light hearted

I am on a waiting list for surgery on my heart. It was something of a surprise when I was told that I needed an operation and, if I’m honest, being on a waiting list has been rather disruptive to my life and work as I have not been able to book things in my diary very far ahead having been told that the surgery would be “soon”: I have discovered that “soon” is a very flexible and indeterminate length of time! I would much rather have the surgery “soon” so that I can get on with getting better but I am having to be patient before I can be a patient.

During the waiting time I have had lots of different tests and conversations with medical staff to prepare me for the operation and have discovered lots of new terminology and seen images and video of bits of me that I never imagined I’d see. The most significant meeting was with the surgeon who will be carrying out the operation. He was really reassuring (I would characterise his attitude to the operation as seeing it as ‘routine but serious’) and was also very honest about what lies ahead of us in terms of the length of time of the operation, length of time in hospital and length of time convalescing and rehabilitating. He also mentioned that, as with all surgery, there are risks – albeit minor – and reassured us that every possible precaution is taken to minimise them.

As I have waited and pondered what lies ahead I have realised how much I take for granted in my life and the people around me. And I think there’s a truism to be found here: we take so much for granted and only notice its significance to us when it is threatened or taken away. Maybe it is only in shadows that we fully appreciate the light: illness sharpens our awareness of what it means to be healthy; sadness and grief poignantly make us hope for joy; poverty and debt heighten our appreciation of wealth; loneliness makes us yearn for companionship; incapacity inspires us to value freedom and mobility.

In one of my favourite films ‘Evan Almighty’ there is a moment when Evan’s wife, Joan, has an encounter with God. God (brilliantly played by Morgan Freeman) serves her in a diner and says: “Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?”

This is left as an open question in the film but it does make a lot of sense to me. Taking that thought and applying it to what I said earlier, I believe that God uses our shadow experiences to help us appreciate the light. I don’t believe that God causes illness, sadness, grief, poverty, debt, loneliness or incapacity but I do believe that he can speak in and through them and perhaps at those times we are more attuned to listening.

In words that are often read at this time of year in Carol services from the beginning of John’s Gospel we read: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5). For John ‘the light’ is Jesus. But the word we translate as “overcome” can also be translated as “understood”, “seize”, “grasp”, “comprehend”, “overtake”, or “suppress”. Because the irrepressible, inextinguishable light is beyond the experience and comprehension of darkness it stands in stark contrast to it. From an experience of darkness (an absence of light) the light becomes all the more attractive and we begin to appreciate it, realise what it means and move towards it.

If you are in shadow or darkness now, I hope and pray that you will experience light or at least catch a glimpse of it and find that the power and hold the darkness has on you is diminished as a result. If you are in light now, appreciate it and make the most of it – and share that light with those who need it.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

glow in the dark (day 15)

Facebook friends of mine may already have seen this picture. It’s of our new Christmas lights. We wanted to be festive and decorate the front of our house while at the same time not wanting to go overboard, not wanting to fill the garden with flashing Santas*, light-up reindeer, snowmen, and so on. We wanted something that said, “Happy Christmas” to our neighbours.

And nothing says “Happy Christmas” like a nativity scene.

I did see a light-up inflatable nativity scene that looked really cute, but with the windy weather we’ve been having it might have ended up in Norway! So we went for the rope lights. But they only comes on in the late afternoon and evening. You can’t see the lights in the daylight.

John 1:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life,and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Light dispels darkness. Every time.

Be blessed, be a blessing

*read that how you want!

at six ment

The last email should have finished with the Eastenders ‘duff duffs’ (the dramatic drums that play at the cliffhanger ending of each episode of the soap opera). That’s because there has been a longer than intended gap between that one and this one and some of you may have been on tenterhooks anticipating what happens next. Is there going to be a next instalment? What will it be?

(Yes, I know I am over-dramatising it rather a lot, but do patronise me by playing along).

So, here goes: another story based on an image from the Bible to explain the atonement – what Jesus’ death means for us.

It was a dark and stormy Eighteenth Century night. The ship had crossed the Atlantic Ocean and was nearing the English coast. Dark clouds covered the sky so that the moon was hidden and no stars were visible so the ship’s navigator could not use any of his instruments to establish exactly where they were. The rain was lashing down so hard that nobody could see more than a few yards ahead of the ship. They were almost literally sailing blind.

The captain knew, from the length of the voyage, that they ought to be near the coast. He knew, from the compass, that they were heading in the right direction. But he also knew that there were dangerous rocks and shoals in the approach to the destination. He had planned to drop anchor and ride out the storm in the open sea rather than attempt a night-time docking but the wind and waves were relentlessly driving them towards where the land ought to be and the anchor was dragging.

