Hospices of Hope

Mehai (not his real name) is fifteen, although he doesn’t look like it. His body is twisted by what I imagine must be cerebral palsy. He lives in a small, two-room house in rural Romania with his mum and dad, four brothers and two sisters on the outskirts of Brasov. No running water, toilet or gas supply. A bare bulb for light and a wood stove for heating and cooking. The three beds, two sofas, a fridge, a cupboard, sideboard full of ornate glass, wardrobe and a TV are the only furnishings.

Yesterday I had the privilege of visiting him with Antonia, one of the social workers from Hospices of Hope, an organisation Bessels Green Baptist Church supports. I had taken my camera, but to ask the family for a photograph seemed wholly inappropriate. Besides, the image of his smile, as I held and stoked his hand, will remain in my memory for years to come.

Antonia’s English is limited, but it’s better than my Romanian, which is only three words. In the car driving on to the next visit we talked; from what I can understand she has been helping the family obtain the correct certification to access what little state support there is available. We make another five such visits before returning to the hospice for a late lunch.

Today, on the drive from Brasov to Bucharest, we stopped at King Carol I’s summer residence. It’s staggeringly ostentatious and full of gold, marble and carved wood. The king had imported the finest materials from all around the world. Apparently, he was permanently concerned with his prestige and that of the dynasty he had founded. His wife, Elizabeth, claimed he even ‘wore the crown in his sleep’.

Throughout the tour of the castle I couldn’t get over the stark contrast between this and the poverty I had witnessed the day before.

It reminded me of a parable Jesus told.

“The farm of a certain rich man produced a terrific crop. He talked to himself: ‘What can I do? My barn isn’t big enough for this harvest.’ Then he said, ‘Here’s what I’ll do: I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll gather in all my grain and goods, and I’ll say to myself, Self, you’ve done well! You’ve got it made and can now retire. Take it easy and have the time of your life!’

“Just then God showed up and said, ‘Fool! Tonight you die. And your barnful of goods—who gets it?’

“That’s what happens when you fill your barn with Self and not with God.”

Speaking to the people, he went on, “Take care! Protect yourself against the least bit of greed. Life is not defined by what you have, even when you have a lot.”

Luke 12:16-19, 15, The Message

Christian Aid have a fantastic motto, or mission statement: We believe in ‘life before death’. It’s an idea that seems equally applicable to Antonia, a Hospice worker, providing end of life care, working with a family to help them make the most of life – no matter how limited the options may seem from the outside.

I found myself pausing and reflecting on the question, ‘where is real life found?’ In the gypsy home or the king’s castle? In opulence and splendour, or a gentle touch and a smile?

You can find out more about the work of Hospice of Hope via their website. http://www.hospicesofhope.co.uk/ or by visiting the tea shop in Otford.

Grace and peace,

Charlie Ingram

(image: Hospices of Hope)

En-courage

It’s easy to sit on the side-lines and criticise, but it takes courage to get in the ring, risk a few knocks, and have a go.

I love this quote from Theodore Roosevelt’s famous speech “Citizenship in a Republic”. Delivered in Paris, on April 23, 1910 he said:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.

The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again….”

Life is full of uncertainty and risk. If we spend our days waiting until we are perfect or until we are bulletproof before stepping up and having a go, then life will quickly pass us by. Relationships and opportunities for life will be missed while we wait for the perfect, non-existent, risk-free moment.

Ever tried something and had it fail? Of course, we all have – that’s how we grow. Yet it takes courage to get up off the ground and try again, and again, and again.

As a Church Leader I find myself back there time and time again, each time having to summon the courage (or find the faith) to risk getting it wrong (hard for a perfectionist!) or risk criticism for the sake of what I believe is right.

While I was reflecting on this I noticed that the word ‘encourage’ contains the word ‘courage’. Obvious, I know, but I’ve never spotted it before!

In fact, to ‘encourage’ someone is to give them courage. Likewise, to ‘discourage’ someone is to take their courage away. Simple; perhaps self-evident to you, but a revelation to me, and in my experience, so true!

