Mission

I’ve just spent a few days in the frozen wastes of the north with my father. He is getting on (in his 70s) and I stay with him every couple of months. I had this idea after his wife (my mother) died in 2013. I want to make sure he’s well, keep him company, make sure he knows I’m available if he needs help, be ready if/when anything crops up. At first he was not keen, but it seems to have grown on him.

We can be a bit of a scratchy family (I have a sister too), but nothing outside a standard deviation from the mean. However, generally, after a couple of days in his company, I have had enough.

Visits have been getting better gradually this year, but this latest visit went especially well.

What went well?

We had a couple of trips out scheduled, so I suggested I could stay an extra day. In the end he pulled out of one of the trips, but I did stay the extra day. I managed to stay the extra day without losing my temper with him or secretly pulling my hair out.

I was disappointed early on. The failed trip out. Also, I had wanted to discuss some admin/finance matters with him, but because my work has been very hectic recently I hadn’t prepared fully, so I had to drop that as well. So I felt I had nothing “to do” while I was there. A wasted trip.

Perhaps that made me feel I had plenty of time. We did very little, and just had a peaceful time together. We watched old TV comedies on DVD, played with his dog, chatted a little. I got up and went to bed early, and provided food at mealtimes (just supermarket ready meals, but quite nice ones), did a bit of cleaning.

Towards the end of my visit, Dad had more colour in his cheeks, was more cheerful, less fretful, and explicitly grateful for my company.

Why did it go well?

I think the early failures were a blessing in disguise. I didn’t have goals I wanted to achieve — which were actually distractions from the better work I could be doing.

The extra day was an extra day of food and regular sleep. It was also an extra day for me (and him) to see the benefits of my actions.

I think I attended to him very closely. Not because I was concentrating, and not entirely because I felt there was time. I was calmer, less directing or interfering. Looking back, my interventions were kind of pre-emptive: e.g. I got the food ready before we were hungry and put it out at just the right time.

With my secular hat on I would say: things have been improving over the last year, and on this visit they crossed a threshold so I noticed; I had the time to see the positive effect I was having and that gave me a boost too.

I also had the luxury of praying every morning when I woke up, and every night at bedtime. I had Mere Christianity with me (which I seem to be re-reading perpetually). I was reading scripture every day. I was writing in my diary every day. So, I was looking after myself in that sense.

I was never distracted or tempted (apart from at a train station on the way up, but that’s another story for another day).

Conclusions & next steps

I crossed another threshold during that visit. I am starting to see the benefit of accepting Jesus, and of spending so much time in His arms. On the way back home I went to a church and prayed thanks to God for His presence and the gift of the visit: on Dad and on me.

This long year — since my Total Purge last August — I have been concentrating on fighting my demons and overcoming bad habits. I’m sure those struggles will continue.

During Advent I am practicising the other side: giving thanks, adoration of God, rejoicing in and enjoying my new-found life. I hope to focus on these things here on the blog more next year.

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John 3:19,20

“… that I might be saved through Him”


God did not send Jesus to condemn me. God has put Jesus inside me. His Son. He has filled me with the Spirit. He did not fill me with the Spirit as a condemning voice, to put me down.

God loves me and fills me with His love. The Lord yearns for me to be His — and now I yearn and push to be His too. 

Thank you Lord for your love and your strength. 

Dear Lord

This song is actually by John Coltrane, but I prefer Marilyn Crispell’s version. Here is John Coltrane:

Crispell’s reading is a constant yearning and opening. Coltrane’s, lovely as it is, is a jazz tune.

“Dear Lord” is the phrase I use to open a prayer. Sometimes just getting myself calm, clasping my hands into a heart, and saying “Dear Lord” can bring that peaceful prayer feeling on me. Praying is a treat. I do feel selfish giving myself that time. But it has a positive effect on me: it calms me and strengthens me, it helps me love my wife and our son. The nearer I am to prayer, the less snarled up in myself I am.

As any readers will know, I am a creature of habit. I always go to the same restaurants, order the same dishes, even sit at the same tables. I have set myself two prayer times: bedtime, and a short quiet time when I arrive at work (I cycle to work and arrive very early to miss the rush hour traffic).

I realised recently that this might be stopping me from praying at other times, or from praying “on the spur of the moment”. I’ve done two things to nudge me towards prayer outside of my set times.

  1. By chance I finished my diary notebook and have started a new one. I decided that this new diary would be in a New Style. I have been keeping a diary for much longer than I have been a Christian, and that new side of me didn’t show up in the diary very much. In this new diary I am mixing prayers and Bible readings with old-style diary entries, and I am talking to God, and listening to God much more in those pages. I keep this notebook with me and write in it often.
  2. I have downloaded the Universalis Daily Hours app onto my phone. This pings automatically at times throughout the day, and suggests Psalms, readings, prayers and hymns. It reminds me to make contact, pulls me out of me work, and brings prayer into my day.

Another Church

At my bedtime prayer last night I felt I’d had a good day and was thankful to the Lord. I couldn’t think why the day felt so blessed, so I traced back over what I’d done. A reasonable day: ups and downs, but nothing special. A couple of points to be ashamed of. In the end I did find something.

