19 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 19

Sing to the Lord a new song;
    sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
    proclaim his salvation day after day.
[Psalm 96: 1-2]

I love this particular photograph mainly because of its spontaneity. I took it on a visit to Ghana in 2011. As my colleague and I were leaving a building where we’d just a had a meeting, this woman, a Guild member, was arriving. She (not surprisingly) recognised that we were ‘the visitors from Scotland.’ Instead of greeting us with a handshake and a word of welcome, she spontaneously burst into a joyful song of praise.

As with yesterday’s photograph of villagers in Bolivia, this woman’s joy was sincere, unaffected and also infectious (as you can see from the smile on the face of the young man in the background, the local ‘catechist’ – a kind of lay preacher.)

So, the quotation to reflect upon today comes from one of my most favourite authors of all, the Psalmist who penned Psalm 96.

In the current crisis much of the news is rather gloomy and depressing but we can always find a reason to “sing to the Lord a new song.” 

18 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 18

Last week I mused a lot about ‘stillness,’ suggesting it is the state of being in which we are most likely to encounter the presence of God. The nature of the photographs that I used might have given the impression that we can only find such stillness in solitary experiences but that is not the case. In fact, the most powerful experiences of ‘being still’ are probably those we share with other human beings. This is because we are essentially social beings who need one another. And this is why ‘social-distancing’ is such an unfortunate phrase. For the moment we do have to be physically distant from one another: but that has simply revealed to us how much we need and crave social nearness.

So, the next few posts will not be pictures of lonely landscapes: they will be portraits of people I have met around the world. Each face tells its own story. (I won’t necessarily repeat the story—I will leave you to ponder for yourself what it might be.)

Every human face tells its own unique story. This is why for me the faces of older people are often the most interesting— they have so many more stories etched into them.

But I begin with a group picture of some villagers in the Amazonian Beni region of Bolivia. Their lifestyle was simple and poor, but their welcoming hospitality was sincere and their joy quite infectious. That particular village demonstrated to me what real human community is meant to be like and it reminded me of these words from Henri Nouwen.

A mosaic consists of thousands of little stones. Some are blue, some are green, some are yellow, some are gold. When we bring our faces close to the mosaic, we can admire the beauty of each stone. But as we step back from it, we can see that all these little stones reveal to us a beautiful picture, telling a story none of these stones can tell by itself.
That is what our life in community is about. Each of us is like a little stone, but together we reveal the face of God to the world. Nobody can say: ‘I make God visible.’ But others who see us together can say: ‘They make God visible.’ Community is where humility and glory touch.”
― Henri Nouwen

16 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 17

Mary sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ [Luke 10:38-40]

The world needs people who get things done and don’t just sit around talking all the time, does it not? The world needs people of action; people who make things happen.

But… as the previously quoted D. H. Lawrence said: “One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.” 

If we don’t take time to listen to what God is saying to us, how will we know what are the right things to be doing at any particular time? Whether as individuals, or as a community of faith?

These days as we all try to adjust to an unfamiliar and uncertain situation, hemmed in by various physical restrictions and mental anxieties can we nevertheless find time to listen for what God might be saying to us in the midst of the chaos?

I’m reminded of this quotation from the Irish novelist, Niall Williams,

“Doing nothing at all is often the very wisest thing … as the world is a ball and is turning and everything is in fact in motion all the time, doing nothing is not really doing nothing, it’s allowing things to move at their own pace” ― Niall Williams, Boy in the world 

Following on from that thought, Henri Nouwen’s words find a deeper resonance:

“Your community needs you, but maybe not as a constant presence. Your community might need you as a presence that offers courage and spiritual food for the journey, a presence that creates the safe ground in which others can grow and develop, a presence that belongs to the matrix of the community. But your community also needs your creative absence.” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love

15 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 16

The black Loch near Ardross

Stillness continued…

“I am like a deep, still mountain lake. The surface is a mirror that reflects the sky above. I await in tranquility for the breath of God to move across me.” 
― Elizabeth C. Dixon, Little Book of Prayers for New Thought Christians.

Today I want to let the picture more or less speak for itself (worth a thousand words after all…) Let the picture fill your screen and spend a few moments immersing yourself in it. But then ask yourself the question: “How much of the nature of God is reflected in the kind of person I am and the sort of things I do?”

14 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 15

Heron at Braidwood ‘loch’

“One’s action ought to come out of an achieved stillness: not to be a mere rushing on.” ― D.H. Lawrence

The heron, like many hunters, is a master of stillness, exercising patience, focused attention, restrained energy and a readiness to seize the moment. Similar skills are sometimes required for photography—knowing when the right moment is to release the shutter and capture the essence of the subject, as the late American photographer, Minor White, observed: “When you approach something to photograph it, first be still with yourself until the object of your attention affirms your presence. Then don’t leave until you have captured its essence.” ― Minor White

Over the years I have come to realise that the same skills need to be learned by those who wish to deepen their spiritual lives as followers of Jesus Christ—stillness, patience, focused attention, restrained energy and the ability to recognise the ‘kairos’* moment. 

Kairos (Ancient Greek: καιρός) is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical, or opportune moment. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos (χρόνος) and kairos. The former refers to chronological or sequential time, while the latter signifies a proper or opportune time for action. [Wikipedia]

13 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect- 14

You may recognise part of today’s quotation. I used it already some days ago. But today we see it in its wider context and its connection to the notion of ‘stillness.’

‘Maybe I have been living much too fast, too restlessly, too feverishly, forgetting to pay attention to what is happening here and now, right under my nose. Just as a whole world of beauty can be discovered in one flower, so the great grace of God can be tasted in one small moment. Just as no great travels are necessary to see the beauty of creation, so no great ecstasies are needed to discover the love of God. But you have to be still and wait so that you can realize that God is not in the earthquake, the storm, or the lightning, but in the gentle breeze with which he touches your back.’—Henri Nouwen

At the very beginning of the current ‘lockdown’ I was conscious of how much quieter everything was—no traffic, very few people about, no children playing, no construction going on. Immediately it was so much easier to hear the birds sing.

It was like being taken back to simpler times when most of the sounds people heard were natural. (Nowadays with smartphones and personal music systems, constant busy traffic and all kinds of mechanical noises around, quietness had become something that many people seem to have become afraid of.)

My favourite part of the day is early morning because I enjoy the quietness.

However, it is not essential to have quietness in order to experience stillness, but it is a good place to begin learning what stillness actually is.