With this in mind, and knowing how difficult life can be, let’s strive to be positive encouragers. People who encourage one another in the full sense of that word. And as we encourage each other, we will give one another the courage to move on, to grow, to thrive.

Whether that means giving a friend caught in the depths of depression the courage to get out of bed and face another day. Or whether it is encouraging those among us who have responsibility to lead our schools, our communities or our churches. Let’s be people who en-courage life, not dis-courage it.

Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica some 2000 years ago said “therefore encourage one another and build each other up… encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.”

Remember, everyone is struggling with something. What a difference it makes if we choose to live by this mandate, as encouragers? Who do you know who needs more courage at the moment? Who can you encourage today? Call them, write to them, email them, bless them, en-courage them.

Grace and peace,

Charlie Ingram

(Photo Credit: S. Kahn, Flickr)

The Book of Joy

To celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 80th Birthday, he and Archbishop Desmond Tutu met in Dharamsala in India where they spent five days “in deep dialogue and playful laughter as they shared their experience of how to find joy in the face of life’s challenges.” ‘The book of Joy’ published by ‘Penguin/Random House’ was the result.

These two Nobel peace laureates have been tested by great personal adversity.
The Dalai Lama has lived as a refugee in India since 1959, and, fearing for his life, is unable to return home to Tibet. A year after the attainment of majority rule, signalling the end of the apartheid era, Archbishop Tutu was appointed chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; he has heard accounts of the very worst human atrocities. Yet despite these experiences both men, now in their eighties, have found a way to live with an enduring joy and zest for life. So much so, that they are known for being among the most infectiously happy people on the planet.

How? How can two men, who have witnessed so much evil, remain so joyful?

Christmas is coming. For Christians it is a season of joy and hope when we remember the birth of Jesus, Emanuel, which means, ‘God with us’. We sing “Joy to the world, the Lord is come”, but how do we remain joyful and live with an enduring sense of hope when, each evening, our television screens bring us stories of war, refugees, famine and disaster?

Joy can be easy to find when we live in naivety; but how can we fully inhabit the joy and hope of Christmas when it looks as though our world is heading in the opposite direction?

The answer is a spiritual one – there is something that these two, great spiritual and moral leaders have found which enables them to rise above the daily challenges and reveal joy and hope on the other side of adversity. For Tutu, his answer is in Jesus, who, through his life, death and resurrection ushered in a new way of being, a new hope! Because of Jesus the world is different – God is with us, and we just need to be awakened to that reality.

How we live in the joy and hope of Christmas will be the topic of our Carols by Candlelight at Bessels Green Baptist Church this year. As well as a chance to sing some of your favourite carols, we will be exploring in more detail what it means to live with hope and joy in the world. Do join us at 6.30pm on the 18th of December for a good sing-song, followed by mulled wine and a delicious mince pie or two!

Merry Christmas,

Charlie Ingram
Minister and Team Leader
Bessels Green Baptist Church

Simplify

This Autumn at BGBC we’re thinking about life; this precious gift of God, breath by breath, moment by moment, and how we can make the most of it.

If your life were a bucket, what fills it up? What brings you life? What gives you energy, be it physical, emotional or spiritual energy (they’re all connected, after all)?

What does it feel like to live with a full bucket, living from a place of energy and contentment, well rested and filled with the love of God and family? When I’m living from a place of rest, doing the right things and energized by life, I’m happier and generally nicer to live with.

Conversely, what is it like to live with an empty bucket? To live distant from God, depleted in a whole number of different ways? I know that when I’m depleted I’m easily irritated, I withdraw, I over-work and so the list goes on?

So the question becomes, whose responsibility is it to maintain a full bucket?

The more I explore the spiritual life, the more convinced I am that the solution does not lie in new ideas or possessions or programmes, but rather in stripping away the excess, simplifying life and learning to live in contentment, grateful for each and every breath.

