God with Us

Christmas Day - Tate panel

Christmas Day

25 December 2017

The big day is here at last – a time to celebrate because God is with us. He is with us as we share this day with family and friends, in the fun and the food and the giving of presents. He is with us too if today is not such a happy day – if it brings back sad memories or we are spending it alone. Because we know that he came to be with us no matter what: becoming one of us meant sharing both our joys and our sorrows.

Many thanks to all those who have contributed so thoughtfully over the last few weeks to our Advent blog. We have explored some of the different ways in which we listen, watch and wait for God in prayer. I hope the very varied entries have given you some new insights and helped you to prepare prayerfully for Christmas. As Archbishop Justin, who launched the #Godwithus Advent journey, put it:

‘My prayer is that these reflections help you unwrap in your own life God’s gifts of peace, hope and love. May your Christmas journey lead you closer not just to the heart of Christmas, but to the person of Jesus whose birth we celebrate in this wonderful season.’

A very happy Christmas!

Sophia Acland

Advertisements

God with Us: Waiting

Waiting 5 crib

Waiting 5

22 December 2017

Waiting by Tilly Lawley, 11yrs

Mary and Joseph,
In a stable,
Would they be able?
Waiting.

Shepherds in a field,
Saw an angel,
To God they are faithful,
Waiting.

Three wise men,
Looking for a shining star,
On camels from afar,
Waiting.

Families and friends,
Presents and snow.
All of them, all of us,
Waiting. Waiting for Jesus.

God with Us: Waiting

Waiting 4 brass rubbing 4

Waiting 4

21 December 2017

I was planting daffodil bulbs one afternoon in mid November. I knew I would not see them in flower until March at least. From January, there will come eager little shoots which grow infinitesimally but surely each day as I watch, entranced. The buds will appear, opening little by little until the final glory of the open flower. This is, to me, a metaphor for the season of Advent. And I am happy to wait.

By coincidence, that very day in November, I was also leading Intercessions at Church. It was only when I was out in the garden planting my daffodils that I realised that for some time I have not included a prayer for the alleviation of anxiety. Like many people, I suffer from it periodically, and I had quite a severe bout following a mystery illness I had picked up in Africa. And for many of my turns at intercessions, I would include the same prayer, asking for healing for those who suffer anxiety of any kind. I somewhat sheepishly hoped that no-one would notice I had prayed for this last time! And perhaps the time before. But during that mid-November afternoon, I suddenly saw that my prayer had been answered. I realised I had not even included it that morning or the couple of times earlier this year. It comes and goes of course, but I have noticed a healing force and a wonderful alleviation of that low level, sometimes obsessive, gnawing, panic which is called anxiety, and which can cripple one’s life.

So that afternoon, among the daffodils, I suddenly realised that my prayer had been answered.

Kate Price

God with Us: Waiting

Waiting 3 benalius 3

Waiting 3

20 December 2017

1 Corinthians 13: 11 Curiosity killed Santa Claus

Many, many moons ago, a heated pre-Christmas argument between three 7 year olds erupted. The conundrum: whether Santa Claus really exists.

With conviction I said “yes, yes”. The unbeliever said, “nah, nah”. In my head, “I shall prove you all wrong”.

Christmas Eve came. Telling no one, I hung a pair of my father’s socks on the clothes line outside, agog with excitement for presents I was sure I was going to get. I was sure I even heard the reindeer’s sleighs and the ‘Ho, Ho, Ho’!

Christmas morning came. Nothing but a pair of empty socks flapping in the air! Sadness: disappointment ,anger: parental mistrust and loss of innocence all in a pair of empty socks.

Now I am an adult, Christmas is not only a good excuse for fun and to get together with friends and family, but also a time for reflection, and to pray for peace and love for all the peoples of the world.

May your world be filled with warmth and good cheer this Holy season and throughout the year. MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Regina Haynes

God with Us: Waiting

Waiting 2 prayer board

Waiting 2

19 December 2017

Advent is the time of expectant waiting, remembering the time of waiting before the birth of Jesus and that time of waiting in the Bible when people were longing for something that would change everything.

