Archive for January, 2016

Rhythms of Life

Posted: January 28, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Prayer

At the moment at Revive we are focusing on the ways we encounter God. We started by looking at different styles of spirituality, and we’ll be looking at different techniques or tools for prayer. We’re already putting some of that into practice with our monthly prayer meetings, and the hope is that we will start putting it into practice in our private spiritual lives too.

As I confessed on Sunday, I’m no expert when it comes to maintaining a good rhythm of prayer and spirituality and rest, so this will in no way be a guide to how to do it. What is will be is a few suggestions drawn from the wisdom of the gathered community, and a few encouragements.

For many of us, the rhythm of our lives is dictated by work and family and a host of small practicalities and necessities, and that means it is really easy for other important things like prayer and spirituality and rest to get squeezed out.

That’s why we need to stop every now and then, to look around us and draw breath, and to think about where prayer and spirituality and rest fit in, and where they don’t and where they might.

God who is love and creator and redeemer wants to spend time with us, and it is through prayer and the myriad other ways we express our spirituality that we make time to spend with God. Without that time we can know about God but we cannot know God, and so it has to be worth the effort.

There is a third beat in the triplet though, and when we talked about our rhythms on Sunday night, at least one group found that they didn’t talk about rest at all, so it’s worth emphasising just how important it is.

After the pattern of the days and seasons, the first rhythm God created was that of the Sabbath day. Before Israel was given festivals and sacrifices and fasts, it was given a day off. Rest is sacred and it is modelled by God and it should be part of the rhythm of our lives, for our own health and sanity, and also because it is often in those quiet spaces that we find we have made space for God.

As I said when I talked about Sabbath before, rest will look different for all of us, but I think there should always be an intentionality about it. Collapsing on the sofa for an hour because you are so exhausted that you can’t do anything else might be necessary from time to time, but it’s not the kind of rest I’m talking about and it shouldn’t be the only downtime you get.

I think there also needs to be some discipline about it, as dreary as that word sounds. A number of people shared on Sunday night that they have a tendency to spend rather longer than they should on their phones. I too often do the same thing, flicking through websites I have no real interest in because I can’t keep my mind quiet, instead of focusing on something more worthwhile, but even if that time isn’t work it still doesn’t feel like rest.

Rest should be time that is set aside and valued and enjoyed. The same should probably be said for prayer and spirituality too.

Let’s begin with something solid. One rhythm which Christians have used for centuries is the pattern of the daily office, which is morning and evening prayer, sometimes with midday prayer and compline.

The sense of praying in community, either because we are sharing the office with others or because we know others throughout history and around the world have used and are using the same words, can be really encouraging. And it’s possible to learn chunks of the prayers, so that we can keep that rhythm even when other things change around us, which can be a great source of comfort.

It’s something I would definitely recommend exploring, and if you want to try it out you can find the daily prayer of the Northumbria community on their website. My parents and I did for Lent a few years ago, and while none of us have managed to keep it up since, it was a really valuable experience, and it did encourage my parents to start each day be studying the Bible together, a pattern they still try to maintain.

So that’s a personal recommendation, but we have different styles of spirituality and different things that bring us closer to God, so now it’s time to look a little wider.

On Sunday night we shared some of the things we find helpful in our own spiritual lives, because it is good for us to inspire and support one another.

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m starting to get slightly tired of lots of words, and I’m the sort of person who will happily read the cereal box over breakfast, so here is a slightly more creative attempt at capturing our ideas.

nine styles.jpg

[It will need a little more work as I suspect there will be a fair amount of squinting involved in trying to read it at the moment, but I hope you will accept this work in progress for the time being.

