,

and yet we have known the life of our congregations – of your church – in Argyll,

in new ways in these strange times.

For all that you have granted us to learn,

we give you thanks. 

2

We have been led by the Spirit to imagine, with loving concern. 

  • how others are coping, 
  • how other congregations are doing things, 
  • what it must be like for them, in their settings, in their communities, among their folk. 

We have seen each other anew, too.

We thank you for the still-percolating insights that we have 

      of seeing each other simultaneously

            in meetings and at home! 

Our eyes have been drawn from faces, 

       from the diverse room  in which each of us made choice 

               to set up the laptop or the tablet,

                     and we have glimpsed windows, 

and wondered what the view from each one is.

We have realized that each home is set

      in a particular, different community, 

           served by a different, particular congregation

                of different, particular, unique individuals. 

That is our Presbytery!

Lord, never let us un-see these things. 

3

We have sensed, Lord, that you have been inviting us

      to new insights into our work, 

            and who we are, and what we are, as a Presbytery. 

We sense that in ways we cannot imagine

     you are equipping us for work we are barely beginning to imagine

          in a future we can for now only grasp under this rubric – 

“Everything will be different…” 

We pray that our knowledge

      and our thinking

            and our thinking-about-thinking

have become deeper set in love, and compassion, and prayer. 

Consolidate this work in us, that we may better serve your Kingdom. 

We ask to be led, loving God, 

     beyond thinking, and thinking-about-thinking,

        ever nearer to the fusion 

of thought and deed and work and prayer,

that our service to Christ, as his Presbytery,

may arise ever more out of our life in him. 

4

Loving God, over these pandemic months,

you have sensitized us to each others’ lives.

you have given us insight and awareness, will we but accept it,

to inform our prayers for others. 

“The nights,” we say, and smile as we say it, “are fair drawin’ in.” 

We imagine you smile at us too: 

wherever we were born, we say it like that, 

with respect for the land and its people, the communities you have formed, 

in which some of us were raised, and some ingrafted,

and in which we all seek to live out the Gospel.  

“The nights are fair drawin’in.”

We say it, and smile wryly, for we know 

That this is not a straightforward time,

And many wrestle with the encroaching darkness. 

Many of us do. 

You know it too, Lord.

We bring before you 

Not merely the truncated wintry days,

The isolating cold, the seasonal challenge to affect and mood. 

We know that this winter will be a prism 

Through which the sombre rays of this pandemic will be refracted for many. 

You call us to minister to unsettled people, in unsettled communities,

in an unsettled society in unsettled times. 

Hear now the prayers your Spirit stirs up in us

For those whose needs we know, and for those we only know to be in need. 

[Silence]

Lord you have set us in a darkening world

as people of the light,

as witnesses to your promise, 

as signs of hope, as we turn to face the dawn. 

Teach us the lessons of these changing times,

that we may be full of the Love of Christ,

and live faithfully our calling to live the life of the Kingdom,

for we ask it in Jesus’ name, who taught us, when we pray, to say: Our Father…

Presbytery prayer 7 oct

Hello, everyone. 

I suppose this is me “reporting diligence”!  I love the story, told me by the late Rev Isobel Brain, generous, gracious servant of Christ, and a wonderful raconteuse, of the Glasgow Elder who loved attending General Assemblies, back in the day when you could pick up spare commissions from far-flung presbyteries simply by writing to the Clerk and asking were there vacancies. One year, he picked up a commission from the Presbytery of Sutherland, and off he went to have a rerr terr to himself for a week at our Supreme Court. And a few weeks later came the letter, telling him that he was expected to report diligence – to said Presbytery of Sutherland, which in those days was a much more formidable excursion than it is now! This seems to have taken the gloss off that year’s Assembly for him… 

Diligence is the thing! Application to the work of the week. Or weekend…

There are (were!) the other things that positively reinforce the life of the Church: meeting friends, and making new ones, from congregations far away; memorable conversations which show us how much we have in common, how similar the challenges are that we face – and how diverse and imaginative others’ responses can be; informal discussions which then feed into formal debate and decisions; fringe events which reinforce networking.  And of course, there are the bookstalls, and the clerical outfitters. “Seventeen pounds for preaching bands? I only paid 85p for my last set!!” “When was that, sir?” “Well, 1982…” 

For those of us who took part in it as old hands at weeks on the Mound, this year’s Assembly was both much less and much more than its predecessors. It was less, because the pattern had been stripped bare of things that had been rich and reinforcing experiences, but it was more, and for the same reasons.

Pride is a terrible thing – but it’s still gratifying to hear people from other presbyteries talk about having to embrace things that Argyll has been practising for quite a while now! It’s not easy to challenge us on forward-thinking! Yet a challenge – Christ’s challenge – has been articulated to us this year. We know that our task now is to embrace that. Inevitably, perhaps, my thoughts this week moved to the place in Scripture where Jesus comes closest to saying these very words:  “You can’t stay here. Come with me.” I haven’t signed off this way for a while, but…

Yours in the Adventure of Christ!

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In these lay a multitude of invalids, blind, lame, paralyzed. One man was there, who had been ill for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is troubled, and while I am going another steps down before me.”  Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.”  And at once the man was healed, and he took up his pallet and walked. 

John 5:3-9

Let us pray:
We commend our General Assembly to you

as work done in Christ’s name –

but also as symbol of these last months of learning

how to be the Church anew. 

We ask, as this Presbytery of your Church –

help us to embrace these lessons, 

and be braced to the task you have set before us. 

(i)

Lord, we confess it!
We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,

as optionlessness, as powerlessness,

as elements-not-in-place, 

the wrong place, the wrong time:

there may be a better time,

not now, maybe next time…

We are so good at rationalizing our comfort,

even when it isn’t all that comfortable,

even when it is no more than familiarity,

and trepidation before the unfamiliar option

we fear to take.

We know and trust that you know this about us,

and understand,

even when we can’t understand it in ourselves. 

We languish, if we do not hear your voice: 

“Do you want to be healed?” 

We need you to invite us to our feet. 

We need to hear you say 

“Come with me…” 

(ii)

Help us to contemplate the courage in that story; 

thirty-eight years amid the colonnades, the five Mosaic porticoes,

in splendid despair, 

sustained by the hope, offered by the occasional flurry,

unrealized yet again;

a life familiar,  well-understood, by the poolside –

when a figure offers the terrifying thrill of an invitation

and the invitation is accepted. 

