Mary be a mother to me now

Father, may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word, Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is such a blessing that we are able to be together physically as the church reopens its doors today. Part of Mothering Sunday tradition actually involves people going back to their mother church, the place where they were baptised. And here we are today stepping back into that old tradition sharing in the mothering embrace of this church family.

There are many bible readings set today to choose from. The two Old Testament readings show us the act of giving away of part of ourselves, Moses being put in the basket, Hannah giving her son to the Lord, and in the Gospel Jesus giving His Mother to the disciple whom he loved.

I wanted us to think about these images today. That the church is showing us that part of loving others involves giving a part of ourselves away.

Jesus mother Mary is often described as the church, who held Jesus within her womb, and offered him up for the mission that was entrusted to him. I always like to remember that Mary had the courage and strength to not take her baby and run and hide with him somewhere, after hearing all the prophecies about the suffering she will feel, she kept on mothering him faithfully.

The church is the place where we offer ourselves to the Lord, it is a place that holds us and helps us to step forward and keep walking forward in our discipleship. As Jesus gave his mother to the disciple John, she is given to us also, a mother when we most need a mother, when perhaps we have not had one, where we miss the presence of a mother, through grief, through estrangement, through other difficulties that life has presented.

My most powerful prayer in these times is one from St Teresa of Calcutta, Mary, Mother of Jesus, be Mother to me now, I recommend this simple prayer in times of challenge, that tucks us up in a blanket of hope.

Talking about blankets makes me think of wings.

One of my favourite images of the mothering love of the church and Jesus is not in the lectionary today but it is in the gospel of Matthew. Jesus speaks of his longing to gather up his people like A hen gathering its brood under its wings. Imagine each and every one of you being snuggled up under the warm and protecting mothering love of God. And that He longs to gather you all up, he desires us and calls so much to feel that love.

If you look under your chair there will be a little chick.

When you come up for communion or a blessing I would like you to bring all your feelings about this Mothering Sunday with you. Good, bad, sad, confused, upset, anger, disappointment, fear, hurt, I want you to bring it all up and place the chick into the nest with this cuddly hen.

Because I want you all to remember that there is always a place for every one of you and every thought and feeling you have on this day. Remember that the Father loves you, the Holy Spirit loves you, and Jesus loves you with a mothering love learnt from his own mother, who longs to tuck us in like His own mother did, from His birth in the swaddling clothes, to the cloths that his crucified body is wrapped in in the tomb.

Lord helps us to remember your love today, Mary, Mother of Jesus, be a Mother to us now.

Amen

Dripping from the honeycomb

I adore the psalms. They form the foundation of my prayer life. I enjoy seeing the regular words of each as I cycle through the weeks. Week 4 in my breviary is a particular favourite week of mine.

When I saw the words in the lectionary this morning of psalm 19 the image of dripping honey caught my attention.

There is something moreish and satisfying about seeing something sweet drip, like golden syrup when you make brownies, or honey on your cereal. You just want to stick your finger under it, put it your mouth, and taste it. (Or this could be just me!)

I feel that the psalms are like this, they drip words about God that make us want to come back again and again. Even when the words are challenging, they glisten and we want to be fed more and more.

Another of my favourite lines in the psalms is “O taste and see that the Lord is good” – another image of the dripping honeycomb, and the scrolls that taste sweet in the mouth.

The word and promise of the Lord is sweet and good, it is moreish and irresistible, it glistens in the sun, it drips and moves slowly, calling us to have patience as we receive it – let it move across the tongue awakening the tastebuds and the spreading of joy around the body.

This is the sweetness of lent. In the stripped back nature of this season, and if you like I have given up sweet foods, remember to feed on His word and promise, dripping from the honeycomb, O taste and see that the Lord is good.

Set my bow in the clouds

I have been reminded this week of the promise of love and how powerful that is. I have spoken the words “you are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased” so many times this week. In my sermon today, in the lovely care home service through the week. I feel it is something that we all need to hear.

One of the best pieces of advice I gained from theological college was that we might hear something and take it into our mind, but it is a long journey for it to get to the heart.