Up until Christmas at BGBC we’re going to be thinking about this. How we can simplify various areas of our lives. How might our lives look if we follow the Maker’s instructions in relation to managing our time, finances and work. Thinking about forgiveness, friendship and fear. Plugging the holes that drain us and seeking ways to live a full and fulfilling life – the life in all its fullness Jesus spoke of.

Whose responsibility is it? Yours and mine – so why not join us as we explore together?

Sunday Mornings 10am, Bessels Green Baptist Church – bgbc.co.uk

Grace and peace,

Charlie

 

If you missed the first sermon in the series “Exhausted to Energised” you can listen again here.
You can also download the reflection here.

I Hate Losing Arguments

I hate losing arguments. Are you like me?

Is it important to you to be right? Do you always want the last word in an argument? I know I do!

As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realise that there are more important things in life than being right. For example, being kind or loving. Being right is often over-rated.

At BGBC Sevenoaks, we’ve recently been thinking about a story in John’s Gospel. It’s John’s setting of the ‘last supper’; Jesus and his friends are about to eat together. Before they eat, Jesus gets down from the table, takes off his outer clothes, wraps a towel around his waist, and assumes the role of the lowliest servant in the house, where he washes his disciples’ feet.

A couple of observations from that story: taking off your outer clothing, stripping down to your loin cloth in a room full of people and washing their feet is going to make you feel vulnerable. It’s as though Jesus is stripping away his role, his status, his identity as their leader, and instead making himself lowly and vulnerable before them. He is getting beyond his ‘ego’ and becoming a servant in order to connect with them, love them and teach them.

In her work on what it means to live a “whole hearted life”, American author and academic, Dr. Brené Brown observes that:

“We cultivate love when we allow our most vulnerable and powerful selves to be deeply seen and known, and when we honour the spiritual connection that grows from that offering with trust, respect, kindness and affection. Love is not something we give or get; it is something that we nurture and grow.”

I wonder if this is what Jesus is demonstrating when he kneels and washes his friends’ feet?

Later during the meal he tells them:

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

These are some of the most important words in the bible. As Jesus moves beyond his ego, and makes himself vulnerable, he is demonstrating what it means to love one another.

Love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, it is a daily decision to step beyond ourselves, beyond our ego’s self-defenses, to serve and connect with one another. By this, says Jesus, everyone will know that you are my disciples.

By what?

By being right all the time? By having correct doctrine (ideas about God)? By keeping up with the latest fashion or style? Nope…

By loving one another. This is what ultimately matters. And it is ‘by this’ that people notice and experience God.

As Dr. Wayne Dyer famously wrote:

“When given the choice between being right and being kind, choose kind every time.”

We all struggle with our ego’s insecurities. None of us like being wrong, and a threatened ego will almost always come out of its corner swinging.

The ego cares about whether we are right or wrong; whereas our heart cares for the person we are having the conversation with.

The next time you feel yourself needing to be right and wanting to crush your opponent’s argument – pause. What is your goal? Being right or being kind and loving?

Winning the ego’s victory or connecting with the person before you?

If Dr. Brown is right, it is also the way to a whole hearted life, whether you’re religious or not.

God, help me choose wisely.

Charlie Ingram

Losing my religion

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”[1]

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”[2]

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”[3]

For years I interpreted these passages simply as the need to sacrifice more. To give more generously and not to count the cost. To spend myself exhaustively in the service of others – and that is certainly a part of what they are about; as John the Baptist said “He must become greater; I must become less.”[4]

But, it raises a question: if Jesus is our example, then how much should I give? How much should we sacrifice? How much is enough?

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!”[5]

The answer appears clear; if Jesus is our example, then our only appropriate response is…unequivocally all.

As we sing in worship, “I surrender all”, “all to Jesus I surrender” and “all I have is yours”.

Yet, in this, I have failed. I haven’t surrendered all. In truth, I haven’t surrendered very much at all. I don’t live up to the words I sing in worship. Do you?

I surrender just enough, rather than all; I spend what I can afford, as opposed to everything. Now, like Paul, I sometimes “want to want to”, but is a sung, aspirational faith enough?