Until then, here are the suggestions:

SENSORY do something physical that reminds you that you are an embodied soul; appreciate art; go for a walk in the beauty of creation; be present and aware of sensations

RATIONAL read with a critical mind; discussions and book clubs; NOOMA dvds

SCRIPTURE DRIVEN read the bible; use study guides and reading plans; lectio divina and imaginative contemplation; pray for the Spirit to guide

DOCTRINAL wrestle with and distill core beliefs; talk to others about what they believe; reflect on the ancient creeds; understand doctrines as ‘healing truths’

ASCETIC quiet days and retreats; learning to rely on God not things; fasting from food, technology, mental activity

SHARING random acts of kindness such as 40 Acts for Lent; volunteering for example with Junk Food Project or refugees; asking ‘what is beautiful about this person?’

ENTHUSIASTIC go to worship events such as city wide gathering at St Matthias; ask for prayer; be open

MYSTICAL candle prayers; simple repetitive activities which leave mind open to God; meditation

SACRAMENTAL using things others have created or creating things to use in worship; Transcendence worship events; celebrating communion; anointings and washings; using liturgy]

Of course all of these things should be approached with an openness to and desire for God. In other words they should be suffused by the prayer of St Richard of Chichester.

May I know thee more clearly,
love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.
Amen.

We started this blog by thinking about a rhythm of life, and the hope is that we will build some of these things into our lives. The idea of rhythm and discipline may seem more natural and more important to ascetic types, but it is good for all of us to be intentional about our spirituality, and there are many ways of creating a rhythm.

You might want to set aside short chunks of time throughout the week, or one larger chunk on a weekend when you have more breathing space. You might like the idea of the daily office but decide to scrap the traditional liturgies and do something of your own invention. The possibilities are endless.

The point isn’t finding the one rhythm that will win us spiritual brownie points and impress the people around us, but finding a rhythm that will both challenge and sustain us, whether that rhythm sounds like a military band or free form jazz.

I want to encourage you to take some time to start thinking about what your rhythm might sound like, and find some way of recording and sharing it so that there is a sense of commitment and accountability.  They sound like horribly strict words, but they are really about encouraging us to do something that we know will be good for us, and they should be applied with love and grace.

If it helps you to see all of this as part of a bigger pattern, when I started college I was given a framework for a Rule of Life which encouraged me to set a pattern for the spiritual, relational, physical, intellectual and financial aspects of my life. I’m not suggesting we all need to do this, and I will be very honest and say that this level of structure doesn’t work for me as much as I would like it to but it might work for you, or at least trigger some thoughts.

rule of life

And while we’re thinking about bigger patterns, it is good for us to build rhythms of life as individuals and as families. but also as a community, so I would encourage you to think about where Revive fits in, and how you might build prayer for Revive into your rhythm, especially during this season of prayer.

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Exploring Spiritual Styles

Posted: January 27, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Prayer

Over the last couple of teaching sessions, we have been looking at the nine styles of spirituality, as described by Christian Schwartz. There’s a whole website full of stuff if you want to check it out, but here I will attempt a brief summary of what we’ve covered.

The idea behind the spiritual styles is that we all encounter God and express our relationship with him in different ways, and it can be helpful for us to recognise what those ways are in order to explore them further and perhaps find God in new and unexpected places.

The nine styles sit on a wheel which places them in relation to three colours – green (God seen in creation – the world), red (God seen in the sacrifice of Jesus – the word) and blue (God seen in our own hearts – the spirit). It also places them in relation to three passions which overlap the three colours – the beautiful (a focus on the aesthetic), the true (a focus on the objective) and the good (a focus on the ethical).

It all looks rather neat, and of course the reality of our spirituality is far messier, but it can still be a helpful picture to start from.

So what are the nine styles? Here’s a very quick guide.

Sensory people best express their spirituality through appreciating God’s presence and work in creation and celebrating what they experience through their senses.

Rational people best express their spirituality through seeking to understand the nature of God, asking questions and thinking deeply.

Doctrinal people best express their spirituality through a clear definition of the truth, and have a desire to think correctly about God.

Scripture driven people best express their spirituality  through studying the Bible and applying its teaching.

Sharing people best express their spirituality through passing on the love and grace of God, experiencing God most profoundly in their relationships with others.

