Messages from the Manse

Messages from Rev Hilda Smith during the Coronavirus outbreak

Sunday July 5, 2020

Did any of you watch Touching the Void the other night? What a fantastic film/documentary on what was an amazing and, at the same time, terrifying experience for Joe Simpson and Simon Yates. They set out to climb a face of the Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes in 1985 which could have resulted in the deaths of both climbers and very nearly did. If you didn't see the film/documentary, I would highly recommend it.

Having successfully climbed to the top of the Siula Grande, something no others climbers had succeeded in doing, the men headed back down the mountain. On the way down, Simon Yates fell and broke his leg very badly.

Joe Simpson decided that he couldn't leave his pal. He had to find some way of lowering him down that mountain which he started to do. The weather closed in and unbeknown to Joe, he had lowered Simon over a precipice. He was hanging like a dead weight on the end of the rope. They couldn't hear each other or see each other and both risked dying.

Cutting a long story short, Joe took the decision to cut the rope and believing his friend to be dead, after a night on the mountain, he headed back down to base camp.

Simon wasn't dead but he was alone and he was on an ledge in a deep gulley. If he had fallen a few feet to the right, he wouldn't have survived. He would have disappeared into oblivion.

As it was, Simon had a choice. He could stay where he was and die or he could fight for survival and that is what he chose to do. With the use of the cut rope, he lowered himself further into that gulley because he could not climb out. He was heading into the unknown but it was his only chance.

When he finally reached what was an unstable ledge, he looked up and saw daylight and using his arms, his ice picks and one leg, he managed to climb out of that gulley and eventually drag himself back down that mountain. Every movement was agonising but he made it and got back just in time to the Base Camp.

Simon didn't condemn Joe's actions but simply said that given the choice, he would have done the same. The only thing he was really angry about was the fact that Joe had burned his clothes!

Why am I telling you this story?

It's a really good analogy for where we are as a Church right now, I think. The Church is on the end of the rope and for a long time I have felt that I was holding the other end. It was dragging me down. I was drained. I was burned out, perhaps.

I felt that I was holding a rope and was unable to pull the Church back to life but I wasn't brave enough to cut the rope. It was going to be the end of both of us. We would both have died on that mountain, not physically, perhaps, but spiritually, maybe.

But what would happen if I cut the rope? For me, that would be letting go of things that don't have a future, the Church of Scotland as we know it, the parish system as we know it, the traditions, my expectations of myself and the expectations of others. What would happen if I cut that rope?

What would happen to the people of God on the end of the rope because in reality that is what is hanging on the end. That is what the Church is. It is the people, lovely people, people I love deeply, just as Joe loved his best climbing friend, Simon - but he cut the rope because he either went under with him or he let go.

Now, my question is this. What if I cut the rope? What would you do as the people of God? Would you sit where you landed in that crevice until there was no life left in you or would you fight for survival, for the survival of your faith, and find new ways of doing things?

Path of Renewal has always challenged us to think about what is really important for our life and witness to Jesus and to think about what is so precious that we think it will never change.

Above the door of a Church in America, carved in the stone, was what the people thought would never change: Morning Worship 11 a.m. Evening Worship 6.30 p.m. Evening worship no longer takes place in that building. What do we think will never change?

The thing is that in the light of Covid 19 and a break with tradition, there is no going back. We are different people with different priorities so the question is what will Church be like post Covid? The Church, remember, is not the building. It is the people. How will we be post Covid?

What have we missed about our life before Covid and what could we easily give up? The answer may well be different for each of us but I think I have cut the rope so how do we move forward?

There are things I no longer want to do that I did before because they sucked the life out of me as I held onto that rope. What will you do now that I have let go? (By the way, I'm not leaving, I don't think! Lol.) What do you need to do to survive? What are you willing to do to survive, even it is is extremely painful for you as it was for Simon with his badly injured leg. Remember, it was only after the rope was cut and Simon took that step to go deeper into the gulley that he saw the light.

Jesus called the fishemen and others to follow Him. Leave your nets and follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Jesus calls us to follow Him and one of the problems we had before Covid was that we refused to move. We shut ourselves away in our buildings and wondered why we were dying on our feet.

Well, as someone once said, if you keep doing the same things, you will always get the same result. What do we dare to do differently, post Covid, that we may truly seek God's will and follow His Son? If we just go back to me holding the rope, the battle is well and truly lost.

I would encourage each of us to pray about the way forward so that the only expectations we are meeting in the future are those of our God.

That is my prayer as we move into a new week and consider some of those questions and as you pray, may you know the peace of God which passes all understanding.

Sunday June 28. 2020

I signed in to Facebook tonight to start writing my reflection for today and I saw "It's a Fair Question' (See below) which was posted by Ian Davidson a few days ago and it has taken my thoughts in a completely different direction, that and a phone call I had, earlier in the week, from someone who said:

We are not Social Workers in the Church. We may well support people with many different problems but we approach those problems from a different angle. We come from a position of faith and whatever else we might offer people, first and foremost, we are here to share our faith and introduce people to Jesus, a solid foundation for life, our hope now and in the future, our peace, our life, and we are here to pray for people. That is what makes us different and that is what the Church is. It is a people who pray and whose foundation in life is the Lord Jesus Christ.

I don't apologise for what I'm saying. It is who we are called to be and if we are something else, I would question whether we are fulfilling our calling as Christians.

If you haven't already stopped reading this reflection, please listen to the life stories of the two men being interviewed. Their lives were transformed by what some would call a power higher than themselves but what they call and what I call, Jesus.

They are powerful stories, and heartbreaking for the families concerned, but those men have come out the other side - with faith and dependent on the risen Christ.

So many people are bound in chains by their past. The Hymn "Amazing Grace' is an example of one man's story. It is perhaps particularly poignant just now with so much focus on racial equality.

The writer of the hymn, John Newton, was conscripted into the Royal Navy and ended up involved in the Atlantic Slave Trade. A violent storm one night resulted in him calling out to God for mercy and a few years later, he ended his life on the sea and started studying Christian Theology and entered the ministry.

No one is perfect but he knew he needed forgiveness for his past and he received it, as we all do, whoever we are and whatever we have done, when we cry out to God for mercy, for forgiveness, for salvation.

Those are not really words we use every day but there is nothing truer than we need saving from ourselves.

I went online to a service in Killermont Parish Church this morning and during it there was a recording of an interview with Donald Trump - not by the minister, I hasten to add! In it, Donald Trump claimed to be religious, but didn't use the word Christian, and during the interview he claimed that he had never asked God for forgiveness. He didn't see the need. He just tried to do better.

If all we needed to do was better, there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the Cross. He died because we often don't get it right and we can't earn our salvation simply by trying harder. We need Jesus. He is the bridge to life, to eternal life, and to any kind of relationship with God.

Even with faith, we will still get it wrong, but Jesus hears our cries for mercy, for forgiveness and offers it to us. Is that not something that is worth shouting about, worth sharing, worth grasping with both hands?

God loves us. God loves you and me and is the power which will transform all our lives, if we let Jesus in. That has nothing to do with religion and everything to with faith. That is Christianity.

Let me know your thoughts on the interview with the two men or on anything else I've said.

May God bless you in the coming week.

Sunday June 21, 2020

Gratitude is the name of the game today. I am grateful that I live where I do, that we are in some kind of bubble up here which pretty much isolates us from the madness in the world around us.

I am grateful for the sun which has been such a blessing during lockdown and for the rain which came last night which meant I didn't need to spend an hour to an hour and a half dragging a hose around the garden watering pots, areas of garden and greenhouses!

