Archive for the ‘Moravian’ Category

This is the text of my reflection/sermon shared with the congregation today at Cliftonville Moravian Church:

Today, I want to reflect on Genesis 8: 1 ‘But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded’.

Our Old Testament passage, Genesis 8:1-19 is rich in imagery and meaning.  In the character of Noah, we see a man who is faithful, patient and perseveres in the face of uncertainty.  During the trials that he faced, he understood, consciously and subconsciously that God had not forgotten him….that God kept his promises. It all took some time of course, to go from the drama of the flood to the deliverance represented by dry land and new and vibrant beginnings. The transition from being ‘all at sea’, to being quite literally ‘grounded’ is a powerful and deeply meaningful image.

But let us step back from this unfolding picture for a moment and reflect on Noah’s actions as the water was omnipresent and the land submersed.  During that time, we read of a man who reaches out again and again in hope and expectation; we encounter a person who has placed his trust in God, that ultimately, all will be well and salvation is very firmly in God’s hand.

Trust, in God’s providence permeates Noah’s existence.  We see that motif reflected very powerfully in our New Testament lesson, especially in the opening verse where it is written: ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me’ (John 14:1).

Noah’s trust in God is a given. He in return is entrusted with an enormous task, despite his very human character flaws and failings. Trust is vitally important; so too is hope – it flows from the foundation of trust that accompanies, and exemplifies a faithful life.

We read of a Noah who sends out first the Raven, then the Dove, calmly waiting for the return, or ultimately for some sense that the waters are subsiding and life is returning to the land; that the wait is over.  Noah then, is the picture of trust in the divine; the dove is the symbol of hope.

Last week, we touched on the contours of hope as we navigated the biblical narrative.  This week, we are drawn once again to contemplate its importance.

Noah’s actions, in sending out those birds, awaiting a response and initially being disappointed, but ultimately experiencing the joy of hope fulfilled.  He lived out the words of the American civil-rights activist and Baptist Minister Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr when he perceptively said:”We must accept finite disappointment but must never lose infinite hope”.  What a maxim to live by! How insightful.

So, the example of Noah and a the words of a contemporary Christian leader fuse together and remind us that yes, we will experience disappointment in our lives, but our hope is infinite; it is build upon the God of love and his omnipotence – the reason that we gather here today to worship and to give witness to a far greater reality than we can even describe.

Consider then, what the great reformer, Martin Luther said: ‘Everything that is done in the world is done by hope’. Indeed it is.  Hope can transform the most despairing of situations, the most anxious of moments, and the most intractable problems that perplex us and seek to wear us down.

The roman poet, Albius Tibillus surely also catches the mood of the moment when he writes: ‘Hope ever urges us on and tells us tomorrow will be better’. And it will. We look forward with hope, despite the turmoil of the world we live in; despite the innumerable uncertainties that perniciously attempt to steal our joy and purpose.  Our hope is so much deeper and broader than all of that; it is un-measurable and unfathomable, but nonetheless it is tangible; we can feel it in our hearts….if only we stand still, and silent, for a few moments.

We honour that hope by living a life that is open to possibility and steeped in the knowledge that God is the source and sustainer of that hope.

And so it seems pertinent to finish this brief reflection with a short prayer.  This prayer comes from a meditation entitled ‘The Gift of The Dove’ and is published in ‘Meditations from the Iona Community’ by Ian Reid.  Iona holds special memories for me; a ‘thin place’, God’s presence is realised in its ruggedness and holiness; that sense of hope permeates the soil, the sea and the air of a place where God’s presence is undeniable.  Hope and presence go hand-in-hand. Here it is expressed in that very prayer; let us pray:

‘Ever-present God, open our eyes to see

the coming of the dove.

As we look over the waters of

our doubts and fears,

enable us to see in the world signs of hope.

 

As we despair over the injustices and conflicts

in our own lives and in the world,

enable us to see in the world signs of peace and reconciliation.

 

As Noah was called to leave the ark and go out into

the world, enable us, like him, to share with others

the visions of hope, peace and reconciliation we

have received’.

AMEN

 

 

Here is the text of my sermon from today’s service at Cliftonville Moravian Church:

Grounded in Reality; Transformed by Hope!

On Wednesday evening, I was teaching dream analysis in Glengormley to a group of therapists and other interested individuals.  Here, in our church, I have spoken briefly about dreams as they occur in the Biblical narrative, particularly in relation to the Old Testament; that is a story I will certainly pick up again in the future – there is so much we can learn from reflecting on those moments and situations where God reveals important truths to us. The form of those dreams varies from straight-forward instruction to metaphor and allegory.

The type of dream analysis I do in a professional capacity is of course a reflection of the kind of Psychotherapy I do – Logotherapy & Existential Analysis, a meaning based approach to confronting the vagaries of life and dealing with them intelligently and purposefully.  At the beginning of last Wednesday’s session, I spent a few minutes providing an overview of the philosophy behind Logotherapy – without an understanding of that philosophy, it is not possible to go very far in making sense of our dreams.