No one likes to wait. The very word suggests a lack or emptiness which is hard to endure. Prayer too, can sometimes feel like an emptiness of waiting for an answer from God. As the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing says “God is your being and what you are, you are in God”. Union with God is not something to be acquired but realised, God is not absent from us though we are often inclined to feel a distance or absence.

Prayer can seem like asking and waiting for answers, but the waiting can feel less empty if prayer is simply a “being with”, in the same way in which a friendship develops to the point where we do not need to keep talking. If it happens that, the quietude of silent prayer is overwhelmed by the anxieties of the day, then prayer as a “being with” can be just like holding out an empty hand, waiting to be filled with what God has to give.

Brother Roger of Taizé said in his prayer:

“You were in my heart of hearts and I was looking for you elsewhere, when I kept myself far from you, you were waiting for me”.

This reminds us that whilst we seek God’s presence in the lonely places deep within us, God never stops searching for all who have distanced themselves from him.

Advent reminds us how to wait, and prepare ourselves to welcome, by simply and silently “being with” a God who is close, present and dwelling within.

Helga Rapur

God with Us: Waiting

Waiting 1 Poperinghe

Waiting 1

18 December 2017

London Waiting

It may be the festive season, but the focus of this time of year tends to be Christmas Day, whether you’re celebrating the religious aspect or not.

December 25th is the day you wait for – whether you’re a hardened atheist looking forward to receiving gifts or having a day off work, or if you’re devout and keen to celebrate the birth of Jesus by attending Mass on Christmas morning, the seconds tick by at the same pace as you wait for the day to dawn.

For many of us, and particularly in a fiercely modern city like London, we’re almost unaccustomed to having to wait for things (okay, perhaps travelling’s an exception here too), as we’re either physically close to things (shops and cinemas bringing us items for digesting and distracting), or the always-on ever-present phone lines and internet mean that you can order food directly to your door or a film straight to your TV or phone. But time’s one of those pesky universal constants, and we each move toward Christmas Day at the same pace – for all of us, it begins as the clock hands roll past midnight on the twenty-fifth day of December, and no one of us will arrive there any sooner than anyone else.

And whilst there’s that sense that the main event is tantalisingly close and yet we have to wait for it, perhaps the journey to Christmas Day is as important as the arrival; it’s a season, not just one day, and in the same way that we can use the days onwards of December 25th to reflect, perhaps we can also use the days of Advent to actively, and deliberately, wait, with a sense of our progression through time towards the key date.

We aren’t often called upon to wait for things these days, and whilst it’s often said that time waits for no one, at this time of year we’re all called upon to wait for God.

John Soanes

God with Us: Watching

Watching 5 disciples 3

Watching 5

15 December 2017

It strikes me that there is a lot more watching than speaking in the Christmas story. When the Word is made flesh, actual human words are lost in awe. A tiny speechless baby, bathed in heavenly light, is the focus of most nativity scenes, with his parents, the shepherds and the animals all gazing on in silent wonder. It’s as if words would be superfluous, a distraction from something that is beyond mere speech.

I often feel closest to God when I see beauty, whether it’s (as recently) the Cotswolds under new snow with every tiny twig defined in sparkling white, or London from the river by night, or a cherry tree in springtime in full, perfect blossom. But I know I need to look for God in other places too, perhaps less obvious. In the ordination service, priests are told that (among other things) they are to ‘watch for the signs of God’s new creation’. These signs may be subtle, and require us to be attentive, to be on the lookout for God on the move: God acting through some person or in some new situation.

And I know too I need to look for the face of God in other people, especially those who can most easily pass unnoticed. As Pope Francis put it, “Each one of us is invited to recognise in the fragile human being the face of Jesus who, in his human flesh, experienced the indifference and loneliness to which we often condemn the poorest.” It’s so easy to hurry past the homeless person or the Big Issue seller as I rush, late, to an appointment, or to bin some of the seemingly endless requests from charities that come through the letterbox at this busy time of year. I’m trying to learn to look more closely, and to look longer.

Sophia Acland

God with Us: Watching

Watching 4 Madonna and child window

Watching 4

14 December 2017

….Who’s watching who?

What does watching mean to us? Watching requires observation and observance, implies scrutiny with balance and fairness, careful appraisal, seeking out imperfections or recognizing leadership, enhanced skill or talent or beauty. It celebrates heightened regard, a sense of awe, or a supreme hallowed being, but can lead to judgment and condemnation.