I am grateful that so many of our older members are enjoying the worship that is being provided on television and I am grateful for the opportunity to listen to other ministers in different parts of the country online, as are many others.

I am glad to have had two willing volunteers(?) who delivered all the booklets of reflections to all our members in the area. You did a grand job. To those of you who are members but who live outwith the area, you will get one very soon. We have not forgotten about you.

I am grateful for prayers for others that have been answered.

I am grateful to be well and to have had space and time to reflect.

I am just grateful.

If you were to list three things for which you are grateful, what would they be?

Paul, when he wrote to the Church in Philippi said:

Don't worry about anything, but in all your prayers ask God for what you need, always asking him with a thankful heart. And God's peace, which is far beyond human understanding, will keep your hearts and minds safe in union with Christ Jesus.

I think we have discovered during this pandemic that there is a big difference between wants and needs and we have learned to be grateful for what we have, maybe because of what we miss.

When we are grateful or thankful to God, we find peace, a peace that comes from His Son and which is different from any peace the world can offer.

Jesus said: My peace, I give you, such as the world cannot give. Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid.

There is much in our world to fear, but to deal with all our fears, we need the peace that Christ offers us. Ask him for that peace if you are troubled by anything at this time and trust that you will receive it.

My peace, I give you.

It is a gift He offered his friends as His own death approached. It's a gift He will give us now whatever our situation but we have to be willing to accept it, unwrap it and use it. What are we waiting for?

My prayer is that each person who reads this will experience that gift of peace, now and as the future unfolds. May God bless you and hold you in the hollow of His hand.

Sunday June 14, 2020

At the beginning of John 8, we read these words:

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered round him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery.

5 The Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’ 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’

8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.

10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, ‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’

11 ‘No one, sir,’ she said.

‘Then neither do I condemn you,’ Jesus declared. ‘Go now and leave your life of sin.’

As I began thinking about what I might write this week by way of a reflection, it came to me that it is very easy to take the moral high ground but I just wonder if any of us is so perfect that we have the right to judge others which, I suppose, is what I'm doing even as I write this.

I am judging deliberate vandalism and disregard for social distancing which has been drummed into us for months now.

I am not excusing what gave rise to the demonstrating - absolutely not - but I am horrified that the wrongful killing of individuals has been used as an excuse to riot and destroy.

We don't have a history to be proud of, of that there is no doubt, but we cannot change the past or the wealth that was pumped into our cities and from which we have all benefited. What we can change is our own attitude to others.

We may not consider ourselves racist but can we honestly say that we treat everyone the same? Can we honestly say that we have no prejudices where others are concerned?

Jesus loves everyone the same. He is the perfect example of love. He may not love the sin but He loves the sinner and each one of us is a sinner, whether we like it or not.

To each of us, Jesus would say: Take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see to take the speck out of your brother or sister's eye.

There is no doubt that there are injustices in the world. There is a caste system in India. The better off in Malawi have servants, some better treated than others. There are people starving to death, people with no homes or access to education or medical care while we spend what we have, by and large, on ourselves and our well-being.

There is no place for brutality in any profession or on our streets but as my mum often said when I was a child: Two wrongs don't make a right.

Of course, we have to work to create a better world where all lives matter but it has to start with us, with you and me in our own community looking at how we, at times, treat each other and indeed examining the prejudices that we hold ourselves. They are so much part of us that we are often unaware of them.

Change begins with me...and you. Peace begins with me....and you. Are we open to change taking place in our own lives? If we are, it won't be easy and we will not be judged by God for trying or at times, even failing. He knew we would fail and He knew we could never be perfect. His solution was His Son, Jesus, who walks with us and gives us help along the way and the courage to get up again and try again when we fall by the wayside. That is love, perfect love, the perfect love that surrounds us and is within us.

My prayer this week is that there will be change but that it will begin with you and me where we are. My prayer is that there will be peace and justice and that it will begin with you and me, where we are. My prayer is that those who suffer most from injustice and prejudice will experience the love of neighbours and that through the change is us, our world will become a better place where all lives matter to us, as they do to God. God Bless each and everyone of you.

Sunday June 7, 2020

Someone I know said the other day: You think it can't get any worse and then it does. She was talking about America and all that has happened there is recent days. How horrendous was that and it doesn't seem to be all that uncommon there, or in other places, including it would seem, in our own country.

I will never understand how any human being can treat another human being in that way but then a lack of respect and common decency is not uncommon in many circles in this day and age.

Closer to home, we heard that someone was being investigated in connection with the murder of Madeleine McCann and another wee German girl. Who knows what those children went through!

Someone once said that no news is good news and I can't help thinking along those lines just now. The news and the speculation and the recriminations that follow just annoy me and so most days, I don't watch the news.

I read a book many years ago which centred on a child who had been diagnosed with leukaemia. The consultant, who had faced the same news about his child as the parents faced in front of him, said to them regarding treatment: Whatever happens, know that you will make the best decision you can with the information available to you at the time. We do not have hindsight until after the event. That was wise counsel and perhaps something that we all need to take on board.

It is easy to criticise and to judge but none of us is perfect and each of us is responsible for our own actions and the decisions that we make our ourselves. I cannot control what other people do or the decisions that they make. I can only take responsibility for myself and my actions.

Lockdown is gradually being relaxed but the virus has not gone away, so I would encourage each of us to be careful and to avoid crowds and travelling to places that we do not need to visit. No government is responsible for the decisions I make or you make. I am responsible and you are responsible no matter what we are told we can do.

Paul writing to the Church in Rome - before the days of Catholic and Protestant - said to the Christians there: Do not conform to the pattern of the world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.

He goes on to say: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves....Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality. (A bit difficult just now!!)

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

If we all lived by this code, none of the situations above would ever have happened. There would be no racism. There would be no brutality. There would be no harm done to children or women or men.

Paul finishes by saying: Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.

Something to ponder, perhaps, as we move forward.

What I see is life beginning to go back to normal, to what it was before lockdown. Are we going to go back to what we were before?

Surely we will learn from lockdown and will take with us, into the new reality, the things that truly matter. Let's leave the rest behind. Life is too short and too precious. Let's value each other and find new ways, together, of being a people of faith because God has been there for us all through this pandemic and He is going nowhere. He will never leave us but it would be such a shame if we simply forgot all about Him once this crisis is over.

Take care of yourselves this week. Stay safe.

God bless you.

Sunday May 31, 2020

This morning, there was a service led by the Moderator, Martin Fair to celebrate Pentecost, the day we celebrate the coming of the Spirit after Jesus returned to His eternal home. (I spoke about the different names for the Spirit last Sunday.)

Pentecost is considered to be the Church's birthday because it was with the arrival of the Spirit that huge numbers of people came to faith and the Church, the people of God, not the building, began to grow.

I posted the link to the service on the Church's FB page this morning. It began with a manse family singing: I am the Church, you are the Church. We are the Church together. The focus was on the people and not the buildings.

The service was really good and it was felt to be a way of bringing the whole Church together. That was the idea behind it.

Of course, we weren't all together. We were all in our individual homes living in a way that has become the norm for us.

What struck me, as I started to write this, is that many people over the last two months, have celebrated their birthdays alone. Others have been able to celebrate with their families via zoom or Skype or FaceTime. Many have worshipped in the same ways. Some alone. Some on zoom or FB.

