8 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect – 10

Regardless of where you live, the places in which you feel most ‘at home’ are those where you are most relaxed about being yourself, where you feel less pressure to create and maintain an image or ‘persona.’

One of the reasons that it is easier to make pictures of flowers than it is to photograph human faces is that flowers never pose or wear self-conscious expressions. They just are. And you can explore their form and colour from many different angles and through different stages of growth or decay and find beauty in them all. At some time in the future I may decide to share some portraits of people who either did not know I was taking their photograph at the time or who were relaxed enough about themselves not to feel self-conscious. But for today I share another flower picture taken just a few days ago. Some of them were clearly ‘past their best’ yet each of them in its own way is quite beautiful when the light of the evening sun shines through them. 

Something of a parable about human beings as well, I think.

These random reflections about being ‘true to self’ prompt two quotations today—one old, one new—both borrowed and one from a book called ‘Blue.’

‘This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.’

― William Shakespeare -Hamlet

“There are two types of truth: insight and authenticity. Insight is the ability to recognise the truth; authenticity is the ability to live it.

Insight looks beyond the surface, seeking to uncover what is real and what is not, seeking to sort, to categorize, to approve. Authenticity seeks to make our ‘surface’ selves our true selves, removing the need for pretence and evasion.

Insight pierces the hypocrisy of others. Authenticity punctures the hypocrisy of ourselves.”

― Nick Page, Blue

7 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect – 9

a field in East Lothian last year

Since the 17th of March I have been to a large extent confined to home. (I had to self-isolate before the official lockdown took place for the majority of us on the 23rd. Fortunately my symptoms were relatively mild.) In fact, I know that I’m very fortunate. I have a lovely home with a large garden. I normally work from home anyway, so it was easier for me than for many others to adjust to the new situation. Yet, in these strange times, there are simple things I really miss that I previously took for granted— for instance, being able to welcome family and friends into our home and being able to visit others in their homes.

The situation has caused me to reflect on what we mean by ‘home’ and where our true home is to be found, and what it means to ‘feel at home.’ And here I like the words of the Psalmist: 

“O Lord, you have always been our home. Before you created the hills or brought the world into being, you were eternally God, and will be God forever.” [Ps 90 Good News Translation]

…and also some more words from Henri Nouwen

“For most of my life I have struggled to find God, to know God, to love God. I have tried hard to follow the guidelines of the spiritual life—pray always, work for others, read the Scriptures—and to avoid the many temptations to dissipate myself. I have failed many times but always tried again, even when I was close to despair.

Now I wonder whether I have sufficiently realized that during all this time God has been trying to find me, to know me, and to love me. The question is not “How am I to find God?” but “How am I to let myself be found by him?” The question is not “How am I to know God?” but “How am I to let myself be known by God?” And, finally, the question is not “How am I to love God?” but “How am I to let myself be loved by God?” God is looking into the distance for me, trying to find me, and longing to bring me home.” 

― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming

6 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect – 8

When Jesus advised his disciples to ‘consider the lilies’ he wasn’t talking about the big ostentatious, extrovert blooms favoured by gardeners and flower arrangers— he was talking about wildflowers, ‘the flowers of the field,’ the kind that lots of people wouldn’t even notice, and many would step on without thinking, the sort of plant that many gardeners might think of as a weed. 

I don’t think it was intended to be a botany lesson: I do think it was meant to shape our attitudes towards other people. After all, it’s what Jesus himself did—saying to ‘the least of these’ you matter to me.

A few years ago, I took a walk through the RSPB nature reserve at Baron’s Haugh, Motherwell, with my camera. I was amazed at the number of different varieties of wild orchid growing there. Some were instantly noticeable; others were hiding shyly in the background, but each one deserved my close attention. 

Learning to pay attention is the first step in authentic discipleship… which brings me back to the words of Henri Nouwen:

“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.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary

5 May 2020

A Moment to Reflect

– 7

sun-drenched tulips on our kitchen table

To be in “a wild place” or “a landscape that is timeless” may inspire you with a sense of awe, because it makes you realise how small you are in the grand scheme of things.

But then, when you turn to give your full attention to the little things, and to their complex, fragile beauty, your heart is touched by a deep joy and an awareness of the tender and mysterious love at the heart of the universe, as another of my favourite writers, Fyodor Dostoevsky, knew well.

“Love all God’s creation, both the whole and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of light. Love the animals, love the plants, love each separate thing. If thou love each thing thou wilt perceive the mystery of God in all; and when once thou perceive this, thou wilt thenceforward grow every day to a fuller understanding of it: until thou come at last to love the whole world with a love that will then be all-embracing and universal.” 
― Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov