spiritual

Climbing our Mountains

Have you ever climbed a mountain?

I'm actually talking about a real 'mountain' now, although I'll get on to the metaphorical in just a moment.

I know quite a few people who have climbed summits. I even know some very brave souls who have scaled the highest mountain in the world - Mount Everest in the Himalayas!

In my youth it was something I fancied doing ... well maybe not Everest but certainly smaller mountains ...

However, a medical condition I had in my childhood meant that I don't do well at very high altitude so that was not an option for me. I have been skiing in the mountains but I have always lost a few days of my holiday to severe altitude sickness, so I haven't swished down the slopes for quite a few years now. Truth be told, my knees probably couldn't take the strain now anyway.

I still love the idea of going to the Himalayas and the Andes but I guess I'll just need to do that in my imagination.

Back to why I'm talking about this today.

Well, it was on this day in the year 1919 that a child was born in New Zealand who would go on to become the first of two people to reach the top of Mount Everest.

Edmund Hillary (later to become Sir Edmund) was an explorer, mountaineer, diplomat and philanthropist and it was on May 29th 1953 that he and Sherpa mountaineer Tenzing Norgay became the first to reach the summit of Mount Everest - or at least to confirm they reached the top of the mountain.

It was just one of many achievements but, by all accounts, it didn't make Hillary big headed or arrogant. Although his climb made him an international sensation, and of course led to the opening of the mountain for the generations to come, following his ascent of Everest,  among other things Hillary devoted himself to assisting the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan Trust, which he established, and which built many schools and hospitals. 

To climb a mountain, let alone the highest mountain in the world, takes great bravery, and in 1953 it took exceptional courage. There wasn't the sophisticated equipment including  breathing apparatus which exists today, so the peril was severe. Hillary and Tenzing Norgay weren't the first to try to conquer Everest, many many people had attempted it before and failed and even died in the trying. People have died since ... I remember one former teacher who I learned some years after I left school in the 1970s had perished while attempting Everest.

And, of course, many have successfully now followed in Hillary and Norgay's footsteps.

Everest wasn't the only peak in the Himalayas (and other ranges) that Sir Edmund would climb in his lifetime and he knew that it wasn't just about physical bravery but also mental strength.

After climbing Everest Sir Edmund is said to have said this ... 

'It is not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves!'

Stand by for the metaphors ... because of course we all have 'mountains' to climb in our lives. They might not be actual mountains but they feel like that sometimes. Insurmountable conditions under which we are living, difficult people, constrained finances, ill health... you get the idea. Fill in the gaps for yourself.

Before we face these problems in life, maybe we need to consider and perhaps attempt to overcome some of our own issues? Those things which maybe are holding us back from going for our dreams and for the things we know will improve our lives. We need, perhaps, to find ways to ensure we are strong, so we can face what might come and ensure we have the mental, physical and spiritual 'equipment' to cope with it all! I'm not only talking about 'mind over matter', it's more complicated than that. But maybe we need to draw on our inner values and strength to face difficulties and move forward.

It may be hard, but worth trying., if we are to reach our goals in life!

So, whatever your 'mountain' is - hope this encourages you today!

 

Sir Edmund Hillary


Bow the Knee

A few weeks ago I was privileged to take part in a very special online 'gathering'.

The senior choir - the Songsters - at The Salvation Army church in Felixstowe in Suffolk in England meet every week online ... they can't meet in person because of the coronavirus, so they meet 'viritually' to stay in touch, be inspired and occasionally to hear from someone different.

So, I had the honour to speak to them, actually about my books, and then to lead them in a prayer 'devotion'. It was, I hope, 'different'.

Bow the kneeFor months a certain song has been travelling with me and has meant so much especially during the lockdowns and the uncertainty of the pandemic, so I chose this song to share with them.

This week especially it kept popping up all over the place, including on the random selection on my music library on my I-Phone. Like someone is trying to tell me something!

It's sometimes hard to pray and trust when life seems out of your control. But these words encourage me to keep trusting God however uncertain life may be. And to keep 'talking' to God and praying and believing.

So this Sunday I simply share it with you and hope it encourages you too.

The full lyrics are beneath the music video... but  the words of the chorus are worth repeating, and repeating, and repeating ...

Be blessed!

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the Knee

There are moments on our journey following the Lord
Where God illumines ev'ry step we take
There are times when circumstances make perfect sense to us
As we try to understand each move He makes
When the path grows dim and our questions have no answers, turn to Him

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

Bow the knee
Trust the heart of your Father when the answer goes beyond what you can see
Bow the knee
Lift your eyes toward heaven and believe the One who holds eternity
And when you don't understand the purpose of His plan
In the presence of the King, bow the knee

 

(words and music by Michael Harland and Christopher Machen)

 


What we Love ...