Many found it really hard that they couldn't be together physically but it's a reminder to us that there were many, before lockdown, who celebrated birthdays, Christmas, Easter, New Year alone and there will be many, after lockdown, who will still be alone, and will still celebrate alone, just as there will be many who will still worship alone. If nothing else, lockdown has given us a glimpse of what reality looks like for many people.

Even the fact that many have felt trapped in their own homes when they were so used to getting out and about gives us a glimpse of what life is like for the countless numbers of people who are housebound.

Many were trapped in their own homes, before lockdown, because of infirmity, because of illness and disability, because of anxieties and fears that control their every waking moment.

Lockdown has given us much to reflect upon and even though there are signs of lockdown being eased, please remember that just because we are allowed to do something, it doesn't necessarily mean that we should. The virus is just as much of a threat as it was before lockdown and that should be a warning to each of us, not to instil fear in us but to encourage us to stay safe in the coming weeks and months.

If we go back to the way things were, there will have been little point to what we have we are living through at the present time.

Stay safe, folks. God Bless you.

Sunday May 24, 2020

When I switched on the TV this morning to the service, as I have done quite often during lockdown, Rev. I. M. Jolly came to mind and that has happened every time I have switched on to a traditional service. For those of you who may too young to remember him, Google Rev. I. M. Jolly and he will brighten your day. He was so funny.

But what makes him funny, like the Vicar of Dibley, is that what the sketches and the scripts portray is not that far removed from reality.

There is our obsession in meetings with things that really don't matter and despite how few meetings we are having, the world is still turning and is the better for it! I'm so glad I'm not suicidal while listening to ministers who sound like ministers and who have faces and a message as cheery as Rev. I. M. Jolly because it would push me over the edge.

Why do ministers use a voice and an intonation that they would never use if they were carrying on a conversation with us? It drives me nuts. If that is how I come across in Sunday worship, it's time to go and it would certainly explain why so many of our Churches have no young folk and dwindling numbers of older folks.

If you're having a bad day, Sunday worship on TV would do nothing to cheer you up! However, I am not dismissing the message that is delivered or the effort that people are making to give a semblance of normality to those who value it.

This morning, online, I went to Killermont and to Balljaffray - and I hasten to add, my comments above are not comments about the ministers in those Churches. They are based on what I see in Sunday worship on TV. I have to say that Reflections from the Quay is a bit better but despite all I have said, I am so glad that time is being given to worship on the BBC for those who miss gathering for worship and who have no internet access.

Today is known as Ascension Sunday, the day that commemorates Jesus returning to heaven. There has been a cartoon around this week on FB, Jesus with the caption: Working from Home. It's brilliant.

That is indeed what Jesus does. He works from home and from what, though faith in Him, will be our eternal home. That cartoon reminds me of how much Jesus has achieved working from home. He was only 33 years among us in person and His ministry on earth was only three years but look at the impact He still has, working from home. His love has reached far more people since He returned home that it ever did when He walked among us and I would suggest, His love has reached far more since we started working from home.

That challenges me in terms of ministry. My weekly reflections reach far more people now that I am working from home than they ever did when I was behind closed doors in the Church building and that is something, I think, that as a Church we need to take on board.

I also know that our traditions were sucking the life out of me, which is what happens when I watch traditional worship on television, whereas working from home has energised me. Again, food for thought.

When Jesus returned home, God sent His Spirit among us, which could be everywhere all at once. The Spirit is described as the Comforter, the Healer, the Intercessor (the one who is within us and prays for us even when we cannot put into words what we would want to say. He is described as the Dove (a symbol of peace) and as the presence of God.

God is not out in the universe somewhere, separate from us. God is with us, within us, around us, behind us, in front of us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing. Is that not a cause for giving thanks even in sadness, even in lockdown, even in isolation, even in times of fear and anxiety, and maybe even more so during those times?

I have heard people say in the past that they were searching for God. If you are one of those people, stop searching because God has found you. He is with you through the power of His Spirit who prays for you and who comforts you and who strengthens you and who gives you peace as He does me.

May you recognise Him with you, whatever you are doing and wherever you are, and may God bless each and every one of you today and in the coming week. Amen.

Lord God, it's good to know that you are with us and that even when we lose sight of you, you never lose sight of us for you are with us, journeying with us, through the good times and the challenging times.

Fill each one of your people with your peace today, those who are ill, those who unemployed, those who have realised they face an uncertain future, those who are caring for others at home, in homes and in hospitals, those who serve us in whatever way, those who struggle to find a new 'normal' and who hope and pray that the old 'normal' is gone for good.

Bless each one and assure each one of your presence with them, now and in the coming week. Amen.

Sunday May 17, 2020

Well, the forecast was rain and we got it! The garden has given a huge sigh of relief but this must be the first day in the last seven weeks of lockdown that the rain has been on all day and the mist down over the hills. Haven't we been really fortunate? I take it, it's not St Swithen's Day! Rain for 40 days! Definitely not. There will be another high creeping in to push away the low and we will be all smiles again before we know it.

It's just as well Heart and Soul was cancelled in Princess Street Gardens. That would have been pretty miserable in the rain. Heart and Soul, for those who don't know is an annual event on the Sunday of the General Assembly in Edinburgh. It is usually very good and it's a great place to meet friends from all over the country who have gathered in Edinburgh for the Assembly.

The Assembly is also cancelled this year, for the first time in 350+ years, and believe it or not, the world is still revolving. All those things that were thought to be so important before Covid-19 really don't impact all that much on life at all, if we ever thought they did.

Martin Fair, minister of St. Andrew's Parish Church in Arbroath, was installed as Moderator yesterday in a near empty Assembly Hall. He has a blank canvas on which to work this year which is brilliant because he will be instrumental, I suspect, in redefining that role. Trips abroad are cancelled. Visits to congregations are cancelled and he is self-isolation along with the rest of the country.

What an opportunity for Martin whose focus, this year, will be on Mental Health. He has a real concern for the number of young men who take their own lives and so, in his own parish, did something to help those with mental health issues. If you want to know more about that, look up the website for St. Andrew's Parish Church, in Arbroath and I'm sure you will be able to read all about his work there.

That focus on Mental Health and mental well-being could be all the more necessary in the coming months as people struggle with the impact Covid-19 has had, and will have, on their lives and the lives of their loved ones.

This talk of mental health issues is a reminder that some people are walking a very dark road right now. They struggle to see the light at the end of the tunnel, even though we know, deep down, that this will pass and that there will be a brighter future ahead, but timing is everything.

When we are in that dark place, we need hope, or we need others to have hope for us when we cannot grasp hold of it ourselves.

In the Servant Song, one of the more modern hymns (although it is rapidly ageing too!), we read:

I will hold the Christ-light for you

In the night-time of your fear;

I will hold my hand out to you,

Speak the peace you long to hear.

I will weep when you are weeping.

when you laugh, I'll laugh with you.

I will share your joy and sorrow,

till we've see this journey through.

Those are words that can assure us that we are not alone on that dark road, as indeed can the words of, what for many, is a old favourite:

Abide with me, fast falls the eventide.

The darkness deepens. Lord, with me abide.

When other helpers fail and comforts flee,

Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Maybe my mood is a bit greyer today because of the weather, although I've not had a bad day. However, it doesn't do us any harm to remind ourselves that whatever the weather and whatever the journey we make, we are never alone. There is one who walks with us each step of the way, and for that, I am truly grateful. Jesus said: I will never leave you or forsake you.

There are many people who tell me that they pray every night. Well done, if you are one of them. I would tend to fall asleep! However, for those who may struggle with prayer or may not feel the need to pray, I have a wee suggestion which on a grey day, may well help.

