Portugal 2: Family Time

With apologies that it’s been a while since I’ve blogged, I’ve been having to much fun! I hope to blog a bit more over the next few days about our time here in Portugal, this one about Family Time, one about the blessing of All Nations Church which we’ve been attending and one about Me and God.

One of the aims of my sabbatical was to have time as a family, time with Tara and Jethro that I wouldn’t normally get. We have been very lucky that the sabbatical has come before Jethro goes to school. This has allowed us this extended time together and to spend a long period here in Portugal.

The time here has given us a chance to do lots together as a family, to swim each day, to go to the beach, to explore new places, to go to Church together, to read stories with each other, to go to the park (lots!). These things have been a real gift for me, but just as much a gift has been being able to be involved with the everyday of life with Tara and Jethro. Not having to go to evening meetings has meant I can be involved with Jethro’s bedtime and have every evening with Tara, not dashing out every morning means we are able to have leisurely mornings together; to pray, to have breakfast, to get Jethro ready for the day. These moments have been precious and so much more special than the day to day rush that they happen in when we’re at home.

Here are a few pictures of what we’ve been up to:

As we’ve been doing these things together there have been times when I’ve had to remember this time is God given, that time as a family was agreed by the Church as part of my sabbatical. There have been times when I’ve thought, I should be doing some more reading, I could write another blog, I should do some writing from my reading. In those moments God has reminded me that the time as a family is part of his gift to me, to us. These moments have helped me to not rush off and read, write, blog but to focus on being a family, to look for another opportunity that we’ll remember together, to give thanks to God for his many many gifts, including at this time his gift of space and time together.

I am so grateful to God for my family and for this time.

Portugal 1: A Great Gift and Sunshine

Tara, Jethro and I are now in Portugal. We are really blessed that my parents part own a property here which we are able to use for an extended period during the sabbatical. Our first few days have been settling in, getting use to being in a new place together and enjoying the sunshine!

It has been good to establish a ‘space’ to pray here and to pray each day in it. We’ve also started a prayer pot as a family which we are using each evening to pray for family and friends. Each of the lollipop sticks has the name of friends and family on and we each draw one one out each evening and say a prayer for the person whose name is on the stick.

St Beuno’s 4: Easter

When I started planning my sabbatical one of the things I knew wanted to do was to journey through Easter in a different way. I love the celebration of Easter but as a minister I am involved with leading the services and celebrations. Sabbatical gave me the opportunity to receive rather than to lead.

The Easter retreat at St Beuno’s gave me the opportunity I was looking for, to receive through well led services, discussions and silence. Being in a tradition different to my own allowed me to see the story of Easter with different glimpses and perspectives. The people who I journeyed with on the retreat came from different backgrounds, Christian traditions, professions and ages all of whom added to the experience and blessing.

I tried to capture the Easter experience by taking a picture of the Chapel each day, the changes in the pictures capture something of the Easter Triduum (the three days from Maundy Thursday to Easter Sunday).

Maundy Thursday – the Triduum began with the Maundy Thursday Mass, celebrating the institution of the Lord’s Supper (Holy Communion) when Jesus shared a meal with his disciples in the upper room. Central to this service was the washing of the feet, as Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before supper in the upper room.

Maundy Thursday
with the bowl ready for foot washing

This first service really marked the beginning of the Easter Weekend for me. It gave me an opportunity to think back over lent and to focus on Jesus. I was reminded that it is Jesus who makes Easter possible, who models servanthood in washing the feet of others and in his willingness to be handed over for the sake of the whole world. In his sermon Fr Dermot (The Superior of the Jesuit Community at St Beuno’s) asked us to hold onto and reflect on Jesus’ question to the disciples ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ (John 13:12). It was a very poignant question and a good one to reflect as we entered Good Friday.

Good Friday
The Chapel was bare apart from the cross we had carried for the Stations of the Cross

Good Friday – When I am in Hexham Good Friday begins with a walk of witness through the town, at St Beuno’s we walked through the grounds carrying a cross and praying the Stations of the Cross. This journey showed me in a new light the journey that Jesus went on and how he kept going despite the knowledge he had of what was to come. I was struck on the walk that no matter what Jesus faced, for us, his Father (God) was always there for him and never left him. In the same way in our moments of struggle and distress God never abandons us.

This picture (below), taken just before the cross was placed into the Chapel shows the tabernacle empty. For the Roman Catholic community the presence of the reserved sacrament is an important sign of Jesus’ presence in the world. The empty tabernacle therefore speaks of the emptiness in the world that came when Jesus died, the absence of God on earth following his crucifixion.

Good Friday

The flash caught the well polished tabernacle and shines, for me this photograph says something very powerful which came to me on Good Friday that even in death, even in Jesus’ death on that first Good Friday, there is always hope. There is always hope because God, the God of Heaven and Earth, is always present and when God is present there is hope. This was echoed for me on Holy Saturday and I expressed it in the poem I wrote and shared here.

Holy Saturday – I believe Holy Saturday is so important to Easter yet so often it is ignored. To wait in the darkness of death, to imagine what it was like for the first disciples who didn’t know the end of the story really helps me to understand the depths of what Jesus did for me/us on the cross.

Holy Saturday
with the Easter Candle stand ready for the Easter Vigil, a sign of the coming hope.