In reality, there is always more we can give, more we could do. We can all give more money, and more time, until the day we are bankrupt, exhausted, homeless and martyred.

God forgive me. Maybe I’m just not radical enough, or zealous enough – maybe I’m just too comfortable. My life is one of inadequacy, so maybe I should feel guilty about not giving enough, (‘amen’ I hear you cry). There is a puritan in me somewhere who loves nothing more than a good dose of guilt and self-loathing – it’s good for the soul, or so I was taught.

But, what if there is another way to read some of these passages? A way that takes seriously God’s love for me as well as his love for others. That leads to the “life in all its fullness” Jesus spoke about. That incudes, but also transcends the interpretation above.

I reached this point a few years ago, having spent myself emotionally in ministry and run out of resources. There at rock bottom, with nothing left and yet still feeling guilty because I’d not given enough, I lost my faith. Or rather, I lost a particular faith understanding (although at the time – it felt like I’d lost my whole faith). From a place of brokenness, I began to explore the contemplative and Christian Mystical traditions. In these traditions I found a way out of the mental trap in which I’d snared myself.

I discovered that God loves me as well as other people. I discovered I am called to love my neighbour ‘as I love myself’, which presupposes that I love myself and this is ok! In a word, I discovered Grace. Over the last decade I have been healed, restored and faith has given me a second chance.

But I have had to look again at some of these hard scriptures – how am I to understand them, in the light of the gift of the reality of life, in the light of grace – something I preached for others, but didn’t apply to myself.

In the contemplative and Christian mystic tradition I found the writing of Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr and others.

These writers interpret that which must die differently; the “grain of wheat that must fall to the ground” is understood as “the ego”.

As Rohr writes:

“Since the twentieth century we have used the word ego (Latin for “I”) to describe this rather total identification with one’s own “single grain” as the reference point for life and perception.

All great spiritual teachers will tell you that your small self [the ego] is not the reference point for anything lasting or substantial at all, but only for a small memory bank of experiences, my feelings, and my temporary self-image—all too small and not a fitting reference point for big truth or reality.

The problem of “ego” … is an issue that cannot be dealt with by simply being “moral” about this or that, or joining the right group; but by a fundamental “dying” which almost all of us are afraid to do”

The ego is the self we project out to the world, it’s what distinguishes us from others, it is bound up in our looks, our education, our wealth or our possessions. Ego is earned, strived for, unreliable and ultimately temporary.

But as Merton writes:

“True Christianity is growth in the life of the Spirit, a deepening of the new life, a continuous rebirth, in which the exterior and superficial life of the ego-self is discarded like an old snake skin and the mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit becomes more present and more active.”

“The mysterious, invisible self of the Spirit” – I like that phrase – your true-self, that part of you that is made in the image of God. Who you are in God. Who you are when all the rest is stripped away. Eternal. Unearned. Gift. Grace.

If the small self (ego) is ‘doing’ then the true self is ‘being’.

This true self can’t be manufactured. It can’t be earned by work or by piety. It can only be discovered when all that ego noise and striving is put aside, shed like a snake skin. It is often fallen into. Accepted as a gift. Found in silence. Uncovered.

As Martin Buber puts it; it is located in the ‘I-Thou’ relationship, which for me only came to light when I was prepared to pray/meditate and be quiet long enough to hear it.[6]

Reflecting back, was all my faithful striving with the attendant feelings of guilt and failure the result of an ego driven faith? Is much of what passes for faith in the Evangelical tradition (which I was born into and of which I remain a part) in fact just striving and ‘works’ by another door. Are piety and puritanism just ways to convince ourselves, others and even God of our ‘lovability’?

It’s not that this view is entirely wrong – it’s probably that most of us need to go though it (transcend and include) – but just that it’s not the full truth. As we daily learn to shed the ego, to ‘die to self’, we find our value and self-worth in another source and with it we find a new freedom. To know that you are loved and that this love has nothing to do with your looks, wealth, health or education is liberation – it is a form of salvation. It quite possibly is the radical, counter-cultural, surprising path to ‘life in all its fullness’.