In the evening, sit down somewhere quiet and think back over the day. What was your day like? What were the good things that happened? It might be something simple like seeing a wee robin in your garden, or feeling the warmth of the sun on your face (not on my list today!). It may be a phone call you received or a letter you got through the post. It may just be a smile from someone in the street that brightened your day. Note down all the good things that happened.

Then, have a wee think about the things that didn't go so well. How did you feel about them? Note them down.

I told the story of the Two Wolves a few weeks ago, the good wolf and the bad wolf, which fight within us for power over our minds. If you missed it, google it, because the wolf that wins is the one we feed.

Let the bad thoughts go because they will take control of our mood. Don't feed on them. Reflect again on the good things that happened and simply say thank you for them. That is prayer. It doesn't; need to be a lot of words because God already knows what is in your heart and your mind.

A head full of positive thoughts will lead to a good night's sleep and a much more positive mood. Feed the good wolf, no matter how grey the day.

Dear Lord, thank you for all that makes us smile and for all that feeds our souls whatever is happening in the world at large or in our own personal world. Bless us with rest tonight and with peace now and always, Amen.

Sunday May 10, 2020

As some of you know, I deal with a craft company down in Kent called Claritystamp. Barbara Gray, who owns the company, writes a daily blog and tonight it was about thoughts.

A friend phoned her yesterday and asked her: "So what is it in this whole pandemic crisis that makes you the most anxious?"

What she said in reply was: "It depends where I let my thoughts settle."

I wonder how you would answer that question. I had a friend down south who over the last couple of weeks has had the virus. That rattled me a bit especially when three of four days went by without a message! However, the good news is that she is on the road to recovery, as is her husband.

I have to say, though, that I feel remarkably at peace throughout this, maybe because of where we live, maybe because I have no family to worry about, maybe because I realise that I can't change anything by worrying about it. Equally, worrying about what might happen is a waste of energy and spoils the present time. Why worry about what may never happen?

Jesus said: "...do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Earlier in the same passage from Matthew 6, Jesus said: "Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?"

Sometimes, however, even the birds need a helping hand. I had two wee sparrows in my greenhouse this afternoon. They had gone in the window and couldn't find the way back out. I opened the door and off they flew, one immediately and the other a short while later.

We are not meant to be islands and totally self-sufficient. There are times when we need each other.

While I am very relaxed in the midst of the crisis, there are others who are anything but, people locally who have days when they really struggle. They are a bit like the sparrows, at times, trapped in a place from which they do not know how to escape, stuck in their heads because their thoughts have taken control.

Who will open the door for them, so to speak? Could I be that listening ear? Could you be that listening ear for a neighbour, for a friend, even for a stranger? Maybe, but not everyone will reach out when they are in that place. Not everyone can.

Through it all, there is one who knows our thoughts, who sees our pain and who reaches out in love. Jesus says, "Come to me..... and I will give you rest."

Jesus also says: "My peace I give you, not like the world, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

That peace is ours. It's offered to us and in Jesus we will find it and on the tough days, He will hold us securely in the palm of His hand.

Lord God, gift to each one tonight your peace, especially those whose minds are like a washing machine, going round and round and round, over and over again. Calm their minds. Calm their thoughts and help each one to find a way to let their thoughts settle on something positive and creative and good for the soul.

Bless each one who reads this and all those whom they love, in Jesus' Name,

Amen.

Sunday 3 May 2020

What a beautiful day today! I sat in the garden this afternoon listening to the water running over the waterfall from my wee pond to the large pond. It's great to have the new pump installed. The fish are much happier as well!

It was bliss sitting up there. It was warm. There was a gentle breeze. The birds were singing. It was peaceful (till the lawnmowers started - but not for long so I forgave them! Lol.) and the words that came to me were from the second verse of How Great Thou Art and specifically the last two lines of the verse. I hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.

When through the woods
and forest glades I wander,
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze,

Then sings my soul,
my Saviour God, to thee,
How great thou art.

That was my worship today. It was not in a building. It was not surrounded by other people. It was as I sat alone with God and the beauty of nature around me. As the poem says:

One is nearer God's heart in a garden,
than anywhere else on earth.

That was so true for me today. I found a peace that I never got from any of the online services I dipped in and out of this morning. As I listened to some of the hymns that were being sung on TV and looked at the faces of those who had been wheeled in for the recording of previous episodes of Songs of Praise, my heart sank. That's not a comment on the age of the congregations, by the way! It is simply a comment on how I felt as I listened, albeit briefly, to different services.

The day is rounded of beautifully by a gorgeous sunset and clear blue sky.

I was in my real world today and it was amazing.

I haven't heard the news today but I did read on FB that, Robert, the paramedic who died, was a friend of a friend. It brought home to me that while my world was perfect, other worlds were crumbling.

There was a siren. Trouble came to someone's door this afternoon. Many are in hospital for different reasons. Many are bereaved and living with loss, not only because of the virus, but because of other illnesses or tragedies which have struck families.

Today, my prayer is one of thanks and of gratitude for what I have enjoyed but also a prayer for those who are struggling, those who are ill and those who feel as if their heart has been ripped right out.

May God hold you all in the palm of His hand.
Amen.

Sunday 26 April

I usually post a reflection on a Sunday morning but today there were several different things buzzing around in my head so I decided to take time out before posting a reflection.

This week, I had my first two funerals since the lockdown. It is strange for us, in our community, to have such small groups of people at a funeral but they were incredibly meaningful because each one was very much about the immediate family and their relationship with their relative.

We have always placed so much importance on a funeral and it is important but it struck me today that Jesus didn't have a funeral as such. He was simply taken from the Cross by those who were closest to Him and laid in the tomb. Those closest to Him were pretty much alone with their grief, as are so many these days.

There was no big celebration of Jesus' life. The crowds who had welcomed Him to Jerusalem were not there. His friends were alone with their memories and their pain.

Those who weren't there but whose lives Jesus had touched would be aware that He had been killed and in their own way, maybe through quiet reflection, maybe through sharing their stories, would pay their own tribute to the man they had loved.

So many of those stories were recorded years later and have been passed on down to us in the Bible. I doubt very much that people will read about our individual lives 2,000 years from now but that doesn't matter.

What is important is how our friends and families remember us. What is important is the time we spend with them while we can and the memories we create. Time is precious and life is for living, even with restrictions.

Just as Jesus spent three years with those who were closest to Him, many are being given that gift right now, that gift of time with those closest to them. Treasure this time you have together.

Others, of course, are separated from family members but the bonds of love still tie us together in ways that truly matter. Thanks to the slower pace of life, those of us not with family have time to reflect on by gone days and on the people and events that were important in our lives.

The time we have just now is precious as it gives us time to grow in ways we may not have done if life had gone on as normal. All of us will emerge from this time with different ideas and different priorities.

I'm so aware just now of the new life that is bursting into being in our gardens. Seeds that were planted are growing and being planted up. There are signs of new life everywhere we look and it reminds me of the new life that came through death, through Jesus' death, and resurrection.

I can't help wondering what signs of new life you see around you and, indeed, within you. Growth is inevitable at this time of year and in these days of uncertainty and hardship for many.

New life will emerge but what will our lives be like? What seeds are beginning to germinate within you and within me that will burst forth into new life?

I'd love to hear your comments. Stay safe, my friends.

Lord God, it's been great to have time to slow down and examine our lives and our priorities. We know that it is incredibly tough for so many around us but there are good things around, too. Help us to notice those things, the things that we have taken for granted and which we now realise mean so much to us.