[SILENCE]

(iii)

We have seen your General Assembly prised this year

  • out of beloved tradition,
  • out of commodious time-frame,
  • out of the reassurance of tradition;

and as with congregations, and Presbyteries,

accepting your invitation to follow you

out of the familiar, 

through this, whatever it is – 

and into whatever comes next. 

We look at our shared journey, Lord,

through the last months, to here – 

the adaptations and experiments – 

and we smile!

It didn’t seem to need much courage,

for we didn’t have much choice!

In the strength you give, we did what we had to – 

what the times demanded. 


Yet the times still demand.

The realities with which we wrestled have not gone away;

they still press on us,

and we may be tempted to imagine

that we have choices that we do not. 

(iv)

Take us back to that poolside,

where salvation came, and said 

“Do you really want what I offer?” 

Let us reflect, now, on salvation’s demand,

And on Christ’s invitation, and all that is implicit in it:

“In here is existence – enough, for now,

but not life in its fullness. 

The life to which I call you is out there –

shorn of this comfort and security,

these familiar patterns.

Come out from what has been familiar! 

Leave, with me.”

Let us hear your Assembly’s challenge

to embrace the thrill  –

even in its discomfort – 

of rising at Christ’s call,

and leaving our comfortable colonnades – whatever they are.

(v)

Let us gently, pastorally, 

but with the urgency of those who know the truth of it,

transmit to our congregations and their people

Jesus’ own challenge:

“You can’t stay here…” 

For we are all his pilgrim people,

his disciples, following him through the world –

the real world;

through time, and space, and history,

and through our present, difficult moment.

We can’t stay here. 

Life is out there. 

Life is with him, and in him. 

Make us sensitive to whom

all of this seems like loss and grief, 

whose anxiety issues in fear, and anger.

Show us our own anxiety and grief – 

which, so often we deny –

at losing and leaving things we have loved

Fill our urging, our inviting-forward 

and, when we must take them,  our difficult decisions

 with compassion and love.

Remind us of the courage it takes

to arise, after decades, a lifetime, amid the familiar,

and follow Jesus out of security

into life. 

Take us back to that poolside, in imagination and prayer,

and remind us that the source of that courage is not within us. 

Remind us that it derives from our trust and faith

In the one who asks “Do you want to be healed?” 

Hear our prayer now, as this virtual congregation which your Presbytery is, in this act of worship, for those whose needs we know, or can intuit, or may have missed – where you have not:

[SILENCE]

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…

Prayer 16 september

Hello, everyone.

Next month, I celebrate a melancholy anniversary. It’ll be a year since I saw my father. He celebrated his 94th birthday at the end of last month, and shortly afterwards he met his great-granddaughter. I have no real idea when I shall see either of them.  I speak to Dad every day, and my brother’s family keep me in touch with Eira-Lily’s rapid development. And yet… 

Realizing I’d miss Dad’s birthday got to me. Realizing it will shortly be a year since I saw him got to me. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the anniversaries would. I would imagine you’re having similar experiences. 

“We should have been…” One of the team who offer the worship we upload weekly to the UCB YouTube channel asked me yesterday “What’s happening with Harvest this year?” – and I was stunned. I hadn’t given any thought to it! It wasn’t on my radar despite the fact that it recurs every year. It’s in that sense an “anniversary”. 

And I was surprised at the emotions this stirred in me. We decorate the Communion Table rather than the church nowadays, but in a way, that has let us bring out the global and pan-human themes much more strongly. 

And we last did this a year ago., The anniversary is upon us. We’ll be celebrating harvest home the Sunday after next – and I’m not sure how to do it yet! But what felt like shock and disappointment – and “We should have been…” suddenly feels like a liberation into new possibilities of thought, and symbolization, and thanksgiving.  

But it also weighs heavily. “We should have been…” “A year ago, we were…” The anniversaries are painful, and as a winter second wave seems to grow in likelihood, and the virus finds ways of asserting that we aren’t on top of it yet, we see some of the really significant Christian anniversaries coming. Christmas. “We should have been…” 

As Christians, we must, of course, “rejoice in all things” as Paul tells the Philippians. But was there ever a more challengingly honest thinker in the Christian tradition than Paul. From him we learn that rejoicing must never become denial, or we let our refusal-to-look-at-things-as-they-are steamroller, and hurt, people who are hard-put to find things in which to rejoice. And maybe, each one of us is sometimes among such people.  If you are finding the times difficult, especially as the anniversaries come round, you are in all our prayers, as I always know I am.  

Blessings, and the strength God gives in Christ, 

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When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you for an inheritance, and have taken possession of it, and live in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God gives you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place which the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there. And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him… Deuteronomy 26:1-3

Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to him for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” So the Levites stilled all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8: 10-12

For no such passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah; but in the eighteenth year of King Josi’ah this passover was kept to the LORD in Jerusalem. 2 Kings 23:22-23

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.  Let all men know your forbearance. The Lord is at hand. Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:4-7

We sometimes forget, Holiest God,

To marvel. 

More than that, we often cannot rise

to the heights of living

from which we can look out and marvel – 

marvel at creation, 

and, utterly inadequately,

at the Creator who sustains all things. 

Time runs away with us, 

events press in on us, 

our time for prayer is compressed and constrained,

or sapped by the day we have had, 

or the day ahead, and its duties and difficulties. 

And we have been sapped by the strangeness of these times. 

And then we grasp it:

  • the things we forgot to look at – and the strength we could have drawn from them;
  • the things that do not change, which are reassuring, and point to you; 
  • the things we did not, do not, cannot acknowledge, because it is painful to do so, in times like these.

What shall we confess before you, loving Lord? 

You do not wish us to “confess” our pain – you wish only to salve and heal it. 

You do not wish us to “confess” our smallness, in a huge, challenging landscape of challenge – 

Because you know our smallness, and wish only to call us into the largeness of life in Christ. 

You do not wish us to confess the littleness of our faith – because you know we have faith; it is your gift.

So we confess our denial,

Our resistance to the idea that “things get to us”,

And above all, our insistence to others

That they should not let things “get to” them. 

Lord, have mercy on us.

Christ, have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy on us.