“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”[7]

I am learning that I am free to spend myself in the service of others or not; to give and not count the cost; to own possessions and not let them own me. To live from a place of security in God. From a place of choice. From a place of grace.

“Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains a single grain, but if it dies it produces much fruit”. [8]

May you know the fruitfulness and freedom that comes from learning to die to your striving, from dying to your ego and discovering the true self of the Spirit that dwells within you.

Bless you,

Charlie Ingram
5th April 2016

As always, it would be a delight to chat/pray this through with you. If that would be helpful, please do get in touch.

Heartfelt thanks to Paul Sanders for the image, I’m a huge fan of Paul’s work, please do visit his website and buy lots of prints – paulsanders.biz
[1] Luke 9:23
[2] Matthew 16:25
[3] John 12:24
[4] John 3:30
[5] Philippians 2:5-8
[6] Here I want to be careful not to slip into Platonic Dualism, easily understood with the phrase “Spirit Good – Matter Bad”. It is not that the material life is bad and we must therefore reject materiality and instead embrace a better ascetic spiritual existence. The true-self, the soul, that which is in all of us and is made in the image of God, is material as well as spiritual. It includes, spiritual practices, but it also includes, blood, sweat, tears, work, wine, bread, song and dance. Incarnation and Resurrection both teach us that God values and loves this material world. It might be “fallen” but it is still his creation, sustained, redeemed and loved. What God made is not perfect but it is still good…. a blog for another day…
[7] Matthew 16:25
[8] John 12:24

Perfect love casts out fear

To foreclose on our emotional life out of a fear that the costs will be too high is to walk away from the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to living. – Brene Brown, Daring Greatly

I was fortunate enough to visit the infamous ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais for a second time earlier in March. While there I was invited to take part in a multi-faith service held in a tent in the middle of this emerging slum community. Together, as a small group of Christians from Syria, Iran and Europe, we reflected on the words of an Old Testament Prophet, Micah.

Calais01Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid. – Micah 4:4

We shared stories of the Fig and the Vine from our traditions, and prayed for those who are afraid. Then it hit me – the feeling of fear all around me was vivid and over-whelming.

The fear of falling bombs and war that had driven many of these people from their homes. The fear that many must have felt crossing the Mediterranean in unsuitable boats. The fear of the journey so far with no end in sight.

Then the fear of the imminent demolition of the camp, the fear of homelessness, of cold and hunger. The fear of not knowing what is next. Fear of the police and the authorities. Fear of ‘us’.

Also, our fear of ‘them’, fear of what mass migration means to our way of life, fear of different cultures, the fear of not having enough resources. A fear used by right wing politicians on both sides of the Atlantic to gain ground – fear of militant Islam, the fear of ISIS, the fear of terrorism. Fear of ‘the other.’

A fear of heights saves us from falling, a fear of snakes may stop us from being bitten, a healthy sense of fear protects us from harm. But fear can also close us off to the very thing that gives purpose and meaning to life – love and relationships.

All the great world religions speak of a need to journey beyond our fear and see the humanity in ‘the other’, to see them as made in the image of God – just like us.

Thomas Merton, the Christian Mystic wrote of an experience, a vision he had in 1958, where he became acutely aware of his connection to the people around him, even strangers. In that moment he realized that he shared more in common with them than he and they knew. He says:

It was such a relief and such a joy to me that I almost laughed out loud…

Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts, …  the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are.  If only we could see each other that way all the time. – Thomas Merton

Or as the Bible puts it:

Perfect love casts out all fear.

Bless you,

Rev Charlie Ingram
Minister, bgbc.co.uk

Calais02

Karōshi

The first case of karōshi was reported in Japan in 1969 and cases have been on the rise steadily since. Numbers are difficult to find, but in the last decade 120 to 160 families per year have been financially compensated for karōshi. It is likely that many more go un-compensated; the actual figure may well be much higher. The Japanese word Karōshi translates to ‘death by overwork’.