Help us to see signs of new life within ourselves while we also enjoy the signs of life in our gardens, the blossom, the seedlings, the buds, the birdsong and the warmth we have enjoyed, even the light nights and the glorious sunsets.

Let us experience all those things as real blessings in our lives, things that encourage new growth and new life within us till we finally emerge from the darkness to light.
Amen.

Sunday 19 April 2020

What a glorious week it has been! It really lifts our spirits to see the sunshine and feel the warmth on our faces. It has been a great week for getting out for a walk - not that I have done that - but when I have been out in the garden or down the street, it has been lovely to see a few familiar faces at the Co or coming out of Tesco and also at Danny's. We are going to have some of the best gardens in the country by the time this is over!

It is hard to imagine what is going on in the rest of the world while we live in our wee bubble here, protected in many ways from what so many are suffering.

The news from Malawi, where we have a partner Church in Lilongwe, is that there have been sixteen confirmed cases in the Church and two deaths. There will be far more in the country but those figures are not available to me.

As of now, there are no more Church gatherings in Malawi of any kind and in a culture where people always shake hands when they meet, they really are having to adapt to a new culture but one that is definitely not as safe as ours. To compound the situation, their doctors have gone on strike because of a lack of safety equipment. It make me feel even more grateful for the dedication of our medical staff and nursing staff and carers who work on despite the risks to themselves.

We all have the internet and if we don't, that is a choice we make. We have the opportunity to attend worship in different parts of the country or not, to Face Time or Skype or use What's App to communicate with friends and family. I even had a blether today with a group of people from Baljaffray Parish Church who did coffee by Zoom after the service.

I was at a quiz last night with three others from our Church and there was another team of two took part from our Church with people from all over the country. We are so fortunate to be living where we are and to be able to share in good times amidst the horror of what is unfolding in the world around us.

News travels fast in our world but back in Jesus' day news travelled by word of mouth. We know the dangers of that. There can be so many rumours abound that often we don't know what to believe.

Well, on the evening of that first Easter day, a couple of people were heading back to Emmaus from Jerusalem on foot. It was about seven miles away and on the journey they were talking about the events of that weekend. They had heard that Jesus had been crucified and there were stories spreading that He was once again alive. They were reports from different people, some women and some men.

That must have scrambled their brains, a bit like all the news reports we hear at the present time, if we choose to listen to them.

But this was good news that was spreading, even if it was incredulous. No wonder they were talking about it. Jesus was alive. How could that be?

While the pair were heading home to Emmaus, a stranger joined them and challenged them. They didn't recognise Him but He shared with them all the passages in the Old which spoke about Him, still not revealing to them who He was. He tried to show them that history backed up the events of that first Easter.

When they got back to their home, Jesus made to keep walking but it was already late and so the couple invited Him in to stay. He accepted and sat down to dinner with them.

After dinner, the stranger broke bread and shared it with them and in that simple act, they recognised Him and they knew He was alive.

Jesus sits with us right now. He walks with us right now, as always, on what is a difficult journey for many of us. He shares with us in the trials of the present age, even if we don't recognise Him.

I want to share with you a reflection shared by Liz Crumlish, another minister, on the passage from Luke's Gospel that we considered this morning. It talks of our journey just now and of how that conversation might go in the present age. Please read it.

Luke 24:13-16 The Walk to Emmaus

Now, on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus Himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognising Him.

Two family members
from the same household
walked a necessary journey
to spend lockdown together.
As they walked, a stranger drew near,
too near, and walked beside them.
They eyed Him with suspicion
and asked Him to stay 2 metres apart.
As He took up a socially distant position
He asked them what was troubling them?
Why the face mask and gloves?
Incredulously, they told Him about the virus,
about the carnage it was wreaking
and the isolation measures being imposed.
How could He not have heard?

He told them about the homeless woman
He’d just met who, for the first time,
was being given a place to shelter,
She didn’t know the rules
of social engagement or of distancing
and could not settle into a new reality
for fear of what awaited her at the other end
when, inevitably, she’d be back on the street.

He told them of the young nurse
who, every day, dropped off his children at school
while most of their friends were home,
so that he could go and hold the hands
and adjust the masks
of those who were fighting for life,
and of his terror that he would
bring the virus home.

He told them of the young man
whose wife had just given birth to their first child
who could not bring the child to be held
by his parents or octogenarian grandparents
and who was learning the skills of parenting
through WhatsApp and FaceTime.

He told them of young people
unable to undertake the rites of passage
that mark their movement through
all the phases and seasons of life.

He told them of folk of all ages
at risk, isolating alone,
relying on strangers and neighbours for support.

He told them of the pain of families
whose loved ones had died
without family by their side,
unable to perform the rituals
of grief and mourning.

He told them story after story,
not to diminish their own fear and loss,
but to enable them
in the midst of it all
to sense community,
to honour sacrifice,
to catch a glimmer of hope
and to know
that all that they were being asked to endure
could not last forever,
that all that they learned
and the beauty that they witnessed,
in the present and in the emerging,
would not be lost
when the virus was conquered
and the world would be changed forever
as care
and compassion
and love
and connection
became gifts
that were celebrated beyond price.

And, when He disappeared from their sight
they found that He had left
on the doorstep
for them
bread and wine.

And the law
and the prophets
and the theologians
and the liturgists
no longer mattered,
whether virtual or real
or physical or spiritual.

Christ was present in the sacrament they shared
and in the hope and promise
they clung to
for the future.

As you sit alone or with your families and consider the news in our world today and the news that spread on that first Easter day, I would encourage you to take bread and grape juice and to simply welcome the unseen guest, who is Jesus, into your homes and into your lives. He won't come uninvited. He will walk on but for now, He is journeying with us and standing at the door to our lives.

Eternal God, we thank you in the simplest way for Jesus and for the hope and the promise He offers us of life and friendship, of companionship on the journey.

He knows all that is happening in our world and in our own lives. We know what happened in His. May our worlds meet and may we know the blessing of having our eyes opened as we share bread and the juice of the grape with those we love, even though we are apart.

Journey with us, we pray. Help us to journey with you, now and always.

Assure those who frightened, despondent, lost, sick and bereaved of your companionship and your love on their journey. Assure them of our prayers and our compassion and our love for them. Assure those on the frontline of your protection and of our appreciation of all that they do.

And now, bless each one who is separated from loved ones and those who are surrounded by family, those who sit alone and those who seek peace. Grant to each one your peace and your healing touch in these troubled times. Amen.