Especially now, as the anniversaries come around, 

As our congregations approach them in radically different ways –

Distanced, some even (necessarily, we know) denied attendance on that Sunday,

No singing of harvest hymns

Perhaps no singing of carols,

Your apostle tells us “rejoice in all things – again I say, rejoice!”
We thank you for the Paul who looks at things as they are,

at hard, bruising reality for the congregations he knows so well, 

and then tells them “in all these things, we are more than conquerors,

through the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!” –

and tells us exactly the same thing!

Help us in these unsettling times

To acknowledge the impulse to say

“We should have been…” 

Help us to respond with compassion and understanding when our members say it – 

Help us to own their sadness. 

And then let us bear witness to them,

By grasping for ourselves, 

That the strangeness strips away the peripheral things,

And lets us penetrate to the heart of what we celebrate, and remember

In the recurrent things – the anniversaries. 

“We should have been…” 

and we cannot – 

but you, Lord, open to us this possibility, 

truer to the times,

authentic, and full of hope, 

not looking back to last year, and every year before, 

but forward into a changed world,

in which, in Jesus Christ, we shall still be 

more than conquerors.

So let us approach Harvest Thanksgiving,

for there is a harvest, 

there is food, even abundance. 

there is consoling reference 

to the regularity beyond this intrusive strangeness. 

And there are the urgent themes

that command us, we know, to look beyond COVID:

what we have done, what we are doing, 

what we must as a human family do,

to save and protect our blue, orbiting home. 

There is the irony, we know, 

that we have collectively lost sight of these things, 

distracted by a serious virus which, it seems, 

may have arisen from the way the human species has been feeding itself, 

and farming its animals. 

Father, forgive. 

In the midst of this strangeness, 

Let our Harvest Thanksgivings this year

Be grounded in truth, 

Joyous in celebrating your creation,

Honest and penitent in contemplating what we have done to it,

And bracing, consoling, energizing and full of hope

In inviting our folk to keep the feast.

Let our strange, honest, faith-filled Harvest

presage the strange, honest and faith-filled feasts

which may lie ahead this winter.

In the holy silence, we bring our prayers

For those whose needs we know

Or think we glimpse, or can guess at. 

Open our minds in this silence

To possibilities of prayer which can only come from the Spirit’s work within us…

________________________________________

WE KEEP SILENCE                                                        . .

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father… 

Prayer for 9 september

Hello again, everyone

I’m writing this on a bitterly cold November day. It’s a pity it’s the eighth of September! I’ve been thinking a lot about the weather lately – well, we all have, and one of the things we’ve perhaps missed without noticing it has been the casual conversing with strangers about the weather which is such a deep cultural thing with all the people of this archipelago! 

Jesus taught us to look at the weather. More specifically, he urged his disciples to read the times as they were accustomed to reading the weather. Anyone knows that weather forecasting is not a form of prophecy! But weather forecasting, like prophecy, is immersed in present realities, in the flux of change, in the pointing-out of trends and tendencies – and how the pre-exilic prophets indicted the trends of their times! 

In a September that feels positively Novemberish, except for the days that feel like a late-delivered parcel of tepid summer, maybe it doesn’t seem odd to dwell on a thaw, when the winter is before us. In a sense, that’s precisely where we are as a society. 

As I write, lockdowns are occurring and spreading – Glasgow, East Dunbartonshire, East Rernfrewshire, and, now Renfrewshire. As the First Minister reminded us, these things are not happening in the same context as they were in May; we have moved on. But we are justifiably anxious about the winter. 

Yet there is a sense of a thaw. In a sense, it’s the privilege of the Church to be a marker of that. Cautiously, and with model care and responsibility, we are reopening. As we are called always to be, we are a sign that there is a “beyond” to this. 

But then, our calling is to be a sign that there is always a “beyond” to things as they are. That’s the shape of the hope of the Kingdom. You can’t get as far into the Christian faith as the end of the Lord’s Prayer without discovering that! 

So the focus of our prayers this week is the “Thaw.” In a sense, hope always makes things more complicated! Hopelessness is, at least, as simple as food in the freezer – nothing is happening, and nothing will happen until someone defrosts something. God is the God who defrosts the hopelessness of the world, and we are God’s witnesses to this, in Jesus Christ. 

Yours in our shared calling, 

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He gives snow like wool;

he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

He casts forth his ice like morsels;

who can stand before his cold?

He sends forth his word, and melts them;

he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow. Psalm 147: 16-18

And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, “When it is evening, you say, `It will be fair weather; for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, `It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. Matthew 16:1-3

Jesus taught us to seek

to read the signs of the times, Father,

as farmers and fisherfolk read the mornings, the evenings, the seasons.

We have come to an early thaw, 

though there is still more winter before us, 

and our apprehension is

that the winter may be hard. 

Yet we are joyous, and our hope is in you.

Lord, teach us the lessons of these times, 

that we may bring forward the things we have learned, 

the things we have gained, the things we have been given,

that we shall need for what lies ahead. 

Why is it, Lord, that the thaw is so much colder 

than what we call “freezing cold”?

Why is the hope of a beyond to the winter

so damp, and half-lit, and uncertain? 

Remind us that hope is real, 

and that hope and faith pull us into the future.

Warm us against the chill of change

with the constancy of your love.

Our churches and congregations are emerging,

bringing with them the lessons they have learned. 

We must learn new lessons now,

not least How To Do This –

and how to do it safely. 

Ropes across pews, 

A4 notices with instructions

where and were not to sit, 

masks, sanitizers, one-way systems – 

these are the signs of love in loving churches,

along with the cheery, encouraging faces 

of teams trained to welcome and care

as well as to regulate, with meticulous love. 

We pray, in love, 

for the world you love,

which Jesus loved unto death, 

even death on a cross. 

We pray for a world so often love-lacking,

In which frustration leads easily to foolish defiance, 

pride to the repudiation of protective masks – 

protective of the other, whose needs are forgotten – 

in which contempt for expert knowledge,

arrogance, and self-assertion fed by fear

lead the easily led, 

like sheep gone astray. 

We seek to pray lovingly

Through our own frustration

for those who see the thaw

as a return to what was, previously. 

Things as they were

were not as you willed them to be.

Things as they were before –

you have given us to see more clearly, 

and many to see for the first time – 

could not, we know, be sustained. 

The other side of this pandemic winter,

give our world to understand, 

they are no more sustainable. 