I’ve realised how true this can be. How hard it can be sometimes to just sit in love and realise that it is for us.

The reading for today’s Eucharist are beautifully linked by the power of water and God’s love. It reminded me of one night where I saw a rainbow around the moon, a moonbow so to say. A brilliant multicoloured halo of light shining brightly like nothing I had seen before.

This made me think that if we treated each proclamation of love as something we had never seen before, perhaps we would realise how special and beautiful it is – and that our hearts would start to listen!

I often wonder if there was a rainbow seen in the spray of water that came off Jesus when He was Baptised. And that same possibility which happened to us on our Baptism, a new life in Jesus sealed by the bow of promise, of love wrapped around us.

Whatever we think, it is a good day to think about that promise of love set over us, you are my son, my daughter, with you I am well pleased.

Follow me

During the last spell of cold weather I noticed an appearance of our resident female pheasant group. They always seem to come out just before the cold weather. When I used to live in Rochdale a sighting of the deer next to my house was always a warning of a cold snap to come.

On this particular morning I looked outside of my bedroom window and there before my eyes were the female pheasants on top of one of my neighbour’s roof. I was astonished about how they got up there I didn’t know they could flap up to such a high place.

Anyway, they were up there and the leader of the group felt it was time to leave the roof and go. She looked around and with an almighty flap she went down. One and by one the others followed her until there was one left.

She looked worried about what the others had just done, yet she could see the rest of the group safe and well and getting ready to move on. I watched her for a while, moving backwards and forwards, looking at the distance, measuring it up, then just as I thought she might not do it, she flapped and landed gracefully on the grass.

Watching the birds made me think of the sudden words of Jesus saying “follow me” to his disciples. We hear of them literally dropping the nets in their hands and walking away, and standing up and leaving the tax collector’s booth, leaving everything behind.

Sometimes we are like the last pheasant, weighing up the risks, whether it is safe, what could happen etc. Yet here in this short sentence “follow me” are the words of life, words that changed the disciples lives and our lives too when we decide to follow.

Perhaps this lent is a chance to remember our promise to follow Jesus, to put down the fear of what may make us hesitate to go, to address the fears within us that keep us at arms length, and to remember we are never too far gone to hear the words “follow me.”

He will say, here I am

Over the past few days I’ve been reminded that it is actually ok to know that God loves me. My Spiritual Director who I adore reminded me of this fact this week. I realised how easy it is to slip into thoughts which tell us that we cannot possibly loved.

In the second lockdown I had this wild idea to put a pond in the garden. I had never done such a thing before but somehow knew that I could do it. So I bought a liner, and set to digging a hole. Anyway in that afternoon the pond was put in – it is only a small thing.

I realised that if I had the confidence to dig up my lawn, to make this hard to disguise hole, why on earth did I not allow myself to dig deep within myself daily and fill inside of me with God’s love?

I had got stuck in a trap thinking that I had to do so many things to make sure that God would love me. If worked more and more, if I continued to take on the lockdowns with a smile, if I didn’t complain…. etc etc

However, to just stop, and call out to Him, to ask for help to see clearly His love, and there just waiting, in the stillness and silence there He was – “Here I am.”

Today, just stop and remind yourself of the most simple truth, that God loves you and that is that. Suddenly all is possible – even putting in a pond.

Choose life

When I moved into my new house the garden needed a little attention. It had overgrown and there seemed to be a forest of weeds at the back.

During the second lockdown I decided to spend an hour a day trying to clear some of them. I remembered that when I put in my statue of Our Blessed Mother Mary she has gestured something about the ground in my prayers.

So I got to it. A combined effort of hacking down the wilderness and digging. There were brambles entwined in bushes and long weeds up to my thighs but slowly and surely I began to see the earth and the edge of my lawn.

I had a wonderful surprise as I walked the garden and found new shoots of flowers that I had not planted all in the places that I had cleared. Secret flowers that I would not have seen. They are so beautiful and freshly green, reflecting a newness of life, so radiant and joyful.