I found Easter Saturday at Beuno’s uncomfortable, maybe as a day of darkness and despair probably should be. In being attentive to the uncomfortableness I was feeling I was able to meet with God. Through the silence, through scripture and through walking the labyrinth I drew close to God. In drawing close I was reminded of the hope there is always in God, of God’s every active nature, of the victorious sacrifice that Jesus made for me on Good Friday and of God’s redeeming love for me. Through his love for me the active nature of God brings blessing, forgiveness and renewal to me. This reminder of God’s love for me was very powerful, it showed me afresh that God’s love for me is so huge and is the context for who I am and everything I am called to be. It drew me back to the heart of my faith and of who I am. It was a real moment of renewal and depending of my faith and who I am. Through this the uncomfortableness I began the day with dissipated and transformed into a great peace.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday began with the Easter Vigil on Saturday evening and the lighting of the new Paschal Candle. It was a great (yet long) celebration that Christ was Risen and Easter had arrived.

As the picture shows the Easter Candle is now present and lit, the tabernacle in full again and the flowers have returned. In many ways all was back as it began on Maundy Thursday, but it was all renewed – the new candle lit, the reserved sacrament newly consecrated, the light of a new day shining through.

In many ways this summarises how I felt at the end of my Easter retreat, the same (a follower of Jesus) but renewed. Renewed in my faith, deepened in my knowledge of God’s love for me, seeing things differently with the new light of Easter.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!

St Beuno’s 3: Waiting on God

With apologies that it’s taken me sometime to blog about my time at St Beuno’s, this is the first of two blogs about my time on retreat. There were two parts to my time, the first being a few days of retreat on my own and the second the Easter Retreat which St Beuno’s offers each year.

My summary of the first part is the title of this blog, Waiting on God. I’d spent some time the day before I went on retreat with my Spiritual Director thinking about what I wanted to use the retreat time for. We agreed that it was a time to reflect on what my faith meant to me and to wait on God to see what God wanted to say to me at this point on my journey of faith.

As someone who is naturally active, likes to do, to read, to talk going to a place of silence, peace and stillness was always going to be a challenge but one I was looking forward to. It is of course easy to fall into believing that everyone else around you has sorted how to be silent, to hear God and retreat well! I was greatly helped by Tony Horsfell’s book Rhythms of Grace which I recommend to anyone who finds quiet and stopping a challenge.

The book speaks of the importance of stillness, silence and solitude. During the few days I had to myself I sought to embrace these through scripture, prayer, reading, walking and sitting in God’s presence. Sometimes this was a real blessing and sometimes it was really frustrating as I found stilling myself in order to find the silence or solitude difficult. By opening myself up to God in this very different environment and through the stillness, silence and solitude I was able to wait on God, to watch for how he wanted to speak to me and to simply be in his presence.

To wait,
To sit,
To sink,
in the presence of God.

To see,
To watch,
To know,
God in my midst.

To look,
To wonder,
To receive,
the all embracing love of God.

One of ways I waited on God was to spend time reflecting on Ghislaine Howard’s painting The Return of the Prodigal Son which is in the side Chapel at St Beuno’s. I was really struck by the way the father holds the son and the way the father sinks into the son to makes sure he knows the father is there. After this time of reflection I wrote the poem opposite which expresses what I was doing in this time of waiting on God.

One of the most profound moments for me was when I walked to the Rock Chapel, a chapel built on top of a rock about 30 minutes walk from St Beuno’s. I’d spent some time praying for myself and for others and taken some beautiful pictures which really caught the beauty of the stained glass windows. Before I left I sat for a while in silence, seeking to focus on God and know his presence. It was one of the moments when I was struggling to focus as lots of thoughts kept entering my mind. As I sat and tried not to get frustrated, that I couldn’t be still, I noticed that the cross in the chapel started to move from side to side, slowly as though it was waving at me. In that moment I knew God’s presence, it was as though God was saying I’m here, I’m waving at you, you know I’m here and that’s all you need, if you know I am here you can walk with me.

Alongside this very profound moment as I look back in my journal I recorded a number of ways in which God was present, in the beauty of creation (see my pictures on this blog post), in the bird song which was almost constant and like nothing I’ve ever heard before, in the silent warmth and fellowship of others on retreat, in the worship offered each day.

By waiting on God during this time I was able to notice so many ways that God’s presence is revealed in the normal rhythm of life as much as in the stillness, silence and solitude – yet I only noticed them because I took time in the stillness to watch and see. It was another challenge to lift my eyes and look for God.

So many of the ways I saw God at work when I was at St Beuno’s was in active ways such as the birds singing, a theme which is recurring on my sabbatical (see this blog post) and which I am thinking about more and more.

So in summary, it was a wonderful few days of peace, waiting and watching for God in which God reminded me of his presence. By reflecting on God’s constant presence I was enabled to hear God, to know his presence more and be affirmed in my faith.

St Beuno’s 2: Holy Saturday Poem

One of the joys of being on retreat for Easter was having time and space to sit each day and reflect on the Easter Story. As I sat and waited on Holy Saturday I wrote this poem and took this picture to accompany it.

He’s gone,
He’s dead,

It’s all over.

The trees are dark, 
The future is bleak,

It’s all over.

But there is a gap in the trees,
But the birds are still singing,

Maybe, just maybe, it isn’t all over?

God, present in darkness, in death,
God, holding the world in its despair,

It’s not all over because God is present.

David Goodall, Written at St Beuno’s, Holy Saturday 2019