Most of us, even if we're not religious, may have heard of St Francis of Assisi.

You know who I'm talking about ... the 12/13th century Italian Catholic friar, mystic and preacher who is best known these days for being the Patron Saint of Animals because of his close association with nature and the natural environment and animals. 

In addition,  his 'Prayer of St Francis' ... Make Me a Channel of your Peace ...  is now widely known as a Christian prayer for peace.

It was on this day - July 16th - in 1228, just two years after his death, that Francis was canonized by Pope Gregory IX

But did you know that one of  the first followers of Francis was a young woman called Clare, who was actually born on this day in 1194?

Clare, like Francis, hailed from the town of Assisi in central Italy and was from a rich and ancient Roman family whose homes included a palace in Assisi. Clare would have been brought up in the Roman Catholic faith and apparently was very devout even as a child. Although undoubtedly she would have been destined for a rich marriage, instead when she was what we would now call a 'teenager', Clare decided on a religious life.

She apparently heard Francis speak at a church service during Lent, the period running up to Easter, and was inspired to give her life completely to God. She was just 17 but on the evening of Palm Sunday, 20 March 1212, she left her father's house and, accompanied by her aunt Bianca and another companion, went to the chapel of the Porziuncula in Assisi to meet Francis.

There, so history tells us, Clare's hair was cut, she removed her rich clothing and instead took on a plain robe and veil, indicating that she was turning her back on her previous life of luxury and was committing herself to a life of poverty and service to humanity.

Her father was furious. He tracked her down at a convent in San Paulo near Bastia where she had been placed in the care of Benedictine nuns ... but she refused to return home, and continued to profess that she would have no other 'husband' but Jesus Christ. She implored Francis to send her to an even more secluded religious community  - Sant' Angelo in Panzo - where she was soon joined by her sister Catarina, who changed her name to 'Agnes'. Both Clare and Agnes would eventually be canonized!

They remained with the Benedictines until a small dwelling was built for them next to the church of San Damiano near their hometown of Assisi.  Here Clare and Agnes gathered other religious women around them, they lived a life of poverty and seclusion from the world and they became known as the "Poor Ladies of San Damiano". Later, ten years after Clare's death in August 1253, it would become known as the Order of Saint Clare. These days the contemplative order of nuns is in 75 countries across the world but it began with just one woman and a vision from God.

While the Franciscan friars travelled around the country to preach, Saint Clare's 'sisters' existed in isolation from the world, where they lived a life of manual labour and prayer. They were barefoot, slept on the ground, ate no meat and observed almost complete silence. At one point the Pope of the day,  Gregory IX, offered Clare a 'dispensation' from the vow of strict poverty. She declined, and eventually the Pope instead granted them something called the 'Privilegium Pauperitatis' — a ruling that nobody could oblige the Clares to accept any possession. 

It's hard to imagine these days, when we're so wrapped up in belongings and 'stuff' and 'freewill', that a live of solitude and austerity could be appealing ...  but in fact Clare and her followers inspired many to join them, including more members of her own family.

Another sister, Beatrix, also joined the order and after their father's death, their mother Ortolana also entered the convent at San Damiano which followed the Franciscan monastic religious order. It was here that Clare would write their  Rule of Life, which are believed to be the first set of monastic guidelines known to have been written by a woman. 

Many words of wisdom have passed down the centuries from St Clare but I think one of my favourite thoughts from this wise Woman of God are those below.

It's such a profound thought, and could have been written for the 21st century. 

I invite you today to read these words, and reflect, as I am doing.

What is it that I 'love'? What is shaping me?

Is it 'things', possessions, power, status, money?

Is that what is shaping our lives?

Or is it just simply ... love? Compassion for others? And maybe God? 

It's a tough one ... and although it might not necessarily mean a life of seclusion and poverty, it might help us to think about what is important in our lives and what we hold dear!

 

St Clare of Assisi


A blessing

So, we've reached another Sunday.

And today I just want to share an ancient blessing with you which I found online.

It comes from the Apache Native American spirituality, culture and tradition.

I love it for it's seeming simplicity, but also for the depth of its meaning.

Read it a few times over and over, and you'll see what I mean.

It inspired me and I hope it does the same for you!

Enjoy your day everyone!

 

Apache blessing


All that You Do

Have you ever wondered what the world would be like if we were all just a bit nicer and a bit kinder to each other? 

A little less self centred, a little more considerate of others?

If you've been reading this blog for the past few days you'll know that I'm a bit thoughtful at the moment ... and I've been thinking about the world we create.

Kindness is a big thing for me and in fact I'm beginning to work on a project about that with a friend - more about that later.

But today, as I continue to think about my impact on the world, my influence and the world I want to live in and to leave for others, I turn to the Bible for ultimate wisdom.