Easter Sunday 12 April 2020

On that first Easter morning, Jesus' friends, His disciples, were behind closed doors, locked away from the world in fear of their lives, as many are today for such different reasons.
They were grieving the loss of a friend, who had suffered an agonising death, as many do today.
They were suddenly in a very dark place and, as far as they were concerned, a very unexpected place, as many are today around our world.
There was shock.
There was fear.
There was panic.
There were tears.
There was death.
There was silence.
We have more in common today with Jesus' friends and we are more in touch, perhaps, with the emotions of that first Easter morning than ever before, so perhaps the events that followed will take on a far greater significance for our lives than maybe they have in the past.
On that first Easter morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to anoint Jesus' body. She saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance, so she ran to Peter and John and said to them: "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have put Him."
Peter ran to the tomb and saw with his own eyes that Jesus' body was gone. All that was left were the cloths that had been wrapped around Him. None of them had any inkling of what had really happened to Jesus, so the men returned to where they were staying.
Jesus was gone.
There was shock.
There was disbelief.
There was confusion.
There was more pain than ever.
The darkness was even greater than before.
Mary was abandoned by the men at the tomb. She stood outside the tomb crying. She was devastated. She was alone in her grief, as many are today.
Mary looked into the tomb and saw two angels in white seated where Jesus' body had been, one at the head and one at the feet.
They asked her: "Woman, why are you crying?"
"They have taken my Lord away," she said, "and I don't know where they have put Him." At this she turned round and, through her tears, saw a man standing there but she did not realise that it was Jesus. Why would she?
He asked the same question of her: "Woman, why are you crying? Who is it that you are looking for?"
Thinking He was the gardener, she said, "Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have put Him, and I will get Him."
And at that, Jesus called her by her name. In that moment she recognised Him and cried out in Aramaic: "Rabboni!" which means "Teacher").
What did Mary do then? Did she rush forward to throw her arms around Jesus? Did she fall at His feet and make to hold on to Him? We are not told but Mary definitely made some move towards Him, as is only natural.
However, before Mary was able to grab hold of Him, Jesus said to her, "Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father".
That most natural expression of human love and of utter relief was denied Mary, as it is denied many today, but her fears were gone. Her tears were now tears of joy. The darkness had been dispelled and the light shone through.
Jesus was alive. That is good news.
Jesus was risen. That is good news.
Nothing would ever be that bad again, no matter what Mary had to face in the future because Her Lord was alive and her hope was rekindled.
She ran to the disciples and, in a burst of emotion, told them, "I have seen the Lord."
All the rules were broken.
Death was no longer the victor but life. That is good news.
The risen Lord, as He did before His death, welcomed all into His presence. Mary Magdalene, despite her unsavoury background, was the first person to meet the risen Jesus. That is good news.
There is hope for all of us, whoever we are and whatever we have done. Each and every one of us is valued and precious in the sight of Jesus, the risen Lord of Easter. That is good news.
It is good news, not fake news, something we need today maybe more than ever, good news that brought Mary peace and hope, a peace and a hope that is offered to us right this moment because death has no power over us, whatever happens. We have life and life in abundance through Jesus Christ, the risen Lord of Easter, our Lord and Saviour.
Blessed Lord God, on this Easter morning when darkness abounds but the sun still breaks through, when hopes seem dashed, when plans fall through and life seems ever so fragile, we thank you for the risen Lord.
We thank you for good news, for light in the darkness of our lives, for peace in the midst of trouble and anxiety, for hope beyond what we, now, can see.
Help us to focus on those things that truly matter and to take life one day at a time knowing that your Son walks with us into what for us is the unknown. Let us go forward in His strength which is made perfect in our weakness.
And may the blessing of God rest upon us and on everyone we love.
May the blessing of God rest on the stranger, on the carers, on the medics and nurses, on ambulance crews, on teachers, on shopkeepers, on delivery men, on bin men, on those in power, on parents and children, on grandparents, on those with disabilities separated from loved but not understanding why.
May the blessing of God rest on every individual, at home and abroad, in what are difficult days but resurrection days, days of hope and peace and power.
Amen.

Good Friday 10 April 2020

It's Good Friday and that feeling of isolation, that was spoken about yesterday in my post, intensifies today. Jesus has been mocked and spat upon and the crowd has turned on Him.
His friends fled when He was arrested. Peter followed at a distance but then denied his Lord three times.
Jesus was left alone despite the people who were around Him in the Temple Courts and on the walk to Calvary. He was left alone with His own thoughts. He never shared them. He never said a word. He was like a lamb to the slaughter.
Jesus was left to carry the Cross to which He would be nailed and as He suffered the pain and humiliation of such a death, He felt truly abandoned by God. He cries out: My God, why have you forsaken me?
There is silence.
At His baptism, God said: "This is my Son with whom I am pleased. Listen to Him." but now there is nothing but silence and pain.
I heard today of the death of the wife of a good friend, a lovely lady who died alone in hospital, like so many others, alone but surrounded by a multitude of caring, compassionate staff.
That pain of isolation is understood by our Lord. That feeling of abandonment that some must feel even though they understand why their loved ones are denied their wish to be with them.
Families must feel as if they have abandoned their loved ones, too, even though they, too, understand why those rules exist. The pain is not made any less by understanding.
Jesus understands. He has walked that lonely road, that painful road and He knows suffering. He knows what it is to suffer alone and in silence.
There is nothing good about Good Friday except that cry of dereliction: It is finished. Those were Jesus' last words. His feeling of abandonment was over. His loneliness was at an end and His suffering was in the past.
We still face suffering on our journey. We still feel pain. We may even still feel abandoned but we are not alone, not now, not ever.
We remember tonight those for whom it is finished and those for whom it has only just begun.
Eternal God, we give into your care those you have called home and those who are left behind. May they never feel abandoned, even those who are unable to express themselves. May they never feel isolated and lost in this crazy world in which we live.
Lord God, surround each one with your loving arms and hold each one close. Even on this Good Friday which might be more aptly named Black Friday, we pray that light will break through the darkness with the promise of hope and life in the days to come.
And the blessing of God and the peace of God rest upon each one we know who walks that lonely road and upon each one who reads this post and this prayer, tonight and always,

Amen.

 

Maundy Thursday 9 April 2020

On the Thursday of Holy Week, the disciples gathered with Jesus in a room in a house in Jerusalem where He shared a meal with them, the last meal they would eat together in this life.

We are each in a room in our own house as I write this and as you read this. Some of you will be with family members. Some of us will be alone.

Jesus was not alone but He was almost certainly alone with His thoughts. We don't know how He felt as He shared in that meal because we are never told but He knew what lay ahead of Him.

He knew that Judas would betray Him. He knew that He would be arrested within a short time. He knew He would be tried and that He would be put to death.

He faced, in isolation, the imminence of His death as He shared in that meal with His friends.

At the end of that meal, Jesus reached out to His friends and gave them a way of remembering Him, a way that has been passed down through the generations to us today.

Even living with the pain of what lay ahead of Him, Jesus reached out to His friends in love. He broke bread with them and shared with them the fruit of the vine without them really understanding what He was saying.

Jesus told them that His body would be broken and His blood shed for them for the forgiveness of their sins.

Judas was part of that group. Jesus was speaking to Him, too, when He spoke to the others. There is no one beyond God's love. He reaches out to each one of us where we are, no matter who we are or what we have done.

When Jesus and His friends left that room, Jesus led them to a garden, the Garden of Gethsemane. I wonder why He chose that spot. Was it because of the healing we find in the peace and the quiet of a garden surrounded by the beauty of nature? Was it because there was space there for Him to be alone with His thoughts and with His Father? Was it because He knew that He would be undisturbed there, at least for a time? I suspect all of those are true.

What we do know is that Jesus was troubled as went to the garden. He told those closest to Him, but not all of the disciples, that He was deeply saddened. He was struggling as He faced His own death.

He moved away from His closest friends at that point and He fell on His face in that garden and He prayed. "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." Jesus took His troubles to God, the things with which He struggled in isolation.

He poured out His heart to God, knowing that God would hear Him, knowing that God was with Him whatever the outcome.

My friends, as we sit in isolation this evening, we, too, can pour out our hearts to God and know that He will hear us because He is with us. We can tell Him those things that trouble us and whatever the outcome for us, we will be held securely in the palm of God's hand.

On this Maundy Thursday, may each of us know the peace of God which passes all understanding. Amen.

5 April 2020

How are you all doing, folks? Are you coping with being shut in and not seeing the people closest to you, be that family or friends?

