25.9.22: Facing the unknown

Context: This morning I was dreaming about opening a large parcel that had unexpectedly arrived for me at a neighbour’s house. When I removed the outer box, another box was revealed. It was wrapped in brown paper, so it was impossible to guess what it might contain.

Before I could find out, I woke up and began to pray, though I was still very drowsy. Whilst slowly surfacing, I suddenly remembered that today I will be travelling to London for specialised medical tests tomorrow. This realisation woke me up more fully. With a touch of apprehension, I began to wonder what the next few days might hold, and reveal. Then I received a very simple prayer to ground me during my trip, and began to write:

Their eyes were opened and they recognized him (Luke 24:31; NIV). 

Lord,
Refill me with your love,
So I grow more and more like you;
Then I’ll see you in others,
Serving you in all I do.

Lord,
Restore me with your love,
So I grow more like you each day;
Then I’ll see you in others,
Serving you in all I say. 

Lord,
Renew me with your love,
So I grow kinder, as you taught;
Then I’ll see you in others,
Serving you in every thought.

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


References

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

We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).

Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged (Matthew 7:1-2; NLT).

12.9.22: When I’m rushing

Following my blog about being introduced to my ‘Pause’ button a few days ago (see https://wp.me/p45bCr-ccE), I discovered yesterday that I also have available a ‘Slow’ button, a ‘Stop’ button and a ‘Rest’ button. This is very exciting, because I’ve never consciously recognised, or been able to access, any of these inner control buttons before. Here is what sprang from this healing realisation:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart…

When I’m rushing,
I press Slow, Lord,

When I want to,
I press Pause;

When I need to,
I press Stop, Lord,

Then I Rest,
Within your hands.

…and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:28-9; NLT).


References

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day God had finished all the work of creation, and so, on that seventh day, God rested. God blessed the seventh day and called it sacred, because on it God rested from all the work of creation (Genesis 21-3; TIB).

Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31; NLT).

Sister and Brother (#3 of 3)

Context: This is the last in a series of three blogs which arrived in rapid succession on the same morning. Whilst I was praying, I saw that everyone is my sister, my brother and my mother, and that every child is my child. God is within us all, so we all belong to one family, and we are all one. Jesus, of course, understood this long ago:

There was a crowd sitting around Jesus, and someone said, “Your mother and your brothers are outside asking for you.” Jesus replied, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” Then he looked at those around him and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers. Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3:32-5; NLT). 

You’re my Sister and Brother,
My Child and my Kin;

My Teacher, my Shepherd,
My Saviour, my King;

My Mother and Father,
My Staff and my Rod,

For, living in all,
You’re my Lord and my God.

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

“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:28; NLT).


References

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40; NIV).

He gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children (Psalm 113:9; CSB).

I long to see your face (for M.I.)

Context: This prayer came to me in the shower yesterday morning, so I had to keep repeating the first couple of lines and rehearsing the progression of ideas, until I could get out and make notes on my iPad at top speed. Later in the day I was able to work on it at leisure, so here it is:

My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, LORD, I will seek (Psalm 27:8; NIV).

As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God. When can I go and stand before him? (Psalm 42:1-2; NLT).

I long to see your face, Lord,
When I meet you, in the end,
My Teacher, Priest and Shepherd,
My Redeemer and my Friend.

Yet, may I wait with patience
For the day you make me whole,
When you draw near, to bear away
My life, and breath and soul,

Because I want to serve you
Till my time on earth has passed,
When, all my trials and sorrows done,
I’ll see your face, at last. 

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

When my mind is closed

They have closed their minds and hardened their hearts
(Ephesians 4:18; NLT).

Yahweh,
When my mind is closed,
Remind me how, when Jesus rose,
He came to Mary, and to those
Who trusted.

Yahweh,
When my heart is hard,
Please show me how my way is barred
By prejudice; your face, marred
By my judgements.

Yahweh,
When I start to preach,
May I remember what you teach:
Love everyone, and help me reach
Your standard.

This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ (Ephesians 4:13; NLT).


References 

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you (1 Thessalonians 3:12; NIV). 

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against a fellow Israelite, but love your neighbour as yourself (Leviticus 19:18; NLT).

Love the stranger (Deuteronomy 10:19; NKJV).

Show love to foreigners (Deuteronomy 10:19; NLT).

Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44; NLT).

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26; NIV).

Enlightenment

Context: Today has been a very medical day, with help from my doctor and from the anti-coagulation clinic, then organising two week’s worth of medication. In the afternoon I had to  make an urgent visit to my ophthalmologist, who diagnosed ulcers and an abrasion in my right eye. This was followed by a dash to the pharmacy for steroids and antibiotics. I’ve also got a migraine, which helps to explain how I came to post this blog accidentally, before it was finished. Once I discovered my error, I put it right, but email followers received the first version, for which I apologise. Tomorrow is another day…

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12; 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).

