thoughts on faith, justice, politics and philosophy

Category: Prose

Dún na nGall

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Over the unmarked bridge
A sense of something new
Returning to a place
I have never been
Yet somehow, coming home.

The path ahead narrows
Bends, twists, curves
Dips, ducks and dives
Toward a grassy valley
‘Tween snow peppered hills.

Past these hills she lies –
Quiet, and unassuming
Besides the river
Old Red Hugh,
Now greener; keeps watch.

Atop the hills, his Castle
there stands; grand
and commanding
O’er the road
Many dine in his name.

His Abbey lies ruined,
Destroyed by invaders,
Graves of men
fill the grounds
Overlooking atlantic waves.

’Twas there I stayed,
and pondered the future,
O’Donnells past
were here once
Now I sit, perched, pondering.

I don’t know who I am,
Where I’m going, or doing,
But I know
In this place
Anseo, tá mé sa bhaile

Written as I reflect on my time in Donegal (Dún na nGall). The O’Donnell clan (my mother’s maiden name) is from here. It’s amazing to get a sense of being in a place where you’ve at some point come from. I must visit Tretheway, soon.

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How I Feel Today

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“this is how we know what love is”,
that you died for us? no,
that you lied to us –
seems more apt to me
in this moment, in this place.
come back when you’re done
with giving me hell
and trials and anxiety
and fear and rejection
and dismantling the walls
I had built up to try and simply understand.
come back when you’ve good things
to give
because I can’t live for you
waiting for life to get better
hoping something good lies quiet around the corner
when experience has taught me, that if anything,
it’s not.

Sorry if that’s a little raw. I wrote it this morning and decided to share it on account of the fact that (a) I have little by way of anything interesting to say and (b) I don’t think we’re nearly honest enough about our journey of faith.

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Depression and Jesus

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I don’t know if it was the weather, the early sunset, or the fact that last year November was truly one of the worst months I had ever had to endure, or perhaps the fact that Christmas is approaching and it is a time of year I often find difficult. Either way, I found myself last Friday feeling utterly rubbish and depressed.

I was convinced that I had conquered my depression. I was convinced that I had moved on from thought patterns that left me hating myself, feeling powerless and helpless in the face of damaged or strained relationships, situations beyond my control and that sort of thing. And there I found myself, with no drive, no desire, no will to find meaning in the day.

But then it dawned on me that this depression wasn’t just some bad situation getting to me as per usual. This was something different. I figured it was probably something like SAD. Apparently it’s quite common.

So I took a bit of time out, had a bit of a break from work (which I was overdue in any case having spent several of the last 2 months weekends working!) and spent some time with God, pleading not to be led down the dark paths of depression again. I knew that I couldn’t ‘beat’ this in the same way I had beaten it before, through counselling and the support of friends. So there I was, helpless, wanting to find purpose amongst the dreary winter.

So I took time out to read the gospel of Matthew. What I found is this: the good news of Jesus is utterly inspiring, wonderful, affirming, life giving stuff. It lifts you up and helps you to see that there really is more out there to be had out of life.

I am not saying that reading a book cures depression. I still feel a tad glum with the weather. I’ll probably talk to a doctor about it if it gets bad again. What it did do was give me a sense of perspective and a reminder of the truths I hold dear.

It also challenges you. I need a challenge. I think part of the reason for the dip in my mood was because I don’t have a lot going on at work at the moment, and certainly nothing from the outside to motivate me with the ideas that I am working on. But in the gospels, Jesus challenges me to forgive, to love, to serve, to be least of all, to go the extra mile. These are all things I can aspire to do – and in doing so forgetting about my own mood and my self. I can lift my thoughts beyond me and I and how I am feeling and instead take part in the ongoing unfolding of the Kingdom of God. And that’s fantastic.

I wil finish with a prayer by St Francis which I particularly enjoy at the moment:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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Footprints

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Sometimes I dream of life as a walk along the sea shore. There I am, trudging along the line where land and sea blend into one; the sand pulled reluctantly beneath the belly of the ocean crashing down upon it. My feet are warm, basking in the sunlight beating down upon them. Warm, and then cooler. The waves lap across them, playful, unsure of their permission to cover my feet.