In its most basic of forms, the philosophy of Logotherapy always strikes me as having similarities, and intertwined motifs, with Judeo-Christian theology. It is nonetheless a secular psychology grounded in human experience that is not bound by any faith tradition; it is universal in its application.

But I do often think about how Logotherapy speaks gently to my own faith orientation.  In that respect, I am drawn specifically to the highs and lows of life articulated in the Psalms; Leopold Sabourin, in his book ‘The Psalms: Their Origin and Meaning’, reminds us that the Psalter has been referred to as ‘a microcosm of the whole Old Testament… the epitome of Israel’s spiritual experience’. It does, in my opinion, go far beyond that; it provides the foundation and points towards the Christ of the New Testament.

In Logotherapy, we refer to the ‘tragic triad’ that epitomises our existence: suffering, guilt and death.  No life is spared these three experiences.  Likewise in the Psalter, we see suffering embraced and lamented, not just once but repeatedly.  Consider the Psalmists cry in Psalm 88:18 – ‘O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before you’. And what about guilt? Well, we see it in Psalm 38:4 – ‘My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear’. And then of course, there is death; Psalm 82:7 describes its inevitability in poetic terms: “Nevertheless you will die like men and fall like any one of the princes.”

 If the ‘tragic triad’ was where Logotherapy began and ended, then we would certainly be in trouble! But it isn’t.  Viktor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy, talks at length of the case for ‘tragic optimism’, where we remain optimistic despite life’s enduring difficulties. In her Foreword to Viktor Frankl’s book, ‘Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning’, Claudice Hammond says this – Frankl ‘talks of tragic optimism….that life brings pain, guilt and death and yet, for the most part, we manage to carry on’.  Somehow we manage to get through. And it gets better! Frankl also understood the reality of the ‘triumphant triad’, where there is healing, forgiveness and meaning.

In the Psalms, that ‘triumphant triad’ is also clear to see. Even in the Psalms of lament, optimism remains, seeping through, sometimes at points when we least expect it. How true that is in the reality of our own lives.  Consider again what Claudice Hammond says of Frankl’s philosophy – she writes that Logotherapy is a personal catalyst for radical change and progressive development.  As individuals then, Hammond reinforces Frankl’s philosophy, where she brings us back to our call to ‘turn suffering into achievement’, to ‘use guilt to improve’ ourselves and to utilise ‘the knowledge that life is short as a spur to action’.

Interestingly, the triumphant and the tragic often co-exist in the Psalms, just as they do in our day-to-day lives.  Our Old Testament Lesson, Psalm 39, is one such example, where despair and hope are expressed, and those two realities held in tension throughout.  There is a recognition that hope would be incomprehensible if it were not for anguish and despondency.

Here then, is how that observation plays out in our Psalm.  In the second verse, the Psalmist writes: I was silent and still; I held my peace to no avail; my distress grew worse’, but then goes on say in verse seven: “And now, O Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in you”. Life, as we know it and as the Psalmist understood it, is never clear cut….the edges are often blurred and our emotions fluctuate. We can feel despair and hope in the same day…..and in the same moment.

It is in the latter half of the seventh verse, though – “My hope is in you” – where we see the entire Christian message writ large.  Our hope rests very firmly in God.  We look to him through our individual experiences of suffering, guilt and the shadow of death and see him radiant in our sights. We call on, and cleave to those words that reverberate intensely in Psalm 55: 22: Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken’.

So yes, we live lives that are frequently difficult. But we also live lives that are grounded in hope and animated by expectation.  Viktor Frankl was a realist; the Psalms, and the wider Old and New Testaments are realistic too – they echo with the stuff of a life lived authentically, the tragic juxtaposed with the triumphant.  From our faith perspective, we can go even further.  Our hope is infinite; it is all around us; it moves as the Spirit moves and it seeks us out.  We must allow ourselves, in the midst of life, to be engulfed in love and transformed by hope.

Although I have spoken in this short reflection in very broad terms of the message of the Psalms, and Psalm 39 in particular, let me finish with some New Testament wisdom, specifically Romans 15:13: ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’.

Powerful, yet serene, there is nothing to either add or take away from Paul’s striking message to the church in Rome. It is a call to reflect deeply on our journey and gain insight into the radical nature of Christian faith.

And so, it seems appropriate that, in a few moments of silence, we allow ourselves to reconnect with the God who meets us where we are – in the reality of pain, suffering and death, but also in the transformative realm of healing, meaning and hope.  We are met on that journey with a love that knows no boundaries; a love that seeks us out. Let us feel the vigour of the Holy Spirit move among us and within us, in the stillness, and deep peace, of this holy place…………..where we are grounded in reality and transformed by hope.

‘Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever’. Jude 24-25.

AMEN

2012_0410Paintings0124

This is the text of a short reflection I delivered today at Cliftonville Moravian Church in North Belfast:

As we grow in years and experience of life it becomes evident, rather quickly, that life is complex; people are complex.  Often what we see on the surface belies a much deeper level of complexity – very rarely are any of us what is euphemistically called an ‘open-book’.  We carry with us the scars of difficulties past alongside the wisdom of experience gained. There are regrets at mistakes made, people hurt…..and there is contentment at things done well.  There is brokenness…..but there is also wholeness.

