12.11.22: A dream (for E.M.)

Context: Today’s blog describes what happened after I posted, “Thank you, Jesus” yesterday (https://wp.me/p45bCr-cP2).

Just before settling down to sleep that night I attached my night-cross to my wrist, as always. Then I asked God to be with me in my dreams (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-cHj). I started doing this recently because of a spate of nightmares, probably due to a new medication I was taking. Finally, I switched off the light and went to sleep.

A dream

I dreamed I was in a small, wooden boat, being rowed down a flooded street. Initially, the water was calm.

Then water began to pulse into the street, each wave higher and rougher than the one before, until the water became a rolling, boiling chaos. 

Again and again, tons of water towered above me as the boat was tossed around. Soon waves began to break over me, swamping the boat. I was terrified, and started to scream repeatedly.

A dream within a dream

Then, within the dream, I slowly woke, still screaming, gasping for air. I was in bed in my old, ugly, uncomfortable room at my mother’s house. I was young, but not a child – perhaps a late teenager, or in my early twenties. There was nowhere I would less rather be.

Slowly, slowly, my screams diminished, and I stopped gasping for breath. Eventually my mother appeared in her dressing-gown. I had clearly woken her up, which was never a good thing. I remember feeling that she was very the last person I wanted to see, as she had nothing but scorn for those who were afraid, including me. She was incapable of offering me any comfort, understanding, or sympathy. Indeed, I feared her more than anyone else I had ever known. Finding myself in her house, undressed and in bed, with her in my room, was worse than being in the boat. I felt so vulnerable.

Waking up

Then I began to wake, gradually realising it had all been a dream. However, I couldn’t stop re-living the terrifying sight of the waves towering above me, or the sensation of them falling on to me, filling the boat. It was just like having flashbacks from my childhood, which happened to me so often, and for so many years, that I had no idea they weren’t normal.

Slowly, slowly, I surfaced more fully, until I reached a point where I was able to whisper, “Thank you, Jesus”, whilst holding my night-cross firmly in my hand, where it had remained all night.

Instantly, I stopped re-living the terrifying sights and sensations of my dream. My inner storm had been stilled by those three, precious words. 

Then I reached for my iPad to write this blog, feeling awed by what had happened. I was no longer disturbed or afraid, though my body felt as if it were vibrating for a while afterwards. The whole experience left me with a lot to reflect on.

I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:20; NIV).


References 

You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me (Jonah 2:3; NIV). 

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NIV). 

He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed (Psalm 107:29; NIV). 

He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him (Luke 17:16; NIV). 

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NIV).


Reading: Mark 4:35-41; RSV

When evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.

And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?”

And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” 

And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?”

27.10.22: Dreams

Context: At present, I’m having a lot of challenging and alarming dreams. Yesterday morning, as I surfaced from a particularly long, disturbing one, I started to pray, and immediately received today’s poem. Later in the day I printed it out, and put a copy beside my pillow. The plan is to say it every night just before settling down to sleep, straight after the beautiful Song of Simeon (see below).

Update: I did this last night, and had no horrible dreams at all, for which I thank God!

God speaks in dreams, those visions of the night when deep sleep covers the land and all are slumbering in their beds. At these times God speaks in our ears and terrifies us with admonitions, to turn us away from wickedness and to keep us humble (Job 33:15-17; TIB). 

Lord,

Stay with me in my dreams,
To help and comfort me, I pray,

Then, be with me when I wake,
To guide and strengthen me each day.

May I hearten others, too,
With help and comfort, when I can, 

And walk the extra mile with them,
And share their load, like you, God’s Lamb. 

If one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles (Matthew 5:41; GNT).


References 

As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36; NLT).

Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2; NLT).


Reading: the Song of Simeon

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32; KJV).

15.10.22: Together

Context: The inspiration for this poem came to me during a long train journey a few weeks ago. There were many distractions all around me, but writing it kept me happily absorbed for miles.

When I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:18; NLT).

I pray beside you when I wake,
And kneel beside you to adore.
I serve beside you when I can,
And sit beside you when I weep.

