Your presence

Context: I received the inspiration for today’s prayer just as I was leaving the flat to start my journey home, so I jotted it down very quickly, then started writing it on the train. Yesterday I continued to work on it during my ferry crossing.

Before the holiday began, I had been very much looking forward to visiting Ely Cathedral, a glorious building steeped in centuries of worship. However, when I arrived there, it seemed more like a busy tourist attraction, concert space, or conference centre than a place of pilgrimage. The tiny, plain chapel set aside for private prayer felt barren, bleak and unwelcoming. There were no flowers, altar candles, prayer requests, or even a cross; no tokens of love, reverence or gratitude. In fact, it held no sense at all of God’s presence, other than when I closed my eyes to pray. I could have been in a shop, café, or market, rather than in one of the finest mediaeval churches in England.

Afterwards, I talked this over with a wise friend, which helped to reduce my sadness, disappointment and dismay. Even so, when I had the opportunity to visit to the cathedral again, I realised I had no desire to do so.

This might all sound rather negative, but God brings good out of everything. In fact, the experience simply emphasised what I already knew: that God is within me all the time, freely and fully accessible, no matter where I am or how I feel, just as today’s prayer describes:

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
(Psalm 139:7-10; NLT). 

Your presence is no stronger, Lord,
Within a great cathedral,
No sweeter in a chapel,
And no closer at a shrine.

Your presence is no dearer, Lord,
Than here, and now, forever,
Because you live within me, Lord:
I’m yours, and you are mine.

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
(Song of Songs 6:3; NIV).


References 

God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:17; NLT).

You are the temple of the living God (Luke 17:21; NKJV). 

There is …one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).

Like Martha

Context: I noted down the essence of today’s prayer a day or two ago, but didn’t have enough time to work on it. However, yesterday morning I woke early, which gave me the space to finish it before starting the long journey back to Liverpool (the magnificent Lime Street Station is pictured above). Although I was nervous before setting off, it was a really good day for several reasons.

Firstly, I made a wonderful new friend on the train, and I’m hoping we will stay in touch.

Secondly, a kind friend came to visit me at my hotel, bringing the blessings of conversation, anointing, and Holy Communion.

Thirdly, remember my lifelong claustrophobia? Well, I twice used the train loo, even though it had electronic doors. I’ve avoided this type of toilet ever since they were invented. Admittedly I didn’t engage the electronic lock (my friend kindly guarded the door whilst I was inside), but shutting myself in there was the bravest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I managed it!

Today, I’ll be catching a ferry for the final leg of my journey. I already want to visit the UK again, and especially to visit Liverpool Catholic Cathedral. So, with a heart full of prayerful thanks and rejoicing, here is today’s blog:

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.
(Luke 10:38-9; NIV). 

1. Jesus, may I be like Martha,
Serving you in all each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Mary,
Learning at your feet each day.

2. Jesus, may I be like Peter,
Walking by your side, each day,
And, Lord, may I be like Thomas,
Touching your poor hands, each day.

3. Then, no matter what life brings,
I’ll know your presence, choose your way,
And never cease, Lord, to rejoice,
Give thanks for everything, and pray.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
(1 Thessalonians 5:17-18; NIV).


References 

1. Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

2. One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers – Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew – throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” And they left their nets at once and followed him (Matthew 4:18-20; NLT). 

Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” “My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:27-8; NLT). 

3. Be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20; NLT). 

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6; NLT). 

God’s nearness

Context: This blog was very difficult to write. I’m deeply tired as I approach the end of my holiday, and had to work on it in amongst all the inevitable tidying and packing which come with leaving rented accommodation. As always, the inspiration took only a moment to arrive, but expressing what I saw was almost beyond me.

Yet, to my great surprise, just before posting today’s prayer I discovered that it’s actually two prayers in one, woven together. If you read just the first line of each verse (those in non-italic text), they make sense, and the same is true if you read just the italicised lines. God is truly amazing!

We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near.
(Psalm 75:1; NLT). 