How are you passing the time? Are you doing things that are healing and energising or are you watching every news report that comes on the television telling us how many people have died, how short we might be of ventilators and how many people are going against the instructions we have been given to stay at home and stay safe to protect others, as well as ourselves?

My own thinking is that, for the sake our mental well-being, watching a bit of news once a day is plenty and indeed, the World Health Organisation agrees.

When I am confined to the house, why would I want to watch something that could potentially leave my mood very low? That won't get me or anyone else through this crisis.
That said, I don't want to be in the dark either. I need to know what is happening but not every hour on the hour and certainly not at bedtime!

So what are you doing each day and how are you feeling in yourselves?

As many of you know, particularly those of you who are in my congregation and those of you who are my close friends, I love crafting and I deal with one company in particular, Claritystamp, which is based in Kent. It is a fantastic company owned by a lady called Barbara Gray. She has a great team around her, albeit they are all working from home now, but they are doing all in their power to keep up the spirits of all their customers and indeed many others.

Every morning at 10 a.m., Barbara is encouraging us all to doodle. You may laugh but she is actually teaching us how to draw and there is tremendous value in that. If your mind is racing and you are anxious and fearful about what may lie ahead, the only way to stop that is to come out of your head and do something with your hands.

We are not being taught to become Picasso but to doodle and those of us who cannot draw to save ourselves - not that any of us can! - we are daily amazed at our results. It's only a doodle but we are led through each doodle one step at at time. It only takes 30 minutes or so but it is so relaxing and everyone then posts what they have done on Clarity's FB pages. The positive comments are made by everyone else, the encouragement that is given, is good for the soul and helps to calm everyone down and take us to a much happier place.

https://www.facebook.com/watch/claritystamp.co.uk/567855583836583/

The above is the link to the first of the FB videos if you want to join in. There are five and number 6 which is live is tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. It will be available afterwards if you want to catch up first!

These are trying times and the fact that we cannot come together, makes it all the harder for many people. I posted one of my doodles for a reason. The caption is: This Too Shall Pass and it will.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into Jerusalem surrounded by crowds of people shouting hosanna and hailing him as King. When the crowds saw Jesus arrive in Jerusalem, they were filled with hope. Here was the man who would set them free but before the end of the week, those hopes were dashed and they were left reeling. Jesus was arrested, tried and crucified. They had placed their hope in Him but what now?

Well, there is always hope. We just need to look in the right place. The shouts of hosanna faded but only for a time. Their hope in Jesus was justified but not in the way that the crowds could every have imagined.

They were dragged through the valley of death and of pain and of despair. It was a dreadful place to be and it is where many people find themselves in the current crisis. Many are sick and frightened and isolated.

After Jesus' arrest and indeed His death, the disciples were terrified and they shut themselves away in fear of their lives.
They were together, but alone at the same time, and facing something that they could not comprehend.

The good news is, though, that they emerged from that place eventually to a very different world and discovered that their hope was renewed and their faith in Jesus was more than justified. He was indeed the Saviour, a far greater Saviour than they could ever have imagined

For us, this period of fear and anxiety, of isolation and sickness and sadly, even death, will pass and we will emerge to a new world with hopes renewed and faith in our Lord more than justified.

The Psalmist writes:

Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God.

My friends, we are in good hands whatever lies ahead of us. Do not fear because our God is faithful and He is with us and we will, at some point, have cause to sing Hosanna once again, for this too shall pass and our hope shall be renewed.

God bless each and every one of you and all those whom you love, wherever they are.

29 March 2020

Well, two or three weeks ago, none of us imagined we would be in the position we are now in, basically in lock down, although that is not a phrase that has been used in Britain. The reality of what we may be facing is brought home to us when we hear on the news that the SEC is being considered as an additional facility for those who are critically ill and similar huge venues are earmarked for London, Birmingham and Manchester.

This is something that is beyond what we can imagine right now but it will become a reality for us is in the not too distant future. That, I'm sure, causes anxiety and fear to raise their ugly heads but we mustn't give into them because they will make our lives unbearable. We need good positive thoughts to keep us going in the coming days and weeks

The other thing we know, all too well, is that this worldwide crisis has brought out the best and the worst in people. I want to share with you some Cherokee wisdom that was shared on a blog that I read daily. It is on the website of the craft company I use.

It's the story of two wolves.

An old Cherokee was teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy. “It is a terrible fight, and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, lies, false pride, ego and feelings of inferiority or superiority.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

You may have heard the story before but it is worth hearing again, I think. It is good to be reminded that we are the ones who feed the wolf within us. I had a couple of blips this week when the severity of what was happening began to dawn on me and it didn't leave me in a particularly good place so I quickly did something about it.

I started crafting. I started doing a complicated design on parchment which took me into a much better head space. I decided to feed the good wolf within, if we want to continue with that analogy. My other thought processes re the virus would have taken me somewhere that would have dragged me down emotionally and I didn't want that to happen so I did something about it.

I have also started hearing about relatives of friends who have died and again, I can dwell on that or I can do something positive. I am part of three Facebook Groups. On one of them, there are constant reminders of where we are and what we are facing. On the other two, my craft ones, there are such positive vibes and they feed my soul.

I was going to write this earlier this evening but I took part in an online quiz which the Moderator designate of the Church of Scotland was leading. Martin Fair had five categories: Music, Geography, History, Sport, TV and Films.

I won't bore you with my score - it's too embarrassing!! Lol. - but in my defence, some who took part were in teams!! My score reminded me of what my friend, Magda, said about me years ago. She couldn't believe that anyone could be so well educated and know so little!! As far as I'm concerned, they just don't ask the questions in quizzes to which I would know the answers!! General knowledge is not my subject!! Lol.

Anyway, I am writing this to encourage you to feed the good wolf within. How will you do that? Post your answers so that we can continue to build up our community even though we we can't see each other. What feeds your soul? What takes you out of that dark place of worry and fear? Share your thoughts with me so that we can encourage one another and feel the good wolf within each other.

I got such a boost this week when I found the painting of the Church through my letterbox.

 

It was from Orla Mochrie. I know others got a picture as well from Orla, Jock or Seamus. What a thoughtful thing to do. It's in my window so if you are out for a walk, you will see it. If not, you see it here. I posted it on my FB page and in the other FB groups of which I am a part and it was a real boost to others who are self-isolating. One single act can have such a huge impact on so many without us even realising.

Maya Angelou said: People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel. What can we do in the coming weeks to make people feel better in thermselves? What can you do? What can I do? That's one question we need to think about quite seriously because we will need to build one another up in whatever way we can.

We are not totally reliant on each other in that we also have God in the equation and He never leaves us. He says to us: Do not be afraid. That is said about 365 times in the Bible which tells us that fear impacts so many people. If you would like take time tomorrow to reflect on God and what He might mean to you right now, there are different ways of doing that.

There are some ministers who are live-streaming Sunday worship and you can find them on the Church of Scotland's website. They will be available for the coming week so you have the opportunity to try different Churches! The link to those Churches is below.

https://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/worship/services-online

There is also a service on BBC 1 at 10.45 a.m. from Bangor Cathedral in North Wales and at 11.15 a.m. with Rev. Jane Howitt from St. Rollox Church of Scotland in Glasgow and Father Dermot Preston from St. Aloysius in Glasgow.

Maybe see you there! Take care. Stay safe and God Bless you.

I close with a prayer. Please join me in it.

Eternal God, as we wrestle with fears and anxieties, as we become overwhelmed by the constant talk of the coronavirus, we take a moment just to bow in your presence to remind ourselves that in our changing world, you remain the same. You never change.