You stay beside me all day long,
And share my suffering and pain.
You comfort me when I’m afraid,
And help me when the way is steep.

So, we face it all together:
Joy and sorrow, grief and fear.
Then, when every day is done,
You watch beside me while I sleep.

The Lord watches over the simple (Psalm 116:6; NASB20).


References

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).

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

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT).

17.9.22: God already knows

A few days ago I found it very hard to pray when I woke up, which is unusual for me. However, to my surprise, some insight still arrived. This what I saw:

Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs (Matthew 6:32; NLT). 

Whenever I turn to you and ask for your help, Lord, I find that you already know what I need, and you’re already offering it. You’re pouring out love all the time, waiting patiently, and longing for me to accept your assistance:

  • When I ask you to forgive me, you’re already offering forgiveness
  • When I ask you to heal me, you’re already offering healing
  • When ask you to strengthen me, you’re already offering strength
  • When I ask you to help me pray, you’re already helping me to pray
  • When I ask you to hear my prayers, you’re already listening to them
  • When I ask you to comfort me, you’re already offering me your comfort

All I need to do is to accept with gratitude what you are already offering.

Lord, you anticipate my every need. May I continually turn to you with total confidence, knowing you will help me in all circumstances. Thank you for being so great, so good and so kind.

In Jesus’ name,
Amen.

I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours (Mark 11:24; NLT). 

The Lord God helps me (Isaiah 50:7; RSV).


References 

The Lord who made you and helps you says: Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, O dear Israel, my chosen one. For I will pour out water to quench your thirst and to irrigate your parched fields (Isaiah 44:3; NLT). 


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

Your Father knows exactly what you need before you ask him (Matthew 6:8; NLT).

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done (Philippians 4:6; NLT).

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him (1 John 5:14-15; NIV).

Writing blogs

Context: Today’s blog arose from two lines which came to me recently:

Out of my darkness
Comes radiant light…

This phrase describes the sudden upwelling of inspiration which generates my writing. I have never been able to put it into words before.

Because of its rhythm, I expected the couplet to become the start of a poem. However, this task soon proved to be beyond me, so instead I resorted to making notes about what I needed to express. To my surprise, these jottings became a short article outlining five distinct stages through which most of my blogs come into being. After some prayer and reflection, I feel fairly comfortable about sharing it:

In Jerusalem, near the Sheep Gate, there is a pool with five porticoes; its Hebrew name is Bethesda. The place was crowded with sick people – those who were blind, lame or paralyzed – lying there waiting for the water to move. An angel of God would come down to the pool from time to time, to stir up the water; the first one to step into the water after it had been stirred up would be completely healed  (John 5:2-4; TIB). 

1. Worshipping without words
When worshipping without words, I rest in a womb-like space at the threshold between my conscious and unconscious minds. It’s warm, still, peaceful and dimly-lit, so I feel safe and comfortable there.

2. Light and movement 
Then, without warning, a brilliant light bubbles up from the total darkness of my unconscious mind, stirring the previously still surface of my consciousness. Intense brightness, warmth and love overwhelm me. I don’t know how long this moment lasts, because I’m not aware of anything beyond it, though I suspect it’s just a few seconds.

3. Inspiration, insight and words
This light brings a spiritual insight that is new to me, though it wouldn’t necessarily be new to others. I experience a moment of intense personal learning and inner healing. Discernible words quickly follow, rising up out of the darkness, though I neither hear nor see them. They simply take shape in my mind. Usually these words form the opening lines of a prayer; occasionally, an ending. They nearly always set the theme and rhythm for the whole piece.

4. Starting to write
Revelling in God’s light and warmth, I’m often reluctant to break off in order to catch hold of what I’ve been shown. However, long experience has taught me that if I don’t write it down immediately, it will disappear from my memory. The moment for seeing and grasping each insight comes only once.

So I reach for my iPad or notebook, quickly scribbling the words, then sketching out the shape of the whole piece. Sometimes, as I’m writing down each line, the next appears from nowhere, then the next, and I simply write them down. This takes just a few minutes. Once the bare bones of the piece are safely on the page, I begin the much longer process of working to express exactly what I learned as clearly and briefly as possible.