Footprints. Mine are alone. I used to travel with others. Once, a long time ago, I traveled with God. Or so I thought. There he would be, beside me. Sharing in my joy, my fears, my hopes, my anxieties. Now? Nothing. God is nowhere. Some people look back on their footprints in the sand, and they see both sets of prints. Theirs, and those of our Lord. I look back, and I know I can see mine. I’m not sure about God’s, though.

They say that the times when there are only one set of footprints are the times that God was carrying you. Well, if God has been carrying me, then why are my feet so tired? Why are my soles so weary and heavy laden? Why do my toes ache? Why are my legs toughened from hours of trudging through thick gluey sand?

The golden sand I left long ago. Now it is muddy, grimy, grey, dark sand. Sand that swallows you up when you stand still for too long. Sand that engulfs and overpowers you. Sand that you have to be light-footed on, keeping a bare minimum of contact with the reality below your feet in order to keep going. I miss the golden sand. I miss flinging my arms into the air carefree. I miss hearing the voice of God in the wind and the waves. I miss hearing the voice of God in the calm and quiet rhythm of the ocean.

It’s funny how the sand is so much nicer further from the ocean. Further from danger, further from the tantalising, tempting lure of the deep blue. Perhaps I should walk further ashore, where the sand is always golden, where the sun it seems always shines, where the wind is not quite so chilling.

Somehow that doesn’t satisfy. There’s something in these waves. Something calling out to me. Something asking me to join them. Something within me that calls out back and declares my allegiance – I am of this ocean. I will not steer clear of the danger, of the mystery, of the paradox of the ocean; calming yet immeasurably powerful. Graceful yet ferocious. Somehow, I know the risks, I know about the pull of the tides and the floors beyond my depths – yet I still crave to be there.

One day, perhaps, I will ride the waves. I will know what it is to be out of depth, to swim where perhaps even sharks and jellyfish make their claim to home. One day, I will go deeper. I will catch the crests of the rolling barrels of water as they make their way towards the shore. And I will be at peace.

For now, I walk along the sea shore. I look over my shoulder and I remind myself that way back there, around that corner, beyond that cliff –  there were two sets of footprints. I’m sure of it. Unless I’ve gone mad in this heat. No. I’m sure of it. I wonder to myself where that second pair has gone. They aren’t carrying me. I think perhaps they left a while back.

I think they went for a swim.

They’re beckoning me now.

Maybe I’ll join them.

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Life’s A Beach

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Things make sense here,
Tired old rocks; battered, bruised and beaten
by the waves as they break.
Less than their former selves, yet more beautiful.
Shining, in the warm coastal sun.

Sand flows between my toes,
golden, glistening specks refined by the years.
My footprint barely known,
cut short by the tidal, cleansing sea. I’m gone.
It’s as though I wasn’t here.

The wind brushes across my face,
refreshing a complexion worn tired by city life.
I can hear you, in the ocean –
quietly whispering; yet a deep, rumbling whisper.
“I know, I’m coming, I’m here.”

The sun beats down on my back,
Respite from this chilled spring breeze; a reminder.
You know me. Here I am –
I am present now; I’m listening; in anticipation.
“Perhaps I can find you.”

It’s becoming clearer now.
Remnants of rocks; washed clean, and refined.
Something to aspire to;
Cared for and shaped by this kind ocean’s waves.
Things make sense here.

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It is Finished

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He died today.

Gone.

God is dead.

He’s left us.

He wasn’t the One we waited for.

He can’t be.

 

The fabric of the curtain tore

The big surprise?

Nothing there.

No – one.

No God.

Nothing.

 

What next?

Where now?

Why this?

How long?

Which way?

Who knows…

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Abandoned Places

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I’ve been thinking about Jesus’ washing his disciples feet today – mainly whilst at work (that may go some way to explain why it wasn’t a productive day). What an astonishing idea; that the Messiah – the saviour of Israel – could stoop so low as to wash the feet of those who were meant to be following and learning from Him. 