I do not know what flowers they will grow into but I was so glad that I chose to clear the ground, to choose to see what life was beneath.

Moving into lent remind us to choose a life with God, to choose to see His gifts of newness He gives us, and we choose to love everyday. Many things tempt us to respond in bitter ways, to show we are angry, to show we are aggrieved, but if we choose to love, we choose to live a life in its fullness, a life of abundance with God.

His love is like the secret flowers of our hearts, part of the garden of the kingdom that is to come, new shoots of hope and the promise of the fragrance of His presence.

Let us choose life with Him everyday, and choose to love in every way.

Choose life

When I moved into my new house the garden needed a little attention. It has overgrown and there seemed to be a forest of weeds at the back.

During the second lockdown I decided to spend an hour a day trying to clear some of them. I remembered that when I put in my statue of Our Blessed Mother Mary she has gestured something about the ground in my prayers.

So I got to it. A combined effort of hacking down the wilderness and digging. There were brambles entwined in bushes and long weeds up to my thighs but slowly and surely I began to see the earth and the edge of my lawn.

I had a wonderful surprise as I walked the garden and found new shoots of flowers that I had not planted all in the places that I had cleared. Secret flowers that I would not have seen. They are so beautiful and freshly green, reflecting a newness of life, so radiant and joyful.

I do not know what flowers they will grow into but I was so glad that I chose to clear the ground, to choose to see what life was beneath.

Moving into lent remind us to choose a life with God, to choose to see His gifts of newness He gives us, and we choose to love everyday. Many things tempt us to respond in bitter ways, to show we are angry, to show we are aggrieved, but if we choose to love, we choose to live a life in its fullness, a life of abundance with God.

His love is like the secret flowers of our hearts, part of the garden of the kingdom that is to come, new shoots of hope and the promise of the fragrance of His presence.

Let us choose life with Him everyday, and choose to love in every way.

Return to me with all your heart

I go walking with my children at around 4pm every day. This way we can watch the sun start to set and see the landscape start to move under the changing light.

Yesterday it was hazy but the sky did it’s usual dance. We found a new bit of stream to discover and on our way back up from a particularly fun stream-bank jumping session, my youngest daughter spotted a bird swooping over the grass.

We are big nature fans and soon she announced that it was in fact a barn owl. She was correct and there it was with its creamy wide soft wings swooping up and down through the long grass.

It was such a beautiful thing to watch. Especially on the eve of the season of Lent that we step into today.

I’ve always seen Ash Wednesday as the start of an unknown journey where have to turn to the Lord, to know where we are going. The cross on the forehead, or the sprinkling of ashes is the road map for the heart, the direction of where we are now heading. But what we encounter on that journey is for God to will for us.

Like the barn owl that we were blessed to see yesterday, we will be amazed at what He can show us over these Lenten days as long as we can open our hearts up to receive. The hollowing out of our hearts through self denial makes room for His love to dwell.

I pray that the Holy Spirit may swoop in like the barn owl and fill us with the Father’s will for us, that we can imitate the journey that Jesus took for us and by doing so know Him deeper and fuller.

Pierced and stretched out hearts

I have been a little bit in love with classical string music over this lockdown. There is something about the way the violin sounds cut through all the background accompaniment. The wail of lament and joy in the busy composition. My fascination with the sound has stuck with me through this week and especially as I read in the Gospel today the words which Simeon says that cut through the joy of Jesus’ presentation in the temple to Mary, he says “and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Somehow these words speak so much truth into the way we are feeling right now. The vaccines have brought a glimmer of hope to an end to the atrocities this pandemic has brought yet the deaths, the despair, the loneliness, fear, isolation, are the swords that piece our hearts and souls every day.

I look to the violin for hope to deal with this, Rowan Williams in one of his most excellent books, the wound of knowledge speaks of the flesh that is stretched out to make the strings on violins. He speaks of the way musical instruments like the tabret and harp were used in the Psalms to sing praises to the Lord. An echo to the stretched out flesh of Our Lord on the cross where heaven sand out and rejoiced in the offering of His life for our redemption.