Gradually, the whole piece takes shape. If possible, I prefer to finalise it on the day it arrives. However, this stage can sometimes takes longer, depending on how difficult it is to put what I experienced into words. 

5. Finishing
There is always a strong sense of relief and fulfilment when I finish encapsulating each experience securely, in writing. Along the way I will have searched out numerous Biblical quotations, so all that remains is to select a few of the most helpful, tag some key words, and choose an illustration. This completes the process of preparing to share the light which comes out of my inner darkness.

I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden wealth of secret places, so that you may know that it is I, Yahweh, the God of Israel, who calls you by your name (Isiah 45:3; LSB). 


References

He uncovers deep things out of darkness (Job 12:22; NKJV).

Darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2; KJV).

Beautiful words stir my heart (Psalm 45:1; NLT). 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing to you, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer (Psalm 19:14; NLT). 

A dream: 13.8.22.

Context: A few nights ago I had a vivid, strange and disturbing dream:

I saw a group of very young children who had just been separated from those whose task it was to take care of them. The children weren’t old enough to walk, so they were having to crawl along a rough, narrow, dirty street, moving away from their carers, and towards an unknown destination.

All of them were wailing. It was a heartbreaking sound. In his distress, perhaps blinded by tears, one little boy blundered head-first into a stone wall. He slumped to the ground, and I was shocked to hear him cry out, “They don’t love us any more”, in utter despair, hopelessness and desolation. After that he stopped moving. It was clear that he had given up the will to survive.

My heart went out to him. I jumped up and ran to him, putting my arms round his small body to comfort him. At that moment, I woke up with my arms clasped around my pillow. Instantly, even before I could begin to pray, several realisations struck me hard: 

What I realised

Everything I experienced during my childhood laid the foundations of my mental health during adult life.

This includes how I was treated by those who brought me up, as well as by those I was exposed to at school, in churches, clubs, hospitals and all other settings.

Thus, for good or ill, I have been influenced and affected by all the relationships and events I experienced during my formative years.

Comments

From my dream, and from the realisations which followed immediately afterwards, I understood even more clearly than before that the damage done to me in childhood caused the wounds and scars I have carried into adulthood.

These wounds shaped the person I have become, including all I feel, think, say and do. They affect how I behave, relate to others, cope with suffering, treat the world, understand God, and even whether or not I want to live. They also affected how I brought up my son, and how I reacted to having a miscarriage.

My dream showed me the mechanism by which so much of my psychological distress and mental illness has been caused. Only God can fully heal the inner damage I sustained, and the consequences with which I have had to live.

I am the LORD who heals you (Exodus 15:26; NLT).

He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.
(Psalm 147:3; NLT). 

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).

I love you

Context: Today I’m stressed, which is unusual for me. This is because tomorrow I am going on holiday for the first time in years. Old and tired, with chronic health issues and limited mobility, this is a huge undertaking for me, and I don’t know how I’m going to cope.

Taking two days for the journey, I will be travelling to visit my son and his family in Ely (UK). This trip is also a personal pilgrimage for me to Ely cathedral, perhaps for the last time. Additionally, if possible, I would like to visit Norwich, to see St. Julian’s hermitage. However, that will depend on how well I am, and is probably over-ambitious.

This holiday is a huge challenge for me, both physically and mentally, so all I can do is to commit myself to God’s loving care.

NB: Today’s picture is a photograph of my favourite icon, which hangs in my bedroom, opposite my bed. Having stored it on my iPad, this icon will be going on the trip with me.

I love you, Lord (Psalm 18:1; NIV).

He loves us with unfailing love (Psalm 117:2; NLT). 

1. I love you, Lord,
And you love me:
There’s nothing else I need.

2. You are my light,
My way, my staff,
My comfort, and my creed.

3. You are my truth,
My fire, my Book,
My strength, Lord, without cease.

4. You are my faith,
My hope, my life:
My everlasting peace.

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


References 

1. God is love (1 John 4:8; NLT).

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

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

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 15:6; NLT).