1. Thank you for your nearness, Lord:
In everything, I see your face,

2. And for your supreme transcendence:
Far beyond all time and space.

3. Thank you for your constant presence:
Here, on earth, in everyone,

4. And for your sublime completeness:
All exists within your womb.

The Almighty …blesses you with blessings of the skies above, blessings of the deep springs below, blessings of the breast and womb.
(Genesis 49:25; NIV).


References

1. They delight in the nearness of God (Isaiah 58:2; CSB).

There is …one God and Creator of all, who is over all, who works through all and is within all (Ephesians 4:5-6; TIB).

When I look at justice I see your face (Psalm 17:15; TIB).

When I awake, I will see you face to face and be satisfied (Psalm 17:15; NLT). 

2. Do you people think that I am some local deity and not the transcendent God?” the LORD asks (Jeremiah 23:23; NET). 

To God, the only God, who saves us through Jesus Christ our Sovereign, be glory, majesty, authority and power – who was before all time, is now, and will be forever (Jude 1:25; TIB). 

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me (Psalm 139:7-10; NLT).

3. Your presence fills me with joy (Psalm 16:11; GNT).

We are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (2 Corinthians 6:16; NLT).

4. The LORD our God, the LORD is one (Deuteronomy 6:4; NIV).

Be perfect, as Abba God in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48; TIB).

The flood

Context: Recently, I’ve been thinking about the flood narrative in Genesis, which illustrates the disastrous consequences of sinful, human behaviour:

YHWH saw the great wickedness of the people of the earth, that the thoughts in their hearts fashioned nothing but evil. YHWH was sorry that humankind had been created on earth; it pained God’s heart. YHWH said, “I will wipe this human race that I have created from the face of the earth – not only the humans, but also the animals, the reptiles, and the birds of the heavens. I am sorry I ever made them” (Genesis 6:5-7; TIB). 

So God sent a great flood to wipe out all living things:

For forty days the flood continued… The waters rose so high over the earth that all the high mountains under heaven were covered… All life on the earth perished – birds, domestic animals, wild animals, all swarming creatures, and all humankind (Genesis 7:17-21; TIB).

The TIB translation includes an interesting scholarly footnote for this passage:

“Some commentators feel the story of the Flood speaks of the ending of the last ice age, when the melt from the receding glaciers raised the sea level high enough to submerge much of what had before been dry land.”

The Biblical flood story is usually seen as being safely in the past, but it recently occurred to me that it can also be understood as a prophecy, for as global warming melts the polar ice-caps, similarly catastrophic flooding is becoming inevitable.

Of course, some readers may rightly point out that after the flood God promised never to cause such terrible destruction again (Genesis 8:21; TIB). However, modern climate change is not an act of God. Rather, it is caused by human over-exploitation of finite earthly resources. The causes and consequences of global warming are therefore ours alone, as we move ever further from our original commission to, “cultivate and care for the land” (Genesis 2:15; TIB). 

So, flowing from these reflections, here is today’s prayer:

From the least to the greatest, their lives are ruled by greed.
(Jeremiah 6:13; NLT). 

Lord,

How can you bear our wastefulness?
How can you bear our greed?
How can you bear our selfishness?
How can you bear our hate?

How can you bear our ignorance?
How can you bear our pride?
How can you bear our foolishness?
You weep in us all, and wait. 

How can you bear our bitterness?
How can you bear our strife?
How can you bear our wickedness?
How can you bear our sin?

How can you bear our cruelty?
How can you bear our wars?
How can you bear our lovelessness?
You weep, Lord, and wait within. 

The LORD must wait for you to come to him
so he can show you his love and compassion.
(Isaiah 30:18; NLT).

You are the temple of the living God.
(2 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV).

You are my worship


Context: Yesterday I had breakfast in bed, followed by a very quiet morning, as the day before had included a migraine. Then, in the afternoon, my family took me to Wicken Fen, one of my favourite places in the UK. Wicken is a very “thin” place, where God whispers from the reed beds, stirs the water, and walks beneath the trees. For me, it represents the Garden of Eden. I’ve enjoyed many visits over the years, so being there brought back memories from when I was able to cycle, walk for miles, and explore freely. I thought my physical limitations might make me feel sad, but in fact I experienced no regrets. I’m getting old, and God is all I need now, as today’s prayer describes:

I will come to the altar of God, to God, my greatest joy.
(Psalm 43:4; CSB). 