We watch each other, shortcomings, bargains, being short-changed; the “Bottom line”, fair play; we watch our relationships, our money, time, the right opportunity and disputes which can trip us up. We seek contentment, but it isn’t a destination – it’s something we should practice every day, using the experiences that teach us. St. Paul said, ‘Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content’ (Philippians 4:11 NKJV). How do we find it? Here’s how: watch for its glow; seek it with all the passion we can apply; address only the day’s troubles for each day ….and simplify our life.

Sometimes, the dips in the road hit us hard, seemingly without end. The Scriptures will help us as we stumble… “Don’t be impatient for the Lord to act! Keep travelling steadily along his pathway and in due season he will honour you with every blessing.” To rise up, we have to inspire others with our vision and transfer it to them. With the right people involved, plus the blessing of the Lord, we can accomplish more than we ever dreamed possible, “We are labourers together” (1. Corinthians 3:9).

We embrace Advent to celebrate it and measure our own performance by it. It is the anniversary of the most momentous time in history, when God chose to confine his Divine Being into the form of his creation – Man. We must look to ourselves, to define and refine the choices we have made previously and those we will make henceforth. CS Lewis reminds us, “There’s a choice we have to make in everything we do. We have to keep in mind that in the end, the choice each of us makes…. makes us.’

God is watching us. His love flows from a single source. Are we watching ourselves and how we can help each other and….. are we listening?

Aubyn Marath

God with Us: Watching

Watching 3 banner pic 1

Watching 3

13 December 2017

It’s not always easy finding time for prayer. Three hours of commuting, lunch at the desk, family life, coupled with a lack of peaceful places, make it difficult to find the opportunity or the venue. Sometimes the train can be OK, in between announcements telling me what I already know, sometimes it doesn’t really work. I have always enjoyed making part of my commute on foot, taking the opportunity to watch out for, and give thanks for the beauties of creation. Sometimes a walk from Waterloo to the City seems to only offer up the works of man. Many of these are things of beauty, from the majesty of St Paul’s dome, to the space age sweep of the Millennium Bridge, and I give thanks for the God given talent of their creators. On a good day, however, the pure beauty of creation can still be seen through the concrete and steel. You can see sunrises and sunsets, sunlight on water, ethereal mist and fog rolling up from the sea and on a really good day a rainbow. There are birds to be seen too, from pigeons, to gulls on the foreshore at low tide, to cormorants on the pontoons and pilings by the Tower. I have seen a duck alighted on Tower Bridge, and even a slightly confused looking goose outside City Hall. A walk along the Thames always leaves me feeling happy and grateful for God’s generosity. It doesn’t make a perfect prayer, but it’s usually not bad.

Graham Rosser

God with Us: Watching

tower hill madonna 1

Watching 2

12 December 2017

Ubi Caritas, Deus Ibi Est

• He still had his job at the bakers when he was arrested by immigration enforcement and locked up in a detention centre. He was from Bulgaria and was caught sleeping in the back of his van – allegedly a breach of his freedom of movement treaty rights as an EU national.

• She had a miscarriage while sleeping rough under the A40 near Edgware Road. The authorities knew about her situation – and a safeguarding alert had been raised – but she was from Romania so there was no accommodation for her.

• And what about the man sleeping in the doorway – clearly distressed – completely let down by mental health services. (someone’s brother or someone’s dad)

• And the fear – and tears – in the eyes of the woman who begs for a place in the night shelter having spent another night traveling around London on a bus. Evicted by her landlord after increasing the rent beyond her means.

I’ve been working with homeless people and refugees for exactly thirty years now. Sometimes I feel a bit overwhelmed by all the injustice and cruelty, the madness and despair, out there in the darkness. Where is God in all this?

But I do see God. We can catch glimpses of his Kingdom. The migrant centre at my church in Stoke Newington. The day centre where I work in Marylebone. The volunteers at the Wednesday night soup kitchen in West Hackney. These are communities of love and respect. Special places and moments in the week where people are affirmed and there is hope. These are the places where I see God. Good people, volunteers, kindness. Places of light and hope. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Mark Palframan