Ascetic people best express their spirituality through developing a sense of discipline for God and see sacrifice and restraint as important.

Enthusiastic people best express their spirituality through encounters with the supernatural and celebrating the power of God.

Mystical people best express their spirituality through resting in God and focusing on the Spirit at work in their inner selves. 

Sacramental people best express their spirituality through liturgy and symbolic action, seeing the spiritual as present in and expressed through the physical.

Most of us will recognise ourselves in one or two of those and have one or two others that we just can’t connect to at all, although some will have a more even spread across the styles, but I imagine that we will all connect with some of what’s there.

The styles may sound rather prescriptive, but they don’t tell us how we should be experiencing God. Instead they recognise the great diversity of ways in which we do experience God, a diversity that is of course rooted in the wonderful kaleidoscope nature of created humanity.

Each style has its strengths and weaknesses, and it’s good to be aware of both.

Sensory people have a profound sense of the beauty and wonder of God’s creation, but can risk becoming too reliant on sensations and external things.

Rational people have the ability to use logic and science to develop their faith, but can risk rejecting anything they can’t understand.

Doctrinal people have the courage of their convictions, but can risk being dogmatic and neglecting personal experiences.

Scripture driven people are faithful in following and proclaiming God’s word, but can risk reducing God’s word to Scripture and not hearing that word elsewhere.

Sharing people are great at loving and evangelising to people, but can risk focusing more on relationships to others than a direct connection to God.

Ascetic people have a sense of freedom from the world, but can risk feeling guilty about any enjoyment and developing an overly negative view of the world.

Enthusiastic people are open to the work of the Spirit, but can risk falling into emotionalism and rejecting reason.

Mystical people are able to live in and celebrate the mystery of God, but can risk a lack of discernment if they become too introverted.

Sacramental people have an ability to express their faith in physical ways, but can risk an overly methodical attitude to spirituality.

It’s worth saying that the risks come from taking any style to the extreme, and being dominant in one style doesn’t mean falling prey to that danger. They do however remind us of the importance of balance in our spiritual lives, which we shall come onto now.

Jesus taught that the most important commandment was “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength”.

If heart and soul as the place of our inner selves are concerned with the good and our experience of the spirit, and mind as the centre of our rational selves is concerned with the true and our understanding of the world, and strength as an expression of our embodied selves is concerned with the beautiful and our encounter with the word, then we should surely be engaging at different points across the wheel.

It is because of this need for balance that Schwartz recommends that if we want to encounter God at a deeper level, then we should start with where we feel most comfortable, then move to experience one of our opposite styles.

It might feel strange or uncomfortable, and we may never find our spiritual home there, but we may still learn something valuable about how we express our more natural styles, and discover something about God that we never knew or expected.

Last Sunday night we started thinking about the rhythms of our lives, and how thinking about these styles might help us to develop that. I want to get to that, but this post is already on the lengthy side, so I will finish here for now and get a bit more practical in the next post.

One final word though. It was wonderful hearing people share why the different styles worked for them and what it meant to experience God in those different ways, so I would really like to encourage you to leave a comment about where you are and what you value about your spiritual style, so we can keep sharing our stories and experiences.

Telling Stories

Posted: January 20, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

When I clicked over to WordPress this morning, ready to start thinking about a blog, I spotted this article at the top of the home page, which then led me to this speech all about the power and importance of stories.

I was really rather struck by some of the quotes, so I thought I’d share them with you.

“Why do we need stories? Well, who would we be without them? And what would any of this mean?…Stories give shape to experience and allow us to go through life unblind. Without them, the stuff that happens would float around in some glob and none of it would mean anything. Once you have a version of what happened, all the other good stuff about being human can come into play. You can laugh, feel awe, commit a compassionate act, get pissed, and want to change things.”