Literally, people dropping dead at work due the stress of overwork.

Hiroko Uchino’s husband, Kenichi, a third-generation Toyota employee, was a victim of karoshi when he died in 2002 at the age of 30. He collapsed at 4am at work, having put in more than 80 hours of overtime each month for six months before his death. “The moment when I am happiest is when I can sleep”, Mr Uchino told his wife the week of his death. He left two children, aged one and three.

How did we get here? What insecurities drive us to such extremes?

“To get home just one day a week early enough to see my wife and kids before they go to bed.” This was a friend’s 2016 New Year’s resolution.

Modern life is so full, always on, always connected, always busy: there’s work, TV, radio, internet, 24hr news channels, Netflix box sets, text messages, mobile phones, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat, Amazon, Ebay, electric lights that eliminate the dark and extend the day infinitely, so we can go shopping in Tesco at 3am…

No wonder we’re all stressed out and anxious.

Here at Bessels Green Baptist Church we’ve started 2016 thinking again about our Vision, which begins ‘Living like Jesus’. We’re told that Jesus frequently took himself away to find solitude and pray. I believe we should follow his example and do the same. We were not created for the madness of modern life; we were created for relationship.

Blog 02So why not unplug for a while? Take a step back? Slow down?  To do so is a revolutionary, counter-cultural act. To be happy with our own existence. To find contentment in the simple things. To still the noise long enough to become aware of the divine God who sustains all things.

This is a spiritual truth we have forgotten and badly need to rediscover and relearn.

It takes practise, try starting with a few minutes per day. Find a place away from distractions and just stop, breathe and listen – you’ll be surprised how helpful just a few minutes of prayer like this can be. Prayer that is about ‘being with God’ and listening, rather than about ‘talking to God’. Both are right, helpful and have their place. But in a mad world of constant busyness, activity and ‘doing’, just a few minutes each day simply ‘being’ can be a revolutionary action – why not give it a try?

Grace and peace,

Charlie

 

Telling and Re-telling the Nativity

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.

So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them…”

So begins arguably the most famous story of all time – told and re-told, year after year, through thousands of miles of tinsel and by tea towel clad shepherds and trembling narrators in school nativities.

Stories shape us. Consider the stories we tell over the table at a dinner party. The stories we choose to tell about ourselves not only recount our greatest successes and failures to others, they also reinforce our self-identity. They speak to us about who we are. We tell stories of challenges overcome, of achievements at work or on the sports field; stories of our children, our family and our origins.

Communities do the same thing; our communal stories tell of challenges overcome, of achievements, of family and origins.

Companies spend millions each Christmas with advertising agencies to pedal us a story – of the happiness and fulfillment which can be ours if we buy their products. Saturday night TV brings us fairytales of overnight fame and success. Stories of finding wealth and fortune abound.

Which is why I believe it is so important to tell other stories. Stories that challenge the way we think and how we think of ourselves.

The Christmas story tells of Kings and Shepherds; the rich and powerful and the poor and humble bowing down together before a helpless, new born baby. It tells us of the divine in the ordinary, of God born among us.

The story of Jesus tells of a different way of life. We tell this story because we believe that it shapes us. We listen in the hope that it will redeem us, save us and teach us how to find the life in all its fullness that Jesus spoke of.

What stories do you tell? Which stories should we as a society, a community tell?

I believe the ancient story of Jesus is full of wisdom – wisdom for life, wisdom for today.

Church is the community of people who meet each week around this story. Bessels Green Baptist Church meets together every Sunday morning to retell and listen to this story afresh. You can find more details on our website, bgbc.co.uk

Do you need a new story to live into? Why not join us, it might surprise you?

Merry Christmas

Charlie Ingram

Image Credit: Flickr, violscraper

Christian Mindfulness

The present moment is all we have.

The past is gone, and unless someone invents a time machine, it is gone forever.

The future is yet to be.