We take so much forward with us

as your people always do, when you liberate them:

Teach us that newness of thought, 

burnished vision,  a sense that losing things we loved can be, 

sad but not tragedy, not deprivation but disencumbering, 

a lightening of burden for the road ahead. 

Remind us, in this week

that the lectionary invites us, if we use it,

to reflect on the Exodus,

that greater than the treasure the Israelites grabbed

as they left Egypt 

(none of which served them in the desert, 

save providing the gold for the Golden Calf!)

was and is the knowledge gained of you, Lord God:

  • God who sets us free, 
  • God who brings us through all things,
  • God of the Exodus,

and, as you have revealed, 

  • God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead. 

Now we await our liberation.

Now we read the signs, and feel the thaw; 

Lord, let prudence be the sign of our hope,

Caution, our confidence

As we embrace what now begins. 

We know that, for all the raw, chill, exciting thaw

we are not done with this winter yet, 

and what lies ahead will not be simple. 

We pray for our congregations, as their lives unlock

We pray for our communities, as they take stock of what has happened,

And prepare for what lies ahead

We pray for our society, 

amid changes barely known, not understood,

wrought by the times we are passing through.

We pray for Argyll. 

We pray for those whose needs we know…

And those whose needs we cannot know… 

Hear us in the Holy Silence, grounded in the peace the world cannot give…

[Silence] 

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father… 

Lord, let the chill of the times brace us!
Let the rawness of this thawing fill us with hope! 

Energize us to plunge into cold reality,

warmed by the warmth of your love to share!  AMEN

Prayer for 22 July

Hello, everyone

Once again, I’ve been fretting! I fret a lot; it’s the good old Presbyterian principle that if you worry enough, everything will be fine; it’s when you neglect the worrying that things go pear-shaped!

I’ll tell you why I was fretting. I’m always aware that what I am sharing each Wednesday, is to a large extent “the view from here”, and that each of you is in a different place. Inevitably, that’s how things are, and  I think that in some ways, that may have been intensified over the last few weeks, despite the increased closeness many of us feel this pandemic experience has brought us. 

Anyway, from where I am, it seems as though we are further into this strange stage of the journey, in which we are experiencing more freedom, and yet still aware of very significant restriction. I wonder if perhaps this registers in a particular way with us, Christ’s Church, because we are called to live in a freedom that isn’t yet realized in the life of the world. Yet we have been feeling the same confinement as everyone else. 

We seem to agree that our experience has been a very particular mix – of liberation into new forms of Church life combined with intense longing for the resumption of face-to-face community. And we all experience this mix differently! In that sense, there really is only “the view from here”. It really is different for all of us, and for each member of each congregation in the Presbytery. We need to remember this, as our congregations and their Sessions process this changing situation. 

This all makes demands on us, in terms of experiences, and ways of looking at them, that may be very different from our own. We have to work harder, to enter, empathically and imaginatively, into the experience of the other. All around, I seem to pick up signs that we’re doing that. 

But all this also reminds us that our life in the world as Christians, and as the Church, is very much betwixt and between, “this, but also that”.  We are simultaneously “sinners and justified” as Martin Luther says; the Kingdom is “already, and not yet”; and now, we are both captives of this situation, and liberated within it – prisoners, you might say, yet simultaneously free. 

That threw me back into thinking of one of my favourite passages from Sunday School on; Paul and Silas, in prison, when an earthquake rocks the jail, the doors of the cells are open – and they don’t move! Captives in a cell, they don’t need to stage a jail-break to gain their freedom. They were as free before the doors creaked open as they are now.

It’s been at the back of my mind since lockdown began. It isn’t a slick or easy story to interpret, though. So I thought I’d tackle it with you this week. This really is, then, “the view from here”. I hope, though, that you may find it useful, and that it works as a suggested focus for our shared prayer this week. 

Yours in the Adventure of Christ, 

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Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me free. 

(Literally: “Out of a narrow place, I called on the Lord

The Lord responded to me, and put me in a wide place.”) Psalm 118 verse 5

But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and every one’s fetters were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Acts 16:25-28

(i) 

Doors swing open,

And we realize that we were never constrained;

fetters fall away, 

and we grasp that we are not captive,

breadth and spaciousness invite us out,

In you, we are free. 

This is our faith. 

Yet, Lord, we confess,

that with us, things are never that simple. 

Over these days and months, 

our experience has been bafflingly many-sided, 

sometimes full of surprising reassurance, 

sometimes profoundly challenging. 

We have known your liberating presence,

yet we have not always felt free. 

We are uneasy, and we reproach ourselves. 

Should we not expect this, Lord?

In our lives in the world, hour by hour, day by day,

Do we not always know your freedom

Along with constraint? 

Do we not always know your liberation

as both present, and promised,

promised, yet present? 

(ii)

We reflect on Paul and Silas, 

And the pattern of faith in their story; 

how, no longer locked down, but set free, 

in the narrow confines of their cell,

they lived the unlimited breadth of faith. 

When the ground shook, and the doors opened,

they accepted the captivity of the prison, 

and stayed, and sat with the prisoners,

and sang. 

We ask: is this our task, Lord, 

our calling as Church and Presbytery, 

and in each congregation, 

in Argyll? 

Are we to rejoice, and sing our freedom, 

So that our neighbours can hear, and have hope? 

We live among people who need to hear 

our songs, and our singing. 

We live among people 

who will still live – as we will – in the aftermath of this,

when containment 

has become suppression, 

has become elimination,

and yet, the world will have changed. 

They will live with increased unemployment, 

insecurity in their businesses, 

stretched income, stretched resources,

unresolved grief, 

and the shock that this could happen

in a world they thought they knew. 

How shall we sing with them,

How shall we sing freedom, God’s liberation, to them, 

If we do not admit that we share their constraint?

If we do not sit with them in their imprisonment? 

We pray for them. 

________________________________________________________________

We keep a time of silent prayer

________________________________________________________________

(iii)

We pray for our Presbytery:

for each other simply as sisters and brothers in Christ;

for our office-bearers, and conveners, and the ongoing work of committees;

for those areas of the life of our Court – your Court –

which are frustrated and frustrating in this strangeness. 

(iv)

We pray for our congregations. 

We shall not sing together for a while. 

For now we must sing in the safety of our homes.  

How symbolic this is, Lord. 