One of the issues that we Christians quickly have to come to terms with, is that we live in the sight of God replete with all our imperfections – the complexity that I have just mentioned; some of those are seen readily by those around us – we may have a temper, we may have treated others badly….we may have let our egos get the better of us to the detriment of other others. And some of our imperfections, of course, are unseen by those around us – the thoughts we have….the real motivations behind our actions…and we could name many, many more.

 None of us are one-dimensional; our characters are multifaceted, the good and the bad are intertwined – that’s what makes you and me human.  The psychiatrist Carl Jung had an interesting take on it; he wrote: ‘How can I be substantial if I do not cast a shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole’.  And in the same vein, but with a slightly different slant, the author Sarah Vowell said this: ‘We are flawed creatures, all of us.  Some of us think that means we should fix our flaws.  But get rid of my flaws and there would be no one left’.

Vowell’s insight, and indeed Jung’s too, raise some interesting questions that go to the core of what it means to be person struggling to do the right thing and to make a positive impact.  How indeed do we deal with those flaws? Well, that notion of human imperfection is perhaps summed up best in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he wrote: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.  Or as expressed in that secular source – the author Augusten Burroughs, who wrote; “I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions.” I like that.

And so, darkness, if you like, dwells within each and every one of us. And as we reflect on that reality, we are perhaps called to deal with it in a constructive way.  St. Porphyrios made this suggestion: ‘Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul.  Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear’.

Forgiveness too plays a very important part here.  We can be harsh in dealing with our own failings, but perhaps we need to be more understanding and compassionate with ourselves? Fred Luskin said this, which I think is very pertinent: ‘Forgiveness of self emerges when we understand that even with our own actions we do not have total control.  Nobody is perfect.  Everybody makes mistakes.  We all make bad decisions and act from poor information.  Being human means you and I will fail at some things and cause other people harm’.

Accepting our limitations is an important first step in, what is after all, a process. The key to understanding that process comes directly after those words of consolation in Romans:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’.  Consider if you will Romans 3:24-26: ‘they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus’.

And so here we reach crux of the matter.  There is much to unpack theologically in those few verses; there is much to reflect on that has been given to us to guide our faith.  And we will of course do that in the weeks and months ahead.  But in simple terms, the over-arching message is clear. Because of our flaws, our faults, our very obvious failings, we are human.  But it is despite these aspects of our character that we are justified through faith in the eyes of God.  This is what makes the Christian faith, the message and personhood of Jesus Christ, the ‘Good News’. It is not through good character and an accumulation of good deeds that the ‘mind of God’ is influenced.  We are who we are and God knows that….all of it.  And so there is no need for false piety or a denial of our real selves; we can come before God just as we are, in the knowledge that He loves us and that our faith conquers all and transcends our flaws, failings and brokenness.

Let us take that reality with us as we begin a new week, meet new people, go about our daily tasks and tackle new challenges.  As we do so, in the light of today’s reflection, there is no need to feel burdened by the fact that we are less than we could be.  Let God deal with that.

Now to Him

who is able through the power

which is at work among us

to do immeasurably more

than all we can ask or conceive,

to Him be the glory

in the church and in Christ Jesus

from generation to generation evermore!

Amen.

 

 

Moravian Logo

As of today I have officially become a Minister of the British Province of the Moravian Church, serving the Cliftonville Congregation in North Belfast.  Many people have asked me: ‘Who are the Moravians’?  And that’s quite a common question that is hard to answer in a few short paragraphs! But here goes:

The Moravian Church is one of the oldest Protestant denominations in the world, with its heritage stretching back to the fifteenth century.  Doctrinally it is a mainstream church, with a global membership, and is a member of the World Council of Churches; the British Province is a member of  Churches Together in Britain and Ireland  and the Irish District belongs to the Irish Council of Churches.

The main motto of the Moravian Church is Vicit Agnus Eum Sequamur (Our lamb has conquered, let us follow him), which emphasises our focus on Christ as the head of our denomination. Another oft used motto of the church is: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, love.”

In a lecture series delivered at the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, Moravian Bishop Clarenice H. Shawe described the ethos of the Moravian Church as having five guiding principles: simplicity, happiness, unobtrusiveness, fellowship, and the ideal of service.

If you want to find out more about the Moravian Church, the following websites will give you much more detail. Whether you’re interested in doctrine, customs  or ecumenical relations, you’ll find that information here:

http://www.irishchurches.org/members/moravian-church-irish-district (An brief overview of the Irish District of the British Province).

http://www.moravian.org.uk/index.php/the-moravian-church/beliefs-and-practices (Information on Moravian beliefs and practices by the British Province).

http://www.moravianseminary.edu/moravian-studies/about/introduction (A quite detailed introduction to the Moravian Church by the Moravian Theological Seminary)