How many of us these days are prepared to do the same?

I’m not, of course, referring to washing one another’s feet. That would be weird, right? What I am thinking of is that which we also shy away from – the messy, dirty, nasty, unpleasant tasks of life. The ones we don’t want to do because they would make us unclean, unauthoritative, no longer in control – that sort of thing.

Decisions like visiting Iraq, living in one of the worst parts of Philadelphia, exploring life on a council estate, caring for the dying in Calcutta, bearing the burden of the worldwide Catholic church when we would rather be in a two room apartment cooking our own meals and living the simple life; loving those who seem unloveable; caring for those who have no one else to care for them; moving in among the poor; selling our possessions so as not to be controlled by them; being prepared to die in the name of Jesus.

We can’t go on pretending that Jesus does not demand our all, our everything. We cannot go on leading a life of ignorance and worldly wealth. Not when we follow a God who was downwardly mobile enough to come to earth as man and then downward again in his pursuit of those on the most marginal places of society.

My question to you all this Maundy Thursday, is how prepared are you to follow Him? enough to lose your life? Because Jesus says that in doing so, you will gain it.

 

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Open Letters to the Modern Church: Dear Large Gathering

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The following is not directed at any one church in particular. It is an open letter to the worldwide church, tailored towards a particular expression thereof. I am starting off with an open letter to large gatherings.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Dear Large Gathering,

I’m grateful for your passion for Jesus. I think it’s fantastic that you want to all get together to show God that you love him and to demonstrate this to others as well. I think it’s really good that you meet, worship alongside one another and are inspired by those leading your gathering.

It grieves me however that you meet this way so often. I myself attend large gatherings from time to time and find them valuable. But my local community is of significantly more value to me. Yours should be to you, as well. Who do you know better – your next door neighbour or the person you sit by at the large gathering? Who do you pray for more? Who do you interact with more? Who do you call more?

Is your local parish church struggling? Are other congregations near to your house finding life difficult? Could you inject some life in to one of those meetings, rather than travelling for miles each week to simply be with others like yourself, instead of facing the scarier, risky and yet more Christ-like option of coming alongside those around you and showing them God’s love?

I ask those questions not to make you feel bad, or feel guilty, but because I want you to think about all of those people. All of the people who don’t live near large church gatherings. The people who you don’t have time to spend time with because you’re busy running alpha courses, busy practicing or preparing for your upcoming slot on a church rota. Don’t forget that whilst Jesus preached at the local synagogue, he was spoken more often of in the gospels at parties, weddings, meals and so on.

Don’t forget the call of God to associate with the lowly. Don’t forget that He has a plan for your life and has put you where you live for a reason. That reason is not to ignore the world around you but to engage with it! Large Gathering, make sure that when you do meet it is to inspire, account and encourage one another to be living missionally.  When you meet, meet less often than you do now. When you are not meeting, spend time with those who are your neighbours, lest they be forgotten in the ever growing trend of people away from the streets and into church buildings.

Remember Christ’s call to love your neighbour and remember that sometimes it really does need to be taken literally. Remember that when you gather with those around you also following the way, you can ignore denominations. You can relate to one anothers daily lives. You can share in prayer your common neighbours and friends. You can hold one another to account and equip and inspire one another to live a geographically-aware, missional lifestyle.

Large Gathering, you would do well to disperse more often! It is good to meet, but even better to know and love your neighbour. That way, you can see lives transformed without the need for courses or events. You will find Christ where perhaps you least expect it, but it will be worth it.

Yours in the love of Jesus the Messiah,

Ben

 

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I Lift My Eyes Up

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I look around the shops,
The bookstores with self help books,
The daytime TV shows,
The benefit centre,
The job centre,
Where does my help come from?

My help comes from God,
The one who built the earth,
The whole universe.
And the things we can’t see
Beyond it

It is God who comes to rescue me,
Not those in charge,
Nor those who think they are in charge,
Not myself.

I choose to rely on God
I know he wants the best for me.

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