We pray, each of us, for our own congregations, 

the faces we know, the presences we miss 

As a Presbytery, we pray 

For our congregations, all of them, together.

We pray for them in the frustrations they feel, 

and the anxieties they have,

the longing to return, and the trepidation at the thought. 

We pray for Ministers, Interim Moderators, Sessions, 

ministering, mediating, listening and leading. 

We pray that your people may know

the breadth of life that is ours, in you,

amid the still narrow living of pandemic caution. 

We pray for our church, for all the churches, and the whole Church on earth. 

We pray with the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

Together, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father…

_______________________________________________________________

We emerge. We are brought out. 

And this is our experience of you, 

God of the Exodus, God of the Exiles, 

God of the Resurrection,

God of our liberation, in Christ. 

This is what you do. This is how we know you. 

You set us free. 

Is this not what Paul and Silas sang 

to the prisoners in their captivity, 

And made it no captivity at all? 

AMEN

Prayer for 15 July

Hello everyone,

It’s odd the things that suddenly strike you, and lodge in your thoughts.

I’m going to have to begin poignantly. This week, along with cautious, and sometimes incautious, hope as the pandemic regimes have begun to change and ease, I have been beginning to hear the stories of the hardships ahead for local businesses, of the blows that are only now falling on some of them, and of the deep anxieties of their owners and employees. Some of these businesses will not survive.

We need to put that in context, of course; communities are certainly rallying round “their” businesses in a way that is touching, but also, for us, a concern and – let’s use the word! – love, that reflects the love of God.

But all the context in the world doesn’t take away the fact that this is an area in which people are deeply anxious, and suffering, within our pastoral sphere, and that of our congregations. Some worst fears will inevitably be borne out. How can we be there for these folk, our neighbours, our sisters and brothers in Christ? The only starting-point I can think to offer is that we need to be radically sensitized to their circumstances – to what it’s like to be them.

The second thing that struck me was the news that Alison Hay is back from furlough, which inevitably had me thinking of Kenny Wilson, whose furlough is continuing. We give thanks for them both.

However, that word “furlough” also prompted me to think.

A Presbytery isn’t a business. I’ve always felt very blessed to be in a Presbytery that has such a firm grasp of its spiritual function, the service of the Body of Christ. Before anything else, that’s what we are called to do, and be.

That said, much of what we do, we actually call “business”. We plan, we strategize – we agonize! We have multiple responsibilities, we have big challenges, which are much bigger now. We don’t know what the future holds. We know that next year will be much more daunting than this.

I’m not going to tell you that nevertheless, we are full of hope, and joy, and a sense of facing all this in the strength that God gives. You already know that! (Actually, as you see, I did mention it, and I hope that cheers you!)

I want, instead, to suggest that our challenges, the pressures and uncertainties we are coping with, the way we have to respond to our calling – to enable the witness of the Church to continue and flourish in Argyll in the face of increasingly materially adverse conditions – might just be a point of contact with the shops, guest-houses, small businesses, employees and employers of Argyll.

Maybe it’s this dimension of our life and work, where the pressures on us are most like the pressures on them, that we can imagine, and be sensitized to, the anxieties and worries they have. Maybe it’s by dwelling on these things that we can come closer to them in prayer and service.

That’s what suggested to me the focus of our prayers this week.

I digress to remark that I’d wondered about experimenting with the way I sign off; I picked up “Yours in the Adventure of Christ” from an acquaintance I admired, and it’s  a formulation I liked – but I wondered if some of you found it a bit twee! I cast about a bit, but thought “Your Moderator and Friend” sounded like a wind-up! In any case, our journey with Christ is, and should be, an adventure, so I’ll keep it the way it is! I just wanted you to know that I do think about these things…

Yours in the Adventure of Christ,


Owain


I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, and the LORD took me from following the flock… Amos 7:14-15

And because he was of the same trade he stayed with them, and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers. Acts.18: 3

Is not this the carpenter…? Mark.6:3

[T]he members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it 1 Corinthians 12:25-7

Sensitize us to our calling, Lord of wholeness, Lord of shalom.
Sensitize us to our calling to be the sensitive Body of Christ,
Full of feeling, each for the other,
With love the nerves and synapses of our belonging
As members of each other
As members of the Body.

Forgive us, where we have not felt,
Forgive us where our self-centredness
Our concentration on what touches us alone
Has rendered us numb and unfeeling.

We seek to be your Church.
We seek to be a Presbytery bound together in belonging, in supporting, sustaining,
feeling, understanding, anticipating;
we thank you for all those ways in which you have grown these things
among us.
You are at work, within us and among us;
We are a work-in-progress,
But we are the Spirit’s work in progress.

Sensitize us to our calling, Lord of wholeness, Lord of shalom.
Sensitize us to our calling to be the sensitive Body of Christ.

Sensitize us to each other, but sensitize us, too,
to the flock Christ has given to us to shepherd and call,
within and beyond the Church, but not beyond our bounds,
and never beyond the bounds of God’s love.

We pray for the working life of our communities, and the economy of Argyll,
And we ask, make our microcosmic prayers, for what and whom we know
Into macrocosmic prayer for a world in pandemic crisis.

Silence

We pray for those whose livelihoods lie in welcoming,
Who wait to see if guests, visitors, holiday-makers
Will come.
We pray for those whose working lives
are in hosting, entertaining, catering for those who celebrate –
or just say, on a whim, “Let’s eat out this evening…”
We warm to the solidarity of those who will now do that
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray for shops and outlets
Kept going by home deliveries,
and the new loyalties, and old loyalties
expressed in new ways
“To support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray in gratitude for all those
who will now buy their groceries lovingly, caringly,
Locally…
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
To support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We pray for all those whose businesses,
Supported in this way,
Will pull through.
We pray for those whose businesses will not.

Silence

And we pray for the congregations within the bounds – our congregations –
whose life is not bounded by the walls of the kirk,
As they, too, strive
“to support local businesses”, “to support the community”,
to support the people we know.”
Where there is love, there God is.

We are your Church,
and pointing to that love which is the sign of your presence
where people live their lives,
is our business.

You make our business, Lord, to be
The business of real life, in the real world.
We are the living body of Christ.
but we are also, incidentally – and not so incidentally –
an institution.
we, your Presbytery of Argyll, know this so well.