In the New Testament in one of Paul's letter to the Corinthians he says this ... 

Do everything in love ! Love without stopping!

Those words come from different translations of 1 Corinthians Chapter 16 verse 14, respectively the New International Version and The Message.

In the old King James Version it's put like this ...

Let all that you do be done with love.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all did even a little bit of that. 

What a perfect thought for a Sunday especially.

 

In love


When I am ...

I mentioned yesterday that this has been a mixed week for me.

Lots of exciting and new things happened but also, on Wednesday just past, a man who I admired and loved left this earth.

I worked for the Rev Dr Joel Edwards in various capacities over the years and he was not just a boss, but a mentor and a friend.

He was well known across the world and in the UK and not just for his leadership in many different fields of life, including where I first worked with him, at the Evangelical Alliance UK. Click on the link above to read more about this tour de force of a man, a person of great Christian faith and vision, with a passion for the poor and unity among nations and peoples. He was a writer and speaker who inspired, and so much more!

After the EAUK I also worked for Joel on the Micah Challenge ... an international campaign tackling issues of global poverty, specifically working towards the Millennium Development Goals ... and on the EXPOSED campaign, which challenged global corruption which is one of the major contributors to poverty across the world. As International Director, Joel and the people he gathered around him challenged politics and big business and corporations. He was brave and working for him was inspiring.

Joel Edwards made the world a better place. On this death this week his family released via social media a beautiful letter he had written, knowing he was soon to go to his Eternal Rest. It was a heart breaking, but also a challenging, inspiring and uplifting final message especially for those who knew and admired and loved him,

Joel lived life to the full, loved his family and friends well, worked exceptionally hard on everything, including those causes to which he was devoted. Joel Edwards did in many senses change the world. Not just on a global scale, but also for those of us who were privileged to have shared time with him. He laughed and smiled, and prayed and laughed again with a big grin that wrapped you up in its embrace.

Thank you Joel. I feel honoured to have known you! What a legacy you have left, and that will continue in the lives you touched, the campaigns you led and the movements you spawned and supported. And of course, through your family. 

Most of us don't think much about dying. Why would we when we are wrapped in up in living and enjoying life?

But it's moments like this, when people like Joel leave us, that perhaps we may think about our own mortality.  Maybe it's at times like this we ask ourselves serious questions like ...

What difference am I making in the world?

What does my life actually mean?

Am I so wrapped up in 'stuff' that I'm missing something really important about what my life could be and mean?

Certainly this week has made me think again about the purpose of life and what we leave behind as our 'legacy' ... which led me to write these words... 

I'm still thinking about it all ...

What I leave behind

 

 

 

 


The Story of Brave Men

This week has been an exciting one in Jersey.

Among other things, we had a Royal Visit.

HRH The Princess Royal (Princess Anne) did a whistle-stop tour of our lovely island. And although we've had a very damp week, actually on Thursday we were blessed with glorious sunshine, so that was brilliant especially for all the islanders, including hundreds of children, who came out to greet her.

The Princess Royal opened our newest school (the fabulous Les Quennevais School) and a new sports training facility, and visited the Jersey Zoo ... she's the patron of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust.

Waterloo memorial St Saviour's Church JerseyBut for me, her most important duty during the day took her to St Saviour's Church where she unveiled a very special memorial plaque in the church.

In St Saviour's Churchyard in Jersey there are many interesting stories. In 2018 I spent many months wandering around the graveyard with the then Rector of St Saviour, the Rev Peter Dyson, who was investigating the people laid to rest there.

This resulted in a series of 26 episodes broadcast by BBC Radio Jersey and it was fascinating. I learned so much.

As a result of his research, Peter found many dozens of men who are connected to the Napoleonic era... the Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars, including the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. Men were found who fought on the British side and even one who fought under the French emperor. It's thought St Saviour's is the resting place of more Napoleonic and Peninsula Wars veterans than anywhere else in the world. It's astonishing that so many veterans of these campaigns eventually found their way to Jersey.

In 2020 a book was published which outlines their stories - 'Napoleonic War Veterans Buried at St. Saviour’s Church, Jersey' edited by one of the world's leading experts in the period, William Mahon.

Napoleonic & Peninsula Wars memorial Oct 2020In Autumn 2020, a memorial was placed in the north Lady Chapel of the Church but the unveiling of the plaque was a year delayed because of the COVID19 pandemic. Finally, this past Thursday, June 24th 2021, that memorial was unveiled by The Princess Royal ... there was a special church service and colourful celebrations including lots of children and members of the Jersey community.

In October 2020, just before Rev Peter Dyson retired as Rector of the parish, I returned to the churchyard at St Saviour's Church to talk to him about the memorial, some of the stories it told and the importance of the research.