1. You are my worship,
And my joy,

2. My Teacher,
And my creed;

3. My suffering, my test,
My way –

4. My God:
You’re all I need.

My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.
(2 Corinthians 12:9; NLT). 

The LORD is my shepherd;
I have all that I need (Psalm 23:1; NLT).


References 

1. Send out your light and your truth; let them guide me. Let them lead me to your holy mountain, to the place where you live. There I will go to the altar of God, to God – the source of all my joy (Psalm 43:3-4; NLT). 

2. You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and you are right, because that’s what I am (John 13:13; NLT).

Jesus is ‘the stone rejected by the builders which has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation in anyone else, for there is no other name under heaven given to the human race by which we must be saved (Acts 4:11-12; TIB). 

3. If we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering (Romans 8:17; NLT). 

The LORD your God is testing you to see if you truly love him with all your heart and soul (Deuteronomy 13:3; NLT).

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:7; NLT). 

4.  You are my God! (Psalm 31:14; NLT). 

A journey

Context: Yesterday, as soon as I woke up, I was taken on a journey around and beyond the world. There was no time to pray. Whilst it was happening, I was able to write down what I saw and understood, which has never happened to me before. I had no sense of time passing or of movement, and no awareness of my body or its surroundings.

The experience ended as soon as I had written down the last few words. I don’t know how long it lasted – perhaps an hour or two. Then I became aware of my body, and was very surprised to find myself in bed in my holiday flat, feeling truly awed and astonished by all I had seen. I might easily have thought I had simply been dreaming, except for all I had written down during my journey. Here is the essence of what I wrote:

I am God, and not a man –
the Holy One among you 
(Hosea 11:9; NIV). 

1. God is neither male nor female,
Black nor white, not straight or gay,

2. Not Orthodox, or Catholic,
Or Protestant: God is The Way.

3. God is not Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim,
Buddhist, Jain, or Sikh,

4. Nor any other great world faith,
For God is light, and love, and peace.

5. God is Spirit, here, within us all –
The grace that sets us free.

6. God’s truth, consuming fire, and strength
Are pearls beyond all price, to me.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant’s search for fine pearls. When one pearl of great value was found, the merchant went back and sold everything else and bought it (Matthew 13:45-6; TIB).


References 

1. Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them (Genesis 1:27; TIB).

2. Keep in mind that God’s greatness exceeds our knowledge; God’s vastness is a mystery (Job 36:26; TIB). 

I am the way (John 14:6; NIV).

God’s way is perfect (2 Samuel 22:31; NLT).

God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).

Follow the way of love (1 Corinthians 14:1; NIV). 

3. God is greater than we can understand (Job 36:26; NLT). 

4. God is light (1 John 1:5; NLT).

The Lord is peace (Judges 6:24; NLT). 

5. God is Spirit (John 4:24; NLT). 

We are the temple of the living God (2 Corinthians 6:16; NLT).

When we died with Christ we were set free from the power of sin (Romans 6:7; NLT).

God’s grace has set us free from the law (Romans 6:15; NLT).

6. The Spirit is truth (1 John 5:6; NKJV).

God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; NIV).

The Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength (Isaiah 26:4; KJV).

I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace (Acts 20:24; NIV). 

Thank you

Context: Yesterday I went to watch my grandson have his riding lesson. This brought back memories from so long ago that they seemed to come from a previous life, when I was able-bodied. However, it is God who gives and takes away, so I’m entirely happy to be as I am now.

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
(Job 1:21; CSB). 

Thank you, Lord, for all you send,
For all you share, and all you lend;
For all you do, and all you make –
For all you give, and take.

Thank you, Lord, for life and breath,
For joy and pain, for birth and death;
For Christ, who came to set us free –
For loving even me.

Thank you, Lord, beyond all time,
For I am yours, and you are mine,
And though you wound me, yet you mend –
And always, Lord, defend.

For he wounds, but he also binds up;
he injures, but his hands also heal.
(Job 5:18; NIV). 