As we cope with the challenges yet to come,
And come they will, down the road we must now travel,
Let our experiences sensitize us to theirs –
The people in the communities within our bounds,
Who must make their living by organising, managing, planning,
Coping where plans are mocked by COVID-19,
Employing, and caring about those they employ,
seeing and feeling and sharing their humanity…

The very things we do…

We pray for ourselves as on organization, as part of an institution,
a Court of decision, and planning, and strategic responsibility,
And we pray:
that these dimensions of our life and work be always in the service of the Body- that we always “discern the Body” –
and that we understand it all as a spiritual task, and rejoice in the business you give us.

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray:

Our Father…

Prayer for 1 July

Hello, everyone

Once again, we come to our shared time of prayer, and we come with a palpable sense of movement, which we share with the whole of Scottish society, as the regulation, discipline and expectations placed on every individual begin to change, and – it’s difficult to escape icy metaphors, isn’t it? – a thaw sets in. 

As I finish this note to you off, a virtual – and very real – meeting of the Business Committee is about to start. The work of processing and applying the information and advice on emerging into new phases of this evolving pandemic – the collective leadership we offer – is  already begun, and being shaped.

Our congregations, and especially their Sessions, within the bounds look to the Presbytery both for guidance and also for reinforcement. Decisions they will take, framed by our own decisions as a court, will be grounded in their own perceptions of where their members, and their communities are – and will inevitably be second-guessed! We will need to “have their backs”, as the Americans say. 

We have reached a point when the demands and expectations on us are about to multiply, whether what lies ahead of us is a best-case or worst-case scenario, or, more likely, something in between. And we know what we pray for! It seems to me that our job, now, is to nurture hope, to bind wounds, to shape expectations, and to be realistic and responsible. And yet again, I’m aware that I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. 

It seems appropriate to use our time in shared prayer (about eight and a half minutes, on average, according to YouTube!) this week reflecting on the work before us, and asking for strength and vision to do it. 

Yet again, these prayers are offered to gather together what we know and offer that to God, to draw us into shared and individual reflection on where we are, what it means, and where we may be being called to go. They reflect my own uncertainty, and need.

And they are to enable us to pray for each other, and know that we are prayed for by each other. Use the time – mid-day on Wednesday; use the words if they help – if not, use others! But pray…

Yours in the adventure of Christ, 

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But this I call to mind,

and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning;

great is thy faithfulness.

“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,

“therefore I will hope in him.”

The LORD is good to those who wait for him,

to the soul that seeks him.

It is good that one should wait quietly

for the salvation of the LORD. (Lamentations 3:21-26) 

Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. (Isaiah 55:33) 

For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24-5)

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed… (Romans 13:11) 

i) Our Calling

Loving God, 

we are your Church, to your glory, and for the world! 

That is our calling, nothing less.

There is the shape of our faith – 

that Jesus calls us to live in the world: 

  • that where we cannot see, we ask, and are guided; 
  • that where we do not know the day, or the hour, we know you, and trust in you, and have hope;

So we, your Church wait: 

  • patiently, with an impatient world
  • impatiently and actively for the coming of your kingdom 
  • waiting for the doing of your loving will

on earth, as it is in heaven.

ii) Our Situation and Society’s

And we have waited, with our communities, and our whole, impatient society.

and there are those who have found this waiting hard, 

and waiting like this – this lockdown – almost unendurable. 

For those shielding, and those shielding them; 

For those who have found it so difficult to go out 

When going out, for them, was always with friends,,

Or to go to friends or family, 

Or to go out, and away from the regularity of life

For a day out. 

For those who long to worship in the community of their congregation again…

Lord, hear our prayer.

For our society, in its duress and frustration,

its anticipation of the easing of restrictions, 

and its impetuous urge, not  always mastered

to push ahead, seeking something that might be normal,

terrified of the certainty that things will be different,

yet perhaps ready to embrace radical change to its life,

Lord of hope, let us offer your hope.

_____________________________________________________

iii) For the Church in the World

This week, we pray for ourselves,

not in selfish preoccupation, 

but because we are a Presbytery, with work to do,

leadership to offer, and support and help expected of us. 

We have guidance to assimilate, and to process.

Sessions and congregations looking to us, 

The expectations and apprehensions of our flock – your flock – 

to listen to, attentively and lovingly, 

and shape, according to what we know, 

And what we can only guess at. 

We pray for them… 

We thank you for the work of co-ordinating work of the Business Committee, 

for the work of the Presbytery’s Committees, 

creative and responsive, responsible and expert; 

for Conveners and members, 

for those who offer pastoral care in our name.

We cannot pray for ourselves without praying for each other;

for we together are this Presbytery.

We pray for each other and ourselves

In our shared calling.  

We have in our prayers the churches in the communities within our bounds, 

delighting in their calling, local and universal, 

To be outcrops of the Great Church in the places you have put them, 

and unsure of how to do it in this alien timescape. 

As we ask you to empower us, they seek us to empower them, 

We pray for them…

We have the national leadership of the Church to uphold in prayer, 

the expertise they consult and disseminate to attend to, 

their duty, like ours, of planning for a future different to any we had planned for, 

and which we still cannot imagine. 

We hold them in our prayers. 

And we have the public witness of the Church 

to the Gospel and its hope – 

ourselves, and the congregations 

of all the other traditions within our bounds, all together – 

to attend to: this above all. 

We pray for the unity of our shared witness. 

And we have our pastoral care of each other laid upon us,

the easy yoke and light burden of Jesus, 

in which we delight – for we delight in each other.

We hold each other in our prayers. 

Our prayers for ourselves are prayers for these others. 

Our high privilege is to serve, to enable, to mediate, to lead, to listen.

How can we do any of this without your patient, gentle strength,

the vision you inculcate, 

the impossible possibilities you alone can open? 

Lord, hear us.

Lord, graciously hear us.

_____________________________________________________

iv) From Today Into Tomorrow

As the frozenness of lockdown yields to a thaw,

hope lightens our hearts in new ways. 

“At some point…” has given way to “Soon…” 

And stages and timetables seem now to map our way

And measure society’s journey beyond this strangeness. 

But ours is the responsibility of charting

The Kirk’s journey into Argyll’s altered future. 

We need your wisdom, 

guiding God, pioneering Christ, chaos-shaping Spirit. 

We look always and only to you. 