This was played in two parts on the BBC Radio Jersey Sunday Morning Breakfast show on October 4 2020.

Here is the complete story. 


*images from St Saviour's Church Jersey Facebook Page

 

 


Before ...

As I write my daily blog every day, sometimes I struggle to find time and ideas to bring you. 

That's when I give thanks for the internet and all the ideas and images, words and pictures - fun, profound, quirky, spiritual, superficial, challenging - that people have shared through websites and images. Sometimes when I have a bit of time I spend a few moments and 'store' stuff for later use. I've found so much that is interesting and thought provoking in my internet travels!

Today I'm bringing you one of those thoughts that, when I first read it, really made me stop and think.

Sometimes in life, we expect things to be handed to us on a plate. We want our dreams and wishes 'now'... we can't wait for our new lives, new loves, new possessions, success, riches and wealth. I could go on. You know what I'm talking about.

But this thought reminds me that actually sometimes we need to do more than just hope, dream, wish, even pray.

We need to be ready for what might lie ahead, perhaps to prepare ourselves before we can appreciate what we long for.

I love the idea of not just speaking, but being a listener as well. As a writer, I'm encouraged that thinking time might be important, even vital, before putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. As a person of faith, it's easy to pray words, but REALLY  believing is a different and more challenging matter. 

This raises questions in my heart and mind. When I pray, is it just words or do I really believe that God will answer my prayer? Do I speak too quickly, selfishly, and not listen to others? Do I give up too easily, did I work hard enough in this or that endeavour? Am I really living life to the fullest?

SO many questions ... and the answers are still to come.

Anyway, hope you find this helpful.

I certainly did!



Before


Summer Prayer

About this time of the year in the northern hemisphere of our planet, it's the longest day of the year.

Between about June 20 and 22nd there is more daylight than darkness, more days of sunshine hopefully because it's the moment when the path of the sun is farthest north. For those of us north of equator, it's the beginning of what is called 'astronomical summer'! Otherwise known as 'Summer Solstice'.

And this year the beginning of that season ... midsummer ... is today -  June 21 - when give or take the UK will enjoy around 16 hours and 38 minutes of daylight, with the sun rising before 5am and setting around 9.30pm.

Summer Solstice (and actually Winter Solstice which here falls on or around December 21st) has always had cultural,  spiritual and even religious significance for humankind. Many cultures assign importance to the elements and the seasons and so this is a time for celebration, holidays, festivals and rituals. In many countries and regions this is associated with religion and even fertility as the Summer Solstice marks the time when crops are growing, nature is thriving and people are enjoying the goodness of life and are optimistic for the future. 

At places like Stonehenge - the circle of prehistoric Standing Stones on Salisbury Plain in the county of Wiltshire in England - ceremonies to mark the rising of the sun on this day have been held for thousands of years, as people recognised the religious significance of the mysticism of creation.

The Summer Solstice was and still is a marker for the year and the rolling out of the seasons. Neolithic humans may initially have started to observe the summer solstice as a way to figure out when to plant and harvest crops. We know that in Ancient Egypt, the summer solstice corresponded with the rise of the Nile River so it helped people to predict the annual flooding, and that was obviously related to the viability of their crops along the banks of the river, and the potential harvests later in the year. If you fancy reading more about this time of year there is loads online, including a great website hosted by the History Channel.

But the significance of days like today transcends nature. Before humans understood how the earth interacts with our sun and why the days of light and darkness differ according to the seasons, this period of long days of daylight would have been connected with mysticism and powerful messages about the universe. The word Solstice is derived from the Latin words sol (Sun) and sistere (to stand still) ... this day it would have felt as if the sun was motionless in the heavens and so it would have had some spiritual significance and traditions and behaviours developed around the day.

According to pagan folklore, evil spirits would appear on the Summer Solstice so in order to ward these off, people would wear protective garlands of herbs and flowers. Some midsummer traditions involve dancing around the 'maypole'. Bonfires were lit, also to help banish those demons and evil spirits. Ancient 'magic' was thought to be strongest at this time of year and those bonfires were also thought to lead girls to their future husbands - again linked to that sign of fertility. 

The Summer Solstice is often associated with the ancient religions which pre-date Christianity and were closely aligned to nature and the seasons. And regardless of whether we are people of 'faith' or not, the Summer Solstice is a time when we can appreciate the warmth of the sun and the potential in our world, and be inspired for the future.

I could have given you all kinds of quotes about Summer Solstice today ... there are masses online ... but I found this prayer which, as a person of faith, says it all for me.

Enjoy this long day everyone!

And if you're in the southern hemisphere ... be assured that as you are now halfway through your 'winter', summer is on its way!

Summer Prayer