– Alex Tizon, journalist

“People have had their stories from the beginning, whether they’re fables or for teaching lessons great and small, or histories that tell us where we came from, or big stories that help us cope with the world…We live for stories—whether they’re movies or TV shows or plays or poems or even newspaper pieces. We want stories told to us over and over again…They comfort us, they arouse us, they excite us and educate us, and when they touch our hearts we embrace them and keep them with us…We want our stories. They answer eternal questions like, ‘How could this happen?’ And they help us build theories about why this could happen.”

– Mary Lawrence, journalist and lecturer

Interestingly Mary says that ‘how’ and ‘why’ are the two questions people ask of both the Garden of Eden and the World Trade Centre. There are many different kinds of stories, but they all set out to answer some pretty fundamental questions, whether we give voice to those questions in the telling of them or not.

From the Garden of Eden to the World Trade Centre, and everything beyond and between, all of the stories that we tell are a search for the truth, and it is that truth we should be seeking.

Jesus declared that he is truth, and we saw over Christmas that he is Emmanuel, and so in every story we may look for the presence of God. He may not tell us how or why, but he will reveal his presence, and as that was enough for Job, so may it be enough for us.

“Stories are our prayers, so write and edit and tell them with due reverence, even when the stories themselves are irreverent.

Stories are parables. Write and edit and tell yours with meaning so each tale stands in for a larger message, each moment is a lesson, each story a guidepost on our collective journey.

Stories are history; write and edit and tell yours with accuracy, understanding and context and with unwavering devotion to the truth.

Stories are music; write, edit and tell yours with pace and rhythm and flow, throw in the dips and twirls that make them exciting, but stay true to the core beat. Remember that readers hear stories with their inner ear.

Stories are our conscience; write and edit and tell yours with a passion for the good they can do, the wrongs they can right, the truths they can teach, the unheard voice they can give sound to.

And stories are memory; write and edit and tell yours with respect for the past they archive and for the future they enlighten.

Finally, stories are our soul; so write and edit and tell yours with your whole selves. Tell them as if they are all that matters, for if that is what you do—tell our collective stories—it matters that you do it as if that is all there is.”

– Jacqui Banaszynski, journalist and lecturer

It’s not just the stories we read and hear, but the also the stories we tell that are important. The stories we tell about ourselves make sense of who we are and what we are doing here. They polish our experiences so that the good memories shine all the brighter and the bad times become less sharp and awkward to handle. They connect us to others as we weave our tales together. And they connect us to God as they add colour to the story he has been telling since the very beginning.

Our stories may be many years in the writing or they may have only just begun. They may have many twist and turns or they may have the comfort of a steady pace. They may bring such joy that they cannot help but bubble out of us or they may contain such sorrow that we tell them only with great reluctance.

Whatever our stories are, they are ours and they are the world’s and they are God’s, and that means they are a precious gift. We should never stop telling them.

What has the church ever done for me?

Posted: January 13, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

The Church of England has been in the media more than usual over the past few days, as the future of the Anglican Communion seems to hang in the balance, and in the midst of the various opinion pieces and prophecies of doom, this article called Twenty things the Church of England has done for us caught my eye.

I have spent all but the first two months of my twenty seven years as the member of one church or another, so it got me thinking about all the church in its widest sense has done for me.

It has given me an introduction to God The truth is that the church isn’t the only or necessarily the best place to be introduced to God, and many people find themselves stumbling into him away from or in spite of anything the church tries to do. For me though, the church was the place where I first heard about God and where I first encountered him. I hope he would have made my acquaintance at some point along the line if my parents hadn’t decided to take me along to the local church, but then for better or worse my story would have looked very different.

It has given me an extended family There’s something very special about the community of the church and the relationships that develop there, and I wouldn’t want to be without it. The love and encouragement that were exemplified in the cakes and prayers Mike and I received from Skipton Baptist Church on our wedding day were overwhelming, and it was really wonderful for us to be at the recent dedication of Revive’s youngest member and know that this is the community our baby will be born into.