And as Jesus taught us, so we pray… 

Prayer for 24 June

Hello again, everyone.

As I promised last week, the focus of these prayers will be mental health. I’ve wrestled with them, I can tell you! 

Every Minister, every preacher, with a grain of sense (and even I rise over that very low bar occasionally!) knows that a lot of what he says to a congregation – real or virtual – will be things they already know.

There are, however, bits of what follow that you won’t know – quite a lot of them, actually. 

They’re to do with the thoughts I’ve had, and the places I’ve been, over the last three months, mostly without leaving the Manse! They’re to do with the many conversations I’ve had, and the conversations you’ve had won’t have been the same. 

They’re my thoughts on my experience of others, and what they’ve shared of their experiences, joy and anxiety and pain, consolation and faith and hope. Darkness and light. Light, and, we must also admit, darkness. 

I offer them as my thoughts, so that in agreement, hesitation or disagreement, you can join me in bringing our thoughts, all together, to God. 

I hope that all is well with you; I rejoice and am grateful for, everything I hear of people’s wellness and resilience. But I don’t presume; these things aren’t virtues, as much unfortunate talk (“He’s a battler! He’ll come through!” implying that perhaps those who didn’t, weren’t – which is profoundly untrue and hurtful.) 

I don’t presume. So if you’d like to talk, then, like so many others in your lives I hope, I’m here. 

And I know you’re there, and that I’m in your prayers, as you are in mine. 

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PS Once again, I have to conduct a funeral tomorrow, so I shall have record this.

You’ll see the preview of it at 11.45  on the United Church of Bute YouTube Channel. 12 o’clock is still the hour of Presbytery Prayers, of course, and I shall be thinking of you at that point. I will actually be watching, but I can’t guarantee being able to conduct. 

So – another of our COVID-19 virtual ironies – I’ll be in exactly the same position as anyone else using YouTube to frame their prayers!

Leading myself in prayer will be a new experience for me. It’s yet more food for thought…

…and when he came near, he asked him,
“What do you want me to do for you?”
(Luke 18:40-41)

When Jesus saw him and knew that he had been lying there a long time, 

he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?” (John 5:6)

When Jesus heard this, he marvelled at him… (Luke 7:9)

Judge not… (Matthew 7:1)

Even Jesus did not presume.

Even Jesus asked, and attended to what was said,

And what was not… 

Even Jesus listened.

Especially – Jesus listened. 

————————————————-

On the cusp of change,

Possible, actual and prospective,

We take stock of what we have seen,

What we have learned, 

What we may have missed…

In this eerie strangeness, 

you have given your Church so much in which to rejoice. 

There have been good things, wonderful things – 

but things have not “been wonderful.”

We have been surprised by joy – 

but all has not been joy. 

You are the God of Truth, ALL truth

and we are chronic simplifiers.

Shrinking complexity to comfortable size. 

Have we denied parts of our own experience,

so that we cannot now see the complexity of others’ experience? 

We think on this.

————————————————-

We pray for our own congregations, our communities, and the people we know, or imagine we do:

  • for those who are faring well, and finding new things to do, and rediscovering old projects and pleasures, and doing well in this; 
  • for those whose isolation is unprepared-for, new and unsettling;
  • for those whose old isolation has been deepened;
  • for those cut off from the sources of strength embedded in routines now disrupted;
  • for those who mourn.

We pray for those who wrestle with things we cannot imagine,

situations expertly hidden through long practice,

whose lives are complicated by these times in ways we cannot imagine,

And who will live with these intensifications now.

We pray for those who have been thrown into strange, difficult places

by these strange, difficult times, 

and for those who sit with them and live with them. 

————————————————-

We pray for our communities,

Always, but especially now. 

and especially those who attend to their mental health: 

psychiatrists, psychologists and Community Psychiatric Nurses, 

and especially, within our bounds,

Argyll and Bute Council Social Work Department,

the Mental Health team, 

counsellors, GPs, volunteers, friends and neighbours –

us, if you open our minds and souls… 

Loving God, we come with a list!

  • Not a list of demands; 
  • Not a tick-list to simplify prayer;
  • Not, certainly, an exhaustive list;
  • Not a list to run through, once.

A tally of care, and also of need. 

We pray for those who work for, and whose lives are touched by: 

  • The Scottish Association for Mental Health
  • Support in Mind Scotland
  • Penumbra – Supporting Scotland’s Mental Health
  • CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably)
  • National Schizophrenic Fellowship (Scotland)
  • Bipolar Fellowship Scotland
  • Action on Depression
  • The Samaritans
  • The Listening Service
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • SFAD – Scottish Families affected by Alcohol and Drugs
  • Mind Infoline
  • Rape Crisis Scotland
  • Scottish Women’s Aid
  • SANE
  • No Panic
  • Anxiety UK
  • OCD Action
  • Hearing Voices

Where these have been just names for us –

Lead us into deeper understanding;

Let Google inform us

Compassion drive us,

And our prayers support them. 

————————————————-

And we pray: 

Keep us from feeling sympathy for others. 

Guard us from “imagining how they feel”

And above all, imagining that we know – 

so that we can listen 

           to the voice beneath the voice,

                   attend to the subtle, contradicting signals –

be truly present to them,

         as Jesus was truly present to the needs

                 of those among whom he walked:

as Christ is truly present to our needs, 

           among whom, and with whom, he stands. 

Take away our sympathy. Give us empathy, 

the attuned, enfleshed, 

incarnate knowing – 

not “what it’s like for them”

but what it’s like, to be like them.

Remind us that this is what Jesus knew.

Even Jesus did not presume.

Even Jesus asked, and attended to what was said,

And what was not… 

Even Jesus listened.

Especially – Jesus listened. 

Teach us to ask, to listen and to learn,

As Jesus did.

And as Jesus taught us, we pray…  Our Father… 

Prayer for 17 June

Dear Friends

Off to do shopping in a minute. Note to self: we need a 150 watt equivalent bulb… I’ve been thinking a lot about light this week!

We human beings understand our existence in terms of patterns. 

Scripture is the interface, the place-of-meeting, between human experience of life in the world, and God-given human experience of God (revelation, if you like). 

So it’s also a place where those patterns are made to stand out so that we can see them clearly. 