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the way
I want to take.
He teaches me the path
Through life to heaven,
And helps me change and grow
For his name’s sake.

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the truth
That sets me free.
He opens every door
That blocks my progress,
Then leads me through,
For he has ransomed me.

I will never be enlightened
Without Jesus,
For Jesus is the life
I want to lead.
He walks beside me,
Loving, kind, unfailing:
My strength, my fire, my peace –
My living creed.

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,”
and believe in your heart that God raised him
from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 19:9; NIV).


References 

This was the true light that enlightens every person by his coming into the world (John 1:9; ISV). 

Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9; NIV). 

There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12; NLT). 

The Lord – who is the Spirit – makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18; NLT). 

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free (Luke 4:18; NIV). 

Equality

Introduction 

Some Christians believe that women are, and should be, subordinate to men, and that wives should submit to their husbands. Having researched and reflected on this issue for many years, I want to examine it in some detail, beginning with a question:

Did Jesus ever teach, state, claim, suggest, imply, or show by his behaviour that he considered women to be subordinate to men?

Jesus’ attitude to women 

The Gospels illustrate how Jesus went out of his way to include and relate to women in ways which were revolutionary for a man in a highly patriarchal society. He talked with them, listened to them, taught them, touched them, healed them and ate with them. He had close women friends and cared about women’s spiritual development. He depended on his female followers’ financial backing, and received their emotional support to the very end of his life, when all his male disciples except John had fled. Women were also the first witnesses of his resurrection. 

Jesus’ male disciples were sometimes shocked  by how closely and equally he related to women, as seen when they found him talking to the woman at the well (John 4:26; NLT).

Perhaps most significantly of all, there is no suggestion in the Gospels that Jesus excluded women from becoming his disciples:

Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me” (Mark 8:34; NLT). 

Saint Paul’s attitude to women 

So, given Jesus’ egalitarian example, where did the belief that Christian women should be subservient to men originate? Here I turn to the letters of Saint Paul. A tough, educated and opinionated man, Paul did not question the culture of his day with regard to the sexes:

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting for those who belong to the Lord (Colossians 3:18; NLT).

Going even further, he instructed churches to silence women members, regardless of their spiritual gifts:

Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings (1 Colossians 14:34-5; NLT). 

In saying this, Paul presumably felt he was adhering to the Gospel, even though Jesus said nothing of the kind. 

It’s interesting to note that in his letter to the Galatians, Paul once stated the exact opposite of what he wrote to the Colossians. Experiencing a moment of sublime insight into the essential equality and oneness not just of the sexes, but of all people, he was able to write:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28; NKJV). 

Historical context

I don’t know how Paul managed to square his contradictory views on women, but I take care to bear in mind how strongly his writing was influenced by his historical context. Although he was an extraordinary, sometimes inspired, speaker and writer, he was also a fallible man of his times, whose views were shaped by widely-held beliefs and prejudices, some of which unfortunately crept into his letters.

Unfortunately, these non-Gospel aspects of his teaching have continued to influence others ever since. Thus, when powerful men spent years arguing about which books should be included in the Biblical Canon, most of those by, for, and about women were ruthlessly excluded. The selections they made still influence Christian belief and practice over 2,000 years later.

Conclusion

It’s hard to understand why Paul’s conventionally patriarchal attitude to women came to be so thoroughly embraced throughout history, whilst Jesus’ consistently loving, egalitarian approach has been largely ignored. Even as I write, I’m shaking my head in disbelief that Paul’s first-century beliefs about the roles and status of women and men continue to influence so many individuals, families, congregations and denominations right up to the present day.

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). 

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

Lord, my Father

Our Father in heaven, may your name be kept holy.
(Matthew 6:9; NLT).

1. Lord, my Father,
And my Mother,

2. Christ, my Saviour,
And my Brother;

3. Spirit: Sister,
Teacher, Lover –

4. You are God:
There is no other.

I am God, and there is no other.
(Isaiah 46:9; NKJV).


References 

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

2. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Titus 3:6; NLT). 

Anyone who does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother (Mark 3:35; NLT). 

3. 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 (Romans 8:26-7; TIB). 

The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him – the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2; NLT). 

Say to wisdom, “You are my sister” (Proverbs 7:4; NIV).

You have received the Holy Spirit, and he lives within you, so you don’t need anyone to teach you what is true. For the Spirit teaches you everything you need to know, and what he teaches is true (1 John 2:27; NLT). 

My beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2:16; NIV).