It has given me space to express my passion and creativity I played in our church band for six years from the age of ten, and since then I’ve had the great privilege of running prayer events and teaching in a variety of contexts, and it is a great joy to be able to use the things I love in worship and service.

It has been a place of sanctuary I have probably spent more time crying in churches than anywhere else, and given that it’s rare for me to get through a play without weeping, that is saying something. Church can often feel like quite a raw place, but I think that is also because it is a safe place, where you can have a meltdown and find support not judgement. I know that isn’t everyone’s experience, but that is how I have been fortunate enough to find it, and that is how it should be.

It has been a place of challenge I briefly entertained ideas of being a missionary when I was about nine years old, but I had no real intention of becoming a minister until God started nudging me with increasingly sharp elbows. As I confessed at my welcoming service, where I am now is so far beyond what was my comfort zone that at this point it’s pretty much disappeared over the horizon. If it hadn’t been for the church providing people to speak God’s word to me and hold me accountable to that, I’d probably still be in that comfort zone. I’m glad I’m not.

It has confused me I spent sixteen years in the Anglican church and I still don’t know what an Archdeacon does, or what the difference is between Reverend and Very Reverend and So Incredibly Reverend You Wouldn’t Believe It. Answers on a postcard gratefully received.

It has frustrated me I will resist the temptation to climb up on my soapbox and air my grievances, but I have done my fair share of griping about the church, whether that has been because of internal politics or certain official positions, and I have been really badly hurt by it at times. And yet I know that is only because I love it so dearly, and it is difficult when it doesn’t live up to all it can be.

It has shaped me The church has been such a huge part of my life that I couldn’t possibly identify all the ways it has impacted on me, but I know that I am the person I am because of my experience of and interaction with the church, and that I will continue to be formed by being a part of a community that loves and walk and prays together. I couldn’t be more pleased.

I’d love to know what church has done for you, especially as many of you reading this will have far more experience than me of church-that-doesn’t-look-like-you-expect-church-to-look, so please do leave a comment.

 

New Year’s Reflections

Posted: January 6, 2016 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

I am rubbish at New Year’s Resolutions. It’s a wonder if I remember to make them, let alone keep them. I am only marginally better at New Year’s Reflections. I may have the best of intentions, but often I find that the new year is upon me before I’ve stopped to take a breath.

In spite of my failures in this area, I still think it is good for us to stop and look around us, at what has come before and what may be coming up ahead, whether that is at the start of the year or on a quiet afternoon in the middle of August.

While looking for ideas for new year reflections, I came upon a set of questions looking back over the past year, and I thought I’d give them a go, after altering them ever so slightly. I’ve not done this kind of questionnaire since I was a teenager and groups of friends used to send them round by email, but it can be quite helpful and (dare I say) enjoyable to interrogate oneself a little from time to time.

If you’re anything like me and need a little guidance in your reflection, to keep you from wandering so far off the track you end up in a different wood entirely, you might like to give it a go.

I’ve posted the questions below, and I’ve left my answers in because the idea that someone else might read them was a great encouragement to answer them properly, and because I hope some of you might also feel inclined to share your answers. We share our lives quite naturally as community, but sometimes it’s good to do it a little more intentionally too.

Twenty two questions for the New Year

1. What was the single best thing that happened this past year?

Can I just say September? Mike and I moved into the first house we’ve been able to buy on the 1st, joined the wonderful community that is Revive on the 6th, and found out we were expecting our first baby on the 11th.

2. What was the single most challenging thing that happened?

The whole house buying process was pretty stressful. Relatively speaking we had a fairly easy ride but we had very little idea what we were doing so it was all a little bewildering. 

3. What was an unexpected joy this past year?

Finding out that Squiddly (no that won’t be on the birth certificate!) is on the way.

4. What was an unexpected obstacle?

There were plenty of little hiccups, but thankfully no great obstacles.

5. Pick three words to describe this past year.

Exciting, surprising, full.