One of the deepest, most ingrained, of these patterns is the sense of movement that we call “hope.” It isn’t just our need for reassurance projected onto a cold, unfeeling world. It’s our knowledge of God through God’s dealings with God’s people, reflected in Scripture and offered to the world through us, Christ’s Church. 

It’s to do with what God’s like. 

We human beings are tremendously aware of the difference between light and darkness. It’s to do in large part with the way in which we’re made. We don’t have eyes which see well at night. And we don’t have radar, like bats! 

The darkness hides things from us, more than it does from owls, or other nocturnal animals. Night, the coming of darkness, is a time of withdrawing from a hostile world we no longer understand. 

And it’s the time of dreams, when our minds try to process the experiences of the day, sometimes in bizarre and frightening ways. Yet, if things trouble us, we “sleep on them”, and can find that we are offered wisdom and understanding in the morning.

There are religious traditions which understand light and darkness, goodness and evil, as in an eternal balance. Ours absolutely doesn’t.

The Judaeo-Christian tradition clothes its understanding in the only language that really works, drawn from our poor eyesight and our sleep-patterns and brainwave activity, of light and darkness, and tells us:

“And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day…” NOT the other way round.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning.” 

But this is truth, not just metaphor. God, who is love, is light. In Jesus, the light indeed comes into the world. 

Because that’s what we are led to know about God. It comes out of the experience of God’s people with God.

That’s how we can stand, socially distanced from our neighbours, and shout across the fence, or the road, in bright mid-day sunlight:

“There may be some more dark days ahead, but maybe we can see some light at last…” 

We’re in times when nobody can see much, shapes of things we can’t quite make out disturb us, and we’re processing thoughts that we can’t make sense of. 

And in the most literal way, we have had to withdraw from a world we can’t, for the moment, function entirely safely in. And it’s the same for everyone. 

But what’s different for us is the pattern we are offered to see in this. It’s the way Scripture, and faith, and, ultimately God in Jesus Christ, organizes our experience. Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes with the morning. 

And it’s our job, as the congregations – the parish churches – of this Presbytery and as their members, to live out this faith and this hope for our neighbours and communities. 

The morning may be some way off. The new day will contain challenges of its own. But we shall see more, and we shall understand better. 

That’s what keeps me going! 

We sometimes say – and maybe, God forgive us, with a of hint un-Christlike superiority – “I don’t know how people cope without faith…” 

Well, it’s our job, as the “church of the people who don’t go to church”, to live out that faith, in simple hope, especially at a time like this. God strengthen us all – and give us joy – to do that!

Yours in the Adventure of Christ, 

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God willing, I’ll be offering these prayers in a live-stream at mid-day on Wednesday. If it’s helpful to join me, please do. You’ll find the live-stream on the YouTube United Church of Bute channel, where Presbytery stuff is hosted at the moment. We’ll let you know of any change in these arrangements.

By the way – for those of you who noted that Sibyl’s readings were hard to hear at the Presbytery Online Meeting, we’ve corrected that. The problem was that the laptop mic is highly directional. (There’s a sermon lurking in there, somewhere!) 

The people who sat in darkness

have seen a great light,

and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death

light has dawned. (Matt.4:1) 

[T]he day shall dawn upon us from on high

to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace. (Luke 1:78-79)

For you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. (1 Thessalonians 5:5)

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It is our calling, and our joy, Father of Light, 

To walk in your light.

We live, not in a gridlocked universe, 

Where light and darkness tussle and supplant each other endlessly, 

And nothing goes anywhere. 

Faith grasps the movement from all things

From darkness into your light. 

Ground us now, in these deep patterns of faith. 

John announces the coming of Jesus, 

Which his father proclaimed over him at his birth

“You will go before the Lord to prepare his ways…

when the day shall dawn upon us from on high.”

Jesus comes, and with him the Kingdom breaks in. 

Christ died,

Christ is risen

Christ will come again.

The defeated night loses ground.

Yet we still live in the darkness, 

As the people of the dawn. 

This is the raw material, 

The DNA, of our faith. 

We pray for those around us, 

In this time of pandemic, 

For whom the darkness

Is a close-woven fabric of anxiety and uncertainty. 

We know, and feel, and register

These things too. 

We pray for those who chafe at restrictions, 

Those who find confinement to their homes frustrating, 

Socially-distanced queues strange and unsettling, 

Even after all this time. 

We have felt all these things.

We share the joy, too, 

That the lifting of restrictions brings.

We rejoice to travel short distances, 

To be with people we love, 

Even if the rules we must obey remind us

That the night, far spent, is not yet by. 

We remember those for whom the easing of restrictions

Highlights their grief, that it should have happened then, or now,

When the rites of loss are so truncated. 

Strengthen us, your congregations

To keep our promise, when the times permit,

That communities may remember, and give thanks together

For those who have died when this could not be done. 

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In other words, Lord, we pray

For people just like us – the people we know so well,

Because we live among them, our friends and neighbours. 

They are our communities. 

And we are their church. 

We know that in the darkness

We seize on every glimmer of light, 

Because we human beings

Are reassured by as little as the burning of a match

When there is nothing else. 

But for us, in faith, you make the glimmers

More than “light at the end of the tunnel.”

They are the promise of a new day. 

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We pray for our politicians and leaders,

And the whole political process –

“That it may generate light, not heat”

Is the old platitude, Lord, we know – 

But now it is light that we need. 

Guard them from the seeking of advantage, 

And the playing of old games,

That their leadership, 

and their questioning of leadership’s direction, 

Their formulation of policy 

and their interrogation of policy,

May always be grounded in truth, 

and concern for the well-being of all. 

We pray for the press, in their high calling

Of seeking the truth by the shining of its light

In rigorous and proper scrutiny. 

We pray for the General Assembly that never fully happened, 

Its Commission, and its Moderator, 

Who embody its ongoing work

And the momentum of its predecessors’ work,

As they have sought to bring light to our work,

And move us out into a new day. 

We pray for boldness to emerge into a dawn that will be strange, 

Full of challenges, even beyond what we could have imagined

When the Radical Action Plan was conceived.

We pray for our Presbytery’s role in this, 

And that our planning and thinking be grounded

In hope, in light, in faith and in prayer. 

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We may keep a brief silence at this point, and pray silently, once again, for those who care for others, serve society, and work to overcome the pandemic. 

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And as Jesus taught us, so we pray: Our Father…