In this stretching out, we as His disciples share in this pain, sometimes we feel that we cannot take anymore, we cannot cope with more bad news, with more restrictions, we are pulled and pulled. But somewhere in all of this we suddenly see the light of Jesus breaking through the darkness and our heart strings are plucked, and like the violin, and we start to sing a new song in a seemingly hopeless place. As we stretch ourselves out in so many ways, Christ touches us, and the sweetness of his love sings.

Candlemas is a beautiful time where we end the season of Epiphany with the words of Simeon proclaiming God’s salvation to all

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

   according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

   and for glory to your people Israel.’

It is a time for us to draw in afresh to the promises of Christ, to dwell in the mantle of our Mother Mary, to remember that both know and share in our pain and suffering.

I encourage you all this evening to light a candle and sit in its light and allow Jesus to come and reach into your stretched out hearts, let the new song of his love sing out like the sounds of the violin.

May the peace and joy of Our Lord be with you all,

and may His mother pray for us.

Amen

Wounded by love

Father may these spoken words be faithful to the written word and lead us to the living word Jesus Christ our Lord.

Everything feels a little bleak. Yesterday’s news has affected so many people. When I look on my social media I see so many voices crying out in hurt and pain. Many feel there is nothing left of Christmas. Yet here we stand on the fourth Sunday of Advent looking towards the crib and the stable where Jesus was born and laid.

When Mary approached the stable after that long journey I doubt she was surprised by the way her son was going to be brought into the world. The message of her pregnancy came with a promise, “that nothing was impossible with God” and we hear those words spoken by Angel Gabriel in the gospel today.

It is in the darkness where we are reminded of the deep body shaking promise of God. The labour if you like of our own embodiment of Jesus inside of us.

Mary had to empty herself of her self to make room for God to work, for the Holy Spirit to come upon her and fill her. Mary’s yes changed the world, heaven and earth kissed on the night of Jesus’ birth with the lips of a new mother on her warm newborn son.

The wood in the crib through her yes turns into the wood of the cross, the deeply linked joy and sorrow that is the Christian life, the life that Jesus walked on earth, instructing his disciples to leave their own wants and needs and to follow him because he will fill them with everything they will ever need.

Mary understood this from the very beginning. She raised Jesus in the scriptures, she taught him to walk, talk, eat, all things a mother does. And in those final steps towards the stable like we are doing right now, she held on tight to the promise spoke by angelic voice, for nothing is impossible with God.

This emptying of self by Mary by her yes, is what Jesus did on the cross through his yes, the cost and sacrifice of love, all of us who are feeling that way today,

We are wounded by love.

Mary’s heart was pierced as she saw her son pierced on the cross.

We are all wounded by love in some way.

Today those wounds of saying yes to love become real in the journey towards the stable. Soon the labour pains which give birth to love begin to surge, my own body remembers and aches with the knowledge of childbirth as I think of Mary pacing the stable waiting and listening to her body.

Christmas is coming but not in the excitement of the fairy lights and the family gatherings many know of, but in the sparseness of the stable, in the pain of love, yet all wrapped in the promise of that nothing will be impossible with God, if we hold onto that tightly, soon we will witness the emptying of self, and realise we have room to feel the joy of Christmas, we have made room for Jesus to be born into us this Christmas in a different way.

Mary’s song of hope is what we need right now and I will finish with her words that sing glory and thanks to our God, healing for the wounds of our love.

My soul glorifies the Lord,

my spirit rejoices in God, my Saviour.

He looks on his servant in her lowliness;

henceforth all ages will call me blessed.

The Almighty works marvels for me.

Holy his name!

His mercy is from age to age,

on those who fear him.

He puts forth his arm in strength

and scatters the proud-hearted.

He casts the mighty from their thrones

and raises the lowly.

He fills the starving with good things,

sends the rich away empty.

He protects Israel, his servant,

remembering his mercy,

the mercy promised to our fathers,

to Abraham and his sons for ever.

Amen