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:4; KJV).

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; TIV). 

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

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

You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed (Psalm 139:16; NLT).

Search the book of the LORD, and see what he will do (Isaiah 34:16; NLT). 

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

4. Three things will last forever – faith, hope, and love – and the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13; NLT). 

Eternity is now

God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11; NLT). 

Eternity is now,
Forever,
All around me
And within,
Despite my flaws
And weaknesses;
Despite my ignorance
And sin.

For you, Lord, live
Forever,
Here within my flesh, mind, heart
And soul.
You heal, forgive
And set me free;
You comfort, love
And make me whole.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:4-5; RSV).


References 

From eternity to eternity I am God (Isaiah 43:13; NLT). 

One day the Pharisees asked Jesus, “When will the Kingdom of God come?” Jesus replied, “The Kingdom of God can’t be detected by visible signs. You won’t be able to say, ‘Here it is!’ or ‘It’s over there!’ For the Kingdom of God is already among you” (Luke17:20-21; NLT). 

Jesus lives forever (Hebrews 7:24; NLT). 

Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us (Colossians 3:11; NLT). 

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8; NLT). 

Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:8; NLT). 

Images

The LORD is like a father to his children.
(Psalm 103; 13; NLT).

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.
(Isaiah 66:13; NIV). 

Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a father, safely guiding,
Like a mother, reconciling,
Like a teacher, gently chiding –
Now, and evermore.

Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a potter, smoothly moulding,
Like a mentor, wisely scolding,
Like a comforter, enfolding –
Now, and evermore.

Holy Spirit, pray within me –
Like a pastor, interceding,
Like a doctor, caring, healing,
Like a pilgrim, sighing, pleading –
Now, and evermore.

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
(Romans 8:26-7; NRSV).


Reflections on Biblical translation 

I’m often struck by how powerfully Biblical translations influence the thinking, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour of their readers. The consequences of such effects can be positive or negative, both for the holder, and for those they relate to.

Below are four renderings of the quote which ends today’s blog. They illustrate how differently these verses can be translated in terms of the grammatically gendered pronouns used to refer to God’s Spirit. I have highlighted the relevant words for each quotation:

1. Neuter/masculine
Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. And he that searcheth the hearts knoweth what is the mind of the Spirit, because he maketh intercession for the saints according to the will of God (KJV).

2. Masculine
In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God (NIV).

3. Feminine
The Spirit, too, comes to help us in our weakness. For we don’t know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit expresses our plea with groanings too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit is saying, because her intercessions for God’s holy people are made according to the mind of God (TIV).

4. Inclusive
The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (NRSV).

Discussion
These four quotes illustrate significantly different ways of translating the original Greek text. All of them are justifiable, though the first three are incomplete. This is because the Greek word used for “Spirit” here is grammatically neuter, whilst its definite article (the) denotes feminine, masculine and neuter. Moreover, the reflexive pronoun translated as “Himself” in the second example, actually means he, she, it, they, them and same (Strong’s Greek).

The sheer breadth of meaning that needs to be compressed into a single pronoun here is stunning, and sadly the English language offers no easy way to express the extraordinary inclusivity of the Greek. The fourth quotation is the only one which manages this, by carefully using solely inclusive, non-gendered vocabulary.

I have great sympathy for translators faced with the challenge of trying to convey such complex meanings, especially as the decisions they make are also likely to be influenced by countless conscious and unconscious factors. Here I would include, for example, the conventions, attitudes and prejudices of their era regarding the ascribed roles and status of women and men. Each translator’s individual upbringing, education, training, experience and stage of faith development are also likely to play a part in the words they choose. So I don’t envy these brave souls, who carry a heavy burden of responsibility for how each reader understands, and responds to, every word they read in their chosen Biblical translation.

Acknowledgement
All the grammatical information on which this discussion is based is taken from Strong’s Greek, which is publicly available, free of charge, via Blue Letter Bible, at: https://www.blueletterbible.org