Then, through the howling gale and raging sea, the sailors heard a new, terrifying sound. It was the sound of waves breaking on the shore. They could not be far away from land now, and unless they could work out which way to go they would be driven onto the rocks and the ship would be dashed to pieces – with the probable loss of all hands. All eyes strained and scanned the horizon for even a glimpse of a landmark.

“Land ho!” came a shout from the rigging. One of the sharp-eyed sailors had spotted something!

The captain shouted for more information.

“There’s a light, captain, off the starboard bow!”

The captain looked in that direction and, as the ship pitched and rolled, he saw a glimpse of a light. He hoped that it was on the land and not another ship floundering, but he gave orders for the anchor to be raised, the sails to be set and the ship to steer in the direction of the light. The ship heeled as the wind caught the sails and slowly but surely the light moved from the starboard bow to directly in front of them.

They sailed in hope, hardly daring to breathe. As they got nearer the light got brighter and then they realised that it was a ship. It was the harbour pilot. Illuminated by a flash of lightning out at sea he had seen the ship through the storm and had set out to guide them safely back to the harbour. The pilot’s rig came clearly into view and he signalled to the ship to follow him.

“Follow that ship!” ordered the captain and the sailors gladly did so into the safety of the harbour.

stormThey were saved. On the harbourside the captain rushed to find the pilot and embraced him. He knew that unless the pilot had risked his life to find them they would have perished on the rocks.

Jesus is like that pilot – he has come to show us the way to God. His death is the light in the darkness that we follow to safety.

Be blessed, be a blessing.

(This series is a bit like the Harry Potter books: seven instalments of the same story. Next time, the final instalment – escapology (probably not until next week, sorry)). Duff, duff, duff, duff

the parable of the pesky fly

FlyI am being distracted. There is a pesky little fly that is wafting around in my study and it’s rather attracted to the screen in front of me. I would be very grateful if it would leave my study and go somewhere else because it is irritating me. But the pesky little fly seems unable to leave behind the brightness and vivid colours on my computer monitor in favour of the darkening sky outside (it’s about 4.30pm).

In some ways I can’t blame it. I can understand why it is attracted to the monitor rather than the darkness. To a fly light is a sign of life and goodness (you can see your food, for example). Darkness is full of danger and death (bats anyone?).

So how come we humans seem to be attracted by darkness? How come we find it so easy to be cruel, thoughtless, impatient, greedy, gossipy, selfish, and so much more? Why do we prefer that sort of stuff to love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, kindness, goodness and self-control?

For some reason we are fascinated by, drawn to, attracted by darkness. Do you doubt me?

These are the cinema’s own summaries of films currently on at our local cinema:

A crooked tale of con artists, mobsters and politicians Contains strong language

Drama featuring Matthew McConaughey as an HIV sufferer Contains strong language, sex, sex references and drug use

Cliff-hanging sci-fi space thriller Contains sustained moderate threat, disturbing images and strong language

A high-flying action thriller starring Liam Neeson Contains moderate action violence and one use of strong language

A fun-filled action film centred on a mismatched buddy cop duo Contains moderate violence, sex references and one use of strong language

An action-packed sci-fi reboot starring Joel Kinnaman Contains moderate violence, injury detail and infrequent strong language

A WWII drama about a young girl in Nazi Germany Contains scenes of emotional distress and moderate threat

A comic animated adventure set in the LEGO universe Contains mild fantasy violence and very mild language

Historical drama with an all-star ensemble cast Contains moderate violence, bloody injury detail and scenes of smoking

White-collar crime drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio Contains very strong language, strong sex and hard drug use

I agree that this is not a scientific survey. It’s a snapshot. But I think it makes my point if this is what passes for entertainment. We are happy to condemn the Romans for throwing Christians to lions and enjoying gladiators chopping each other to bits (unless we turn it into a film or TV drama) but we have no problem with films showing the above. I am not anti-film or a prude (I don’t think). This is not a rant against films or a demand for censorship. I am simply illustrating that we are all drawn to the darkness (whether in the Colosseum or the Odeon). (We might exclude the film set in the LEGO universe).

Why are we drawn to the darkness rather than the light? There’s an old fashioned word for it: ‘sin’ – otherwise known as our in-built propensity to mess things up. Without God we have a bias in us that draws us to the darkness. But when we see the light, when we are confronted with a glimpse of the vivid colour and brightness of God, why would we prefer the darkness?

Perhaps rather than being bothered by the little fly I should follow his example, with God’s help?

Be blessed, be a blessing.