6. What were the best books you read this year?

My fiction reading was sadly deficient last year, so I’m going to sound like a proper theology nerd here. I spent the first half of the year writing my dissertation, so I read a lot of great books on the nature of God. I also got very excited reading some Brian McLaren, which reminds me there are probably some good blogs in there…

7. What were the best films you saw this year?

Ex Machina sparked some really interesting thoughts about the theology of artificial intelligence, and Ant Man was a lot of fun. I remember more theatre than film from this year though. The Rolling Stone was extraordinary, and Imelda Staunton was phenomenal in Gypsy.

8. With whom were your most valuable relationships?

Obviously I’m meant to say God, but it’s true. If it wasn’t for my decision to throw my lot in with him, things would look very different. And then of course there’s Mike. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime life. 

9. What was your biggest personal change from January to December of this past year?

I am now living in a new house in a city, studying for a new degree with a new college, and working in a new job with a new church, and we are expecting a new baby who will make us a new family. So everything really.

10. In what way(s) did you grow emotionally?

I’ve continued to grow in confidence, so much so that I’ve even surprised Mike on a couple of occasions. And for all that I still have a tendency to overthink things, I’m a lot more content and settled than I have been.

11. In what way(s) did you grow spiritually?

I’ve felt a desire to explore less traditional ways of doing church for some time now, but Revive has been my first chance to do that, and it has already been an incredible experience. It’s really opened me up to what the community of God can look like, and is helping me discover what my own spiritual home looks like.

12. In what way(s) did you grow physically?

Well I now have a developing baby bump and have discovered that maternity jeggings are the most comfortable thing ever. I can still wear them after the baby has arrived, right?

13. In what way(s) did you grow in your relationships with others?

I’ve been blessed with lots of new relationships as I’ve joined Revive and started at college, so there has certainly been numerical growth! Seriously though, meeting new people used to terrify me, but for the first time ever I have really enjoyed starting those relationships, and I look forward to growing them further in the coming year.

14. What was the most enjoyable part of your work professionally or at home?

The carol services were great fun, and it felt like a great privilege to be able to share the message that God is with us with so many people.

15. What was the most challenging part of your work professionally or at home?

The carol services were also hard work as they were a bit of a departure from what I’d done before, but I genuinely loved the challenge.

16. What was your single biggest time waster in your life this past year?

It’s such a cliche, but box sets on Amazon Prime. Although they do say that time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

17. What was the best way you used your time this past year?

Finally starting training for ministry. It’s only taken nine years to get here.

18. What was biggest thing you learned this past year?

That you have to jump in with both feet. And that nothing is wasted.

19. Where did you most clearly see God this year?

There have been lots of little moments that have shown Mike and I that God has been walking with us on our new adventure and that we are now in the right place, but I remember having a really profound sense of God while sitting outside on my lunch break back in July, an experience which led me to write this…

I have been trying to describe to myself what it feels like to experience the presence of God, and I had the most profound sense of it being like looking at someone you love and seeing their love for you written across their face as plain as day. Like the surge of joy that comes when their heart speaks to yours, and you understand how truly and deeply you are loved and wanted. Like knowing in every moment and every atom of your being that they love you, but just for a moment that love filling you so that it is the only thing that matters.

Sometimes it is the most perfect sense of calm, and sometimes it is energy coursing through you like electricity. Sometimes it is a sense of things falling into place, and sometimes it is a righteous fury against all that is still wrong in the world. But just sometimes it is all the love in the world being lavished on you by the one who knows you best and loves you all the same.

20. Create a phrase or statement that describes this past year for you.

A real turning point but also a real coming together.

21. How do you hope this next year will be like this past year?

I hope it will be just as exciting and surprising and full. I’m sure Squiddly will see to that.

22. How do you hope this next year will be different for you?

I hope there will be new challenges, but more than wishing things were different for me, I which things were different for those I care about who’ve had a rough year of it. I know a few people who could really do with a break.