Loving God, we cannot reach out to each other except by phone or in messages or posts like this but you can and you do reach out to us and you envelop us in your loving arms. Assure us of your presence and calm our troubled minds.

Lord God, we pray for ourselves but we pray for others too. We pray for those whose lives have been torn apart by this virus, for those unable to visit in hospitals, to attend funerals, to socialise with friends and even family. Comfort them and help us and others to comfort them in whatever we can but in ways that will be different from how we would normally do that.

Lord God, we pray, too, for those in power, in governments and in councils who have decisions to make that we cannot even begin to imagine at this stage. Guide them, we pray, and protect them because we need their lead and we need them to put in place all that will be required in the coming weeks and months.

Lord God, we pray, too, for those on the front line within the NHS whose lives are on the line as they care for us. Guide them as they too make difficult decisions which will affect so many people. Lord God, we thank you for them and pray that we will do all in our power to lessen the risk to them.

We pray for others who serve us, from the postmen and women to delivery men, to shop assistants and those in the emergency services. We think of teachers, janitors and cooks and carers, of undertakers, bin men and volunteers, of social workers and so many others.

Lord God, we place all of them in your hands and in the silence of our own homes, we bring others known to us who are on the front line and doing what they do to make our lives safer and easier without counting the cost to themselves. Fill them with your peace and bless them.

Lord God, fill each one of us with your peace and with hope, eternal hope that comes through faith in your Son, our Lord and our Saviour,

Amen.

 

22 March 2020

Well, where did you worship today?

I have just been to a Presbyterian Church in America and what that brought home to me is that what we are facing is a worldwide crisis. We know it is already but hearing one of the pastors there praying for people who are isolated, people who are anxious about their jobs, children who are missing out on school and meeting up with friends, students whose academic year has been cut short, medical, nursing and ancillary staff who are on the front line in caring for those who are sick and so on, really did bring home to me that we are all in this together. There is no them and us, no party politics that matters. We are one people united with our brothers and sisters around the world who face the same threat as we do.

Some have faced it already. Some are living in fear of it. Some are reconciled to the inevitable. Some are trying to escape it by heading here in camper vans. Don't hate those people. They are afraid and are trying to protect themselves just the same as we are. They won't be any safer here and we may feel strongly that they should have stayed at home but they are human beings like us and still deserve the same respect as we would want others to show us.

One of the readings that was read in the Presbyterian Church in America was Psalm 23, a Psalm that we all know so well.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley
of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil,
my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The words of this Psalm are so familiar that we run the risk of missing the message that God gives us through it.

The shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He provides for their every need. He ensures they have the water of life and a place to rest and feed that they may be fit for the next day whatever it brings.

Often in the midst of a crisis, we get so caught up in our fears and so stuck in our heads worrying about what might happen tomorrow that we fail to see what we have today. Our Shepherd walks with us into a new day but He is with us in this one. He watches over us. He provides us with a place of rest, green pastures where we can renew our strength, still waters so that we will be refreshed and ready for a new day. He blesses us where we are, whether that be beside still waters or through the valleys of life. He blesses us and He walks with us.

Do not worry about the things that we cannot change, easier said than done, I know.

I love the serenity prayer which says:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference, Amen.

Take time to reflect on those words as we move into even more uncertain days but in those uncertain days, there is one certainty and that is that we will not enter them alone even if we live alone because our Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us, walks with us and will never, ever leave us. Go into this coming week in His strength and He will sustain you.

21 March 2020

Hi there, folks,

This has been a very strange few days with stranger days ahead, no doubt! However, it is Sunday tomorrow and although we cannot meet for worship, there are countless opportunities to share in worship with those who are live streaming a short service. I will provide some links to them below. You will be able to watch them at any point throughout the coming week as they remain online until the following Sunday. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland is going to be providing a service of worship from next Sunday.

This week, you can share in a time of quiet reflection with Scott Burton who is minister of Gigha linked with the West Kintyre Churches:
http://www.westkintyreandgighachurchofscotland.org/

or with Rev Graham Crawford, Perth:
www.kinnoullparishchurch.co.uk

or with Rev. Martin Fair who will be the next Moderator of the General Assembly

https:/www.arbraothstandrews.org.uk/index.php/live/

There are lots of other Churches which will provide worship and which you can find if you search for them online.

There are also talks taking place with the BBC to see if they will provide a Sunday Service again which will be a great help, particularly to those who are not online.

Although we will all be worshipping at different times tomorrow and pretty much in isolation, it is my prayer that we will all know God's blessing and be assured of His presence with us wherever we are.

I close with a prayer.

 

Blessed Lord God, in the comfort of our own homes and in the midst of the confusion in the world around us, you provide us with your constant presence and we thank you for that.
We thank you that you will never leave us, that you stand beside us and that you will hold us in the palm of your hand when fears weigh heavily upon us, when anxiety takes control of our lives, when loneliness is looming and we are unsure of which way to turn.
Lord God, you are our refuge and strength. Help us to turn to you and to know that you will hear our cries for help and will answer us with your peace and your love and your hope.
Only you can give us hope in these days, hope of life, hope of peace, hope for today and for tomorrow.
Speak to our hearts, Lord God, as we share in worship tomorrow. May we know that even though we are in isolation, we are united with all your children around the world who worship you and praise you and indeed cry out to you in the midst of chaos and pain.
Lord God, bless each person who bows before you in worship and those who share in this prayer. Watch over them and assure them of your presence now and always, for this prayer is offered in Jesus' Name and for His Sake, Amen.

Stay safe, my friends, and God bless you.

Hilda

17 March 2020

Hi there folks,

This is an announcement that I had hoped I wouldn't have to make for a while.

Sadly, but inevitably, the Church of Scotland has strongly advised her ministers to cease conducting public worship from now which means there will be no service of worship this coming Sunday or in the weeks to come in Lochgilphead Parish Church.

This is a difficult time for everyone and for those of us who come together regularly in worship, it will be a real miss but it is so important that the most vulnerable within our society are protected and the best way to do that seems to be to self isolate and to stop meeting in groups. However, our God is in this crisis with us and in a rapidly changing world, He is the one constant.

Maybe the time has come to share with a bit of my journey. I had always intended teaching French and German but in my final year of my MA, I was quite ill. I had a lumbar puncture done and had a very bad reaction thereafter. I was really ill for 10 days afterwards, unable to lift my head off the pillow or do anything for myself. I was diagnosed with MS, a diagnosis that no longer stands but it did for thirteen years. I realised as I lay ill how quickly life could change. I could lose the ability to see, to speak, to move around. I could lose my family, my friends, my home, my job. The only thing that no one could take from me was my faith and I decided then that it was worth sharing.

Although I never intended going into ministry, God had other ideas and every obstacle I put in the way, He demolished and so began my studies for ministry back in 1984.

Life can change very quickly, as we all know from our own experience, but God is with us and He does not change. He remains the same and reaches out to us in so many different ways to support us and encourage us. God is someone to whom we can turn when life is rubbish and as the world spins out of control as well as on the good days. He is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Although we won't be meeting for Sunday worship in a group, I will be posting regular reflections and prayers on this FB page and I hope that in the days to come, you will know the peace of God which is ours through Christ, our Lord.

Stay safe, folks, and if you need anyone to speak to, I am at the end of the phone as are the other ministers and priests in our area. Don't hesitate to get in touch with any of us if it will help reduce your feelings of isolation, your anxiety or even your fears at this time.

God bless you all.

Hilda


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