Pumpkins and eschatology

My homework today has been to read up on christian theology about the afterlife, at the same I’ve been scraping out pumpkins ready for Halloween. This seems like an unholy coincidence, however I think there is a blog in this! Firstly I’ve been trick or treating with my kids, as a guilty pleasure for a few years now. It’s probably not a very christian thing to do, but it’s the one of the only times I meet up with neighbours and quite a few families on our street make a big effort to decorate their houses, and welcome in children. We don’t visit houses beyond our couple of streets, and we are usually out for less than an hour. We don’t knock on doors unless the owners have signalled in some way they are up for being disturbed. This varies from lots of decorations, to a simple pumpkin. Some people put a bowl out of sweets to avoid being disturbed. If there was a decent alternative for christian families locally I think we’d support that, for example our youngest is at a light party with her Rainbows group tomorrow.

So secondly, why are Christians not keen on the concept of Halloween? Well it actually comes from the Eve of All Hallows day (All Saints Day) on the 1st November known in some catholic countries as the day of the dead. The pumpkins and lights are said to ward off evil spirits the night before. The fundamental issue with this, is that Christians (this is new to me too) don’t actually believe that when we die there is a spirit that lives on. We don’t distinguish between someone’s body, mind or soul and see them as one being. We hope for resurrection of all three, in the same way we believe Jesus came back from the dead in an actual body rather than as a ghost. Thomas put his hand in the wound before he believed it really was Jesus.

Thirdly today I was at the church where I became a christian and I became really conscious that “Saints” or those who used to worship at the church were around. I had a sense that two ladies in particular who have recently died of cancer, were really pleased to see me there. It wasn’t in a sense of them being ghosts or haunting the church, just that in the universe their presence was part of God’s glory. As a charismatic christian I often sense the Holy Spirit visiting a group of Christians in prayer this is the only spirit we do actually believe in. It’s like a presence or warm feeling, and often makes me want to cry. It’s part of who God is and can be a real blessing. Today I received a picture of some stars that joined to form a string of beautiful glowing pearls that then formed part of God’s crown. This represented to us the people we’d lost to cancer, now being part of God’s glory.

Every time we go to church we pray the Lord’s prayer and we ask that “his kingdom comes”, this is to say we want heaven on earth, we want an end to poverty and suffering and we want to see our loved ones restored in full resurrection. We also say “for yours is the power”, and this is key to Halloween, all the ghosts, demons and imaginary spooks in the world are not as powerful as God, but dabbling in the dark side can be dangerous, if you get into things like the paranormal, you may be inviting in the demons that will surely want to keep you from knowing God as fully as you might otherwise like to do. There is of course sadly bad to every good in the world but  how much power we give to the dark depends on how brightly our own lights shine out.

So tomorrow as I visit my neighbours I will be praying for them and thanking god for the community we live in, and probably binning like last year a great quantity of sweets which get really sticky and gooey in a plastic tub! I might even hand out some prayers with the sweets at home..

Here’s a couple of prayers that you may like to use yourself…

Father,
All-Powerful and Ever-Living God,
Today we rejoice in the holy men and women
of every time and place
May their prayers bring us your forgiveness and love
We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

From ghoulies and ghosties
And long-leggedy beasties
And things that go bump in the night,
Good Lord, deliver us!

AMEN

 

 

Knitting

So month number 2 in the process of ordination, and  life is busy as normal. School trips, parents evenings, beavers, rainbows, swimming, study, work, and play are all happening at once, as per normal, plus I’m being re-ordered through the “ordination” process. It’s fantastic and like being rebooted at the same time. I’m learning a new vocabulary of theology, meeting lots of new people, and my ability to remember simple things, or plan ahead seems to have vanished! St Luke’s in York my new church home is different and familiar, and unexpected and traditional, all at once. I’m simultaneously amazed by powerfully meeting with the Holy Spirit, and stunned by how long traditions have been maintained by people in prayerful service.

I’ve been reflecting on this and decided that God’s using different strands of my life and my experience in a new way. Isiah 43 v19 “See, I am doing a new thing!”

I’ve not seen these strands as particularly connected and he’s got some kind of overall wonderful pattern in which it’s being knitted. In January we are planning a new adventure for people with dementia, in church. I’m really excited about progressing this, as I think it will draw on my experience and connections in the statutory world and link this to my desire to share my faith. It’s quite daunting though, as normally I like to compartmentalise my life, so work is about one thing, church is about another. Now church is work, it’s all a bit odd!

I guess this is the best thing though too, because when you are in a state of “flow” as athletes and artists describe their best work, it’s generally when things are aligned and the normal barriers have been swept away. Psalm 139 always reminds me of how well God knows us, much better than we ever realise…

You have searched me, Lord,
    and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
    you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
    you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
    you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
    and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too lofty for me to attain.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
    if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
    your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
    they would outnumber the grains of sand—
    when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
    Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
    your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
    and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
    I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.

 

Sticks and stones

I’ve been hearing this week from a range of sources about how hurt people can feel through the words we use, whether at the school gates feeling socially shut out as a mum, or a teenager on the recieving end of “banter” which subsequently led to suicide..  Trump talking about women as sexual objects, gay people feeling shut out of church if they are “proud” of their sexual identify, there is just so much hurt around.

People hurting each other isn’t just about violent acts such as the UKIP MEP’s, it can also be about exclusion, not speaking to someone because they’ve upset you, or suppression of the truth if you are in a powerful position, at the cost of others. It can be about drawing up boundaries of gender or sexuality to define your faith position, at the cost of others, or using someone else’s work to get a promotion without giving them due credit. Someone’s pain and retaliation to injustice can also be misjudged as aggression. Sometimes it’s even through expertise or knowledge.. Sally Phillip’s documentary on Down’s Syndrome showed just how hard it was for parents of children with Down’s to be taken seriously when they said how proud they were of their wonderful child, and how they would never want to have a screening to stop a baby developing with Down’s. Their perspective was seen as dubious, when medical advances could be so positive..

On a personal level I’ve had to learn to think more carefully about the words I use, as I’m not nearly as proficient at talking as I am writing, sometimes impatient, and my words can be clumsy, ill-thought out or wildly wrong. I am quite able to wind someone else up and walk away, or to subtly influence, undermine or refuse to acknowledge someone else’s perspective, particularly if I don’t agree with them!

Being a mum I think has taught me that people don’t really want sympathy or condolences, they might want you to share their tough moments and agree how hard it is, or laugh about things, help them in a practical way, but advice is not always something we can hear, especially when our insecurities and own issues are in the way. It’s mainly better to be present, hang around, say something loving, and get alongside where the person is at, rather than to judge. The Love that Jesus talks about I think is more of a verb than a noun.. and that’s what we have to do is actively love, and hate anything that gets in the way of that, forgiving people and hating injustice… not just say the words, or buy the T shirt..it’s not easy otherwise we’d all be doing it, maybe that’s why it was a commandment, and not a “nudge”!

John 13:34-35

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”