The angel of the LORD is a guard;
he surrounds and defends all who fear him.
(Psalm 34:7; NLT). 

Thine, the kingdom

Context: I woke at 6am, began to pray, and immediately had to catch hold of today’s prayer. To my delight, it flowed easily, and wasn’t too exhausting to write. After that I slept and woke, slept and woke, until 10am.

My first morning in Ely meant buying some food at the outdoor market. Life here in the Fens is very different from my quiet days on the island. There were hundreds of people crowding around the stalls, talking, laughing, eating and shopping, ready to help strangers and to chat. One lovely man even told me his life-story.

By the time I got back to my flat for lunch and a rest, I was quite shaky, completely overwhelmed by all the sounds, sights, smells and colours of creation so lavishly displayed in this busy, lively town. This fitted with a theme seems to be emerging from my trip: “I will make all my goodness pass before you” (Exodus 33:19; NLT), as illustrated by today’s blog:

Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.
(Matthew 6:13; KJV). 

God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God,
and God in them (1 John 4:16; TIV). 

Thine, the kingdom,
Thine, the power,
Thine, the glory,
Thine, the love,

Thine, the mercy,
Thine, the giving,
Thine, the saving:
God above.

Mine, the weakness,
Mine, the failure;
Mine, the darkness,
Mine, the sin,

Mine, the longing,
Mine, the searching,
Mine, the finding:
God within.

You will seek me and find me,
when you search for me with all your heart.
(Jeremiah 29:13; NKJV). 

You are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people.”
(2 Corinthians 6:16; NKJV). 

You alone are God

Context: Truly exhausted, I have arrived safely in Ely (UK), at last. Yesterday’s 5-hour train ride was SO exciting, and I met some wonderful people, learning about their lives and the purpose of their journeys, and sharing the pleasure of their achievements. To my delight, I coped well with several very long tunnels, and even managed the loo, though I admit I did not lock the door. Today’s photo is an action-shot, taken as the train passed through a station, just to prove I was really there!

I will make all my goodness pass before you,

and I will call out my name, Yahweh, before you.
(Exodus 33:19; NLT).


Yahweh,
You alone are God:
My birth, my breath,
My everything.

You live in me,
And I in you:
So we are one
In all I do.

Yahweh,
You alone are God:
Inspire my weary heart
To sing

Through every word,
My soul laid bare –
Till all my life
Becomes a prayer.

Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV).

Practicing your presence

Context: A few days ago, on 13.7.22, I posted a blog outlining the daily conflict I experience between praying and writing (https://wp.me/p45bCr-bxF). 

Since then, I have continued to face this long-standing issue, until I had a significant breakthrough two days ago. In the evening, whilst preparing for yesterday’s  journey to the UK, I chose one of my favourite books to take with me. It was: “The practice of the presence of God”, by Brother Lawrence, who became a Carmelite lay-brother in 1666. Though small in size, it offers deep spiritual wisdom, comfort and encouragement. Unable to resist opening it, I came across  the writer’s familiar advice, “That we should establish ourselves in a sense of GOD’S Presence, by continually conversing with Him.”

In his constant practice of the presence of God, Brother Lawrence drew no distinction between the times set aside for prayer, and his work in a busy monastery kitchen. “The time of business,” said he, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament.”

I’ve read these words before, but this time, they struck home in a new way. At last, I grasped that as long as I am continually practicing a sense of God’s presence by loving, worshipping and communing with God, there is no conflict at all between praying and writing – or any other activity, for that matter. This is what it means to, “Pray continually”.

So, yesterday morning, a new prayer flowered from what I had learned, though it proved very difficult to express. Having a constant headache, and feeling stressed about the day’s journey made it all the harder. However, I was able to write this blog on the boat, having even used the lift to reach my seat – praise God!

Pray continually (1 Thessalonians 5:17; NIV). 

Yahweh,

When I’m practicing
Your presence,

Prayer and writing
Never clash,

Because, no matter
What I’m doing,

We continue to commune
In love.

We know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them (1 John 4:16; NIV). 

You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever (Psalm 16:11; NLT).