I was in town to do some errands. I arrived at the library five minutes before it opened. Usual practice would be to go to one of my usual cafes, get a coffee, write some diary and watch the world go by (actually just the babes and milfs). The weather was exactly right. However, I dithered, I wandered, undecided without knowing it, like Buridan’s ass.

I found myself at a church. It was open but quiet. I walked around for a bit enjoying the atmosphere. I found a pew and sat down and prayed. Not for anything special. Not my bedtime prayer or my morning quiet time prayer, an extra unscheduled prayer. Sat calmly for a while. Made a donation. Left and got on with my day.

confirmation

I had a work meeting in County Town and I decided that while I was in town I would find time to go and pray in a church. This would be a first for me.

Aside:

I have been trying to establish a habit of daily prayer, with intermittent success. However, on 8th March I decided that I would say a special prayer daily for a friend. Among other things, this desire to pray specifically has reminded me to pray at all, and after saying my special prayer for the friend, I go on to say my “normal” prayer. So now I am safely praying every day (at bedtime, or at my morning quiet time when I arrive at work, or both).

The cathedral where I was planning to pray is a bit of a tourist trap and they have a greeter on the door doing triage. When I arrive the greeter asked brightly “Are you visiting?” and I said sheepishly that I was coming in to pray. Because the cathedral is such a tourist trap they have special areas set aside for private prayer (they do do normal services there too, it is a functioning church), and the greeter described the way to get to the chapel: in a corner, up a stone spiral staircase, …

(click for bigger pics!)

I realised I had no idea what to do. I lit a candle as a way of starting. I knelt on that little red cushion. I said my prayer out loud.

Praying like this — aloud, so I could hear my own voice; in public; in such a place; and of course for the first time in my life — was a powerful experience. I asked myself later why I didn’t pray my “normal” daily prayer or even a special prayer for myself. Perhaps I didn’t want to unleash too much emotion.

There was nobody else in the chapel while I was there. Mid-prayer I did hear footsteps come up the stair and into the room, shift about and then leave. Perhaps security or a stray tourist. I didn’t turn round to see and I kept praying. So — a complete unknown stranger saw and heard me praying!

A couple more pics of around the cathedral:

On the way out I thanked the greeter and we talked about what went on at the church. It became clear that I knew little about services, whether Easter Saturday was a special day, etc., and I found myself saying, “I’ve only recently got into all this”. I don’t know why I didn’t say something like, “I’ve only recently become a Christian”.

Samuel

Walking around the cathedral afterwards, I came across two pleasant surprises from Samuel. Firstly this mural of 2 Samuel 18:33

Then the gift shop had a copy of Straight to the Heart of 1&2 Samuel by Phil Moore (I’ve linked the Amazon page as it has a “look inside”; there’s also the author’s home page).

I bought the book obvs, and I am enjoying reading it.

Confirmation

Also in the gift shop I bought this Confirmation card:

I don’t know what “Confirmation” is in the Church of England, but coming here and praying felt like a confirmation (with a small ‘c’) and another step towards a real confirmation.

I know that real confirmation will involve “coming out of the closet” to my wife about being a Christian, and finding a local group to join.

Praying Psalm 145

Well I enjoyed that!

Thank you to Beth for the idea of praying by writing.
Thank you to Lisa for the “31 Days” idea.

The Psalm

Here are my prayers, verse-by-verse:

  1. I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name for ever and ever.
  2. Every day I will bless you and praise your name for ever and ever.
  3. Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.
  4. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
  5. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
  6. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness.
  7. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
  8. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
  9. The LORD is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made.
  10. All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your saints shall bless you!
  11. They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,
  12. to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  13. Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
  14. The LORD upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.
  15. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.
  16. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
  17. The LORD is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.
  18. The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
  19. He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them.
  20. The Lord preserves all who love him, but the wicked he will destroy.
  21. My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and let all flesh bless his holy name for ever and ever.

Comments

I loved praying by writing. It meant I prayed consciously and with focus. I meditated on the verse and let it inspire me. I loved adoring God and Jesus.

The days I couldn’t manage to write, I felt it. I felt itchy and unhappy, like missing a new lover.

I wouldn’t like this to be a “habit”, but I would love to do it every day. Keep a little notebook with me I can pray in.

I love my silent praying too. Perhaps I am developing a repertoire of different kinds of praying: adoration (writing); meditation (my morning quiet times); reflection (my bedtime prayer). [in case I sound like a nun I should say I don’t always manage or remember to pray every day!]

I think a longer form of written praying might be powerful too, for supplication or for confession of sins (not for posting here of course!). I have kept a diary on-and-off since I was a kid and I have always found that helpful (my wife too, often tells me I am calmer when I write regularly). Writing to God instead of to myself would be interesting.

Next steps

  • Make sure I have the Psalm safely learnt. The first dozen or so verses are safe I think.
  • Keep writing to my new penpal.

My mouth will speak

The wicked he will destroy

Save me Oh Lord

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