So this present moment is really all we have.

Practising the presence of God is all about this. It is about finding God in the present, in the eternal now: Trying to find that still point where you can experience the presence of God – something that is only possible in this present moment.

I’m sure we’re all aware of the gift of someone’s presence. There is nothing so frustrating as having a conversation with someone who is visibly distracted. Yet the gift of full presence, the gift of someone’s full attention, is just that – a gift and a precious one. We all know what it feels like to have received someone’s full attention, what it feels like to be really listened to and it is a blessing.

God is present, and we can learn to be still and present to the presence of God.

Meditation, and in particular the benefits of mindfulness meditation have been in the news a lot lately.

Mindfulness can reportedly cure anxiety, lower blood pressure and promote better sleep. And, according to Lizzie Widdicombe, who experimented with mindfulness meditation when writing for the The New Yorker, “Like travel, the chief boon of meditation might be the way that it throws the place you came from into relief. I’d never noticed what an incredible racket was going on in my mind: to-do lists, scraps of conversations, ancient memories…As calm set in, I’d occasionally achieve a few seconds of relaxed concentration, the meditative grail, which felt as if I were walking on a balance beam.”

Stripped down to its essence, mindfulness meditation “is being aware of what is inside and around us in the present moment,” says Elli Weisbaum, a mindfulness teacher and a co-founder of Partners in Mindfulness. “Our mind can time travel into the future or the past—and we are doing that constantly. A goal of meditation is having our mind completely resting in the here and now.”

The thing that I’ve found is that our mind conspires against us, forever pulling us back into the past with regrets or into the future with worry. I wonder if this was what Jesus was talking about when he said:

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

Matthew 6:26-27

So live in the present.

Although ‘mindfulness’ is usually associated with more eastern religions, and Buddhism in particular, I am keen that this should not deter Christians from finding the immense value it brings. Monastic Christianity has long had a tradition of meditation or ‘centring prayer’ as it is sometimes known.

When I consider your heavens,

the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

which you have set in place,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

human beings that you care for them?

Psalm 8:3-4

God it seems is ‘mindful’ of us.

Centring Prayer or Christian Meditation, like mindfulness, often begins with calling your attention to your breathing.

By focusing solely on your breathing for small chunks of time—things like the sound and feeling of air filling your lungs and flowing out of your nostrils—you are drawing your attention back into the present moment – back to God’s presence.

When thoughts arise during this practice of focusing on breathing, you are not ignoring them. Instead, you are acknowledging those thoughts and releasing from them by returning to your breathing.

I don’t believe that it is a coincidence that the Hebrew word for Spirit is the same word as for breath – Ruach.

From a Christian perspective we are calling our attention back on the Spirit of God who is the very breath that sustains us moment by moment.

And interestingly this isn’t a practice that can only be done sitting cross legged on the floor, with a lighted scented candle.

I’m a keen endurance athlete. Endurance sports involve a lot of time spent focussing on breathing. Some of my most profound experiences of the presence of God have been while swimming, cycling or running. Calling my attention back to my breath, back to the Spirit of God, lifting my head up and observing the beauty of my surroundings, becoming aware of God’s presence with me, step after step, pedal stroke after pedal stroke.

If hours of running aren’t for you, you can practice this on a crowded commuter train early in the morning or in a few minutes through the day while you take a break from the day’s chores.

 

Pause.

Draw your attention to your breath.

Breathe in God’s Spirit, breathe deeply.

Breathe out the stress and worry of the day.

Repeat.

 

Feel the cool air in your nostrils.

 

As your mind wanders back to the day’s tasks or yesterday’s mistakes (which it will), acknowledge the thought, then park it and return to the present moment.

 

In truth this present moment is all we have, and it is where we find God.

As always, I’m very happy to chat about this or any other Spiritual disciplines you may find helpful – please get in touch and we can find a time to chat and pray together.

Every blessing,

Charlie

Photo: Paul Sanders (thanks Paul)


 

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you – you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?”  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:25-34

 

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