Putting the Pieces Together

Image by Benjamin Zanatta at Unsplash.com

After my husband Paul, spent a couple of nights in hospital, I bought him some jigsaws to complete while he recovered and he hasn’t stopped doing jigsaws since then. Apparently, that makes him a fully-fledged ‘Dissectologist’!

Now we live surrounded by them and he can’t pass a charity shop without going in and buying another two or three though, to be fair, he always takes the ones he’s completed back to those shops for resale. So, a double bonus for the charity.

The larger 1000 piece puzzles he completes on a table but he prefers 500 piece ones which he can do on a board while sitting in an armchair.

He always sorts out the ‘edge’ pieces first and there always seems to be at least one missing on the first trawl through the box. Then, once he’s almost finished the puzzle, we nearly always have a frantic search for the final piece needed to complete the picture.

Sometimes the missing bit has stuck to his sweater and been accidentally carried – and dropped – into another room. Those bits take a little longer to find!

Some jigsaws have all their pieces cut in the same shape but, even so, each has its own unique place and the picture won’t be complete until each one is in its rightful place.

The same puzzles – certainly new ones – are sold in many different shops but however many people buy the same puzzle, I would think it’s statistically almost impossible for two people who’ve bought the same puzzle to put the pieces together in exactly the same order.

Life is made up of so many pieces (relationships, events, tasks, deadlines) and those pieces are often scattered and very hard to put together. If we’re not careful we find we’re combining them in the wrong way and losing sight of the overall picture.

Sometimes when we have a big life event to deal with, moving house for example, it’s as though we’re working with one jigsaw which has lots of other jigsaws within it. Each mini jigsaw has to be completed, then they’ve all got to be joined up correctly in order to finish the picture.

God is working both in the jigsaw of our individual lives and of our world, taking the pieces in exactly the right order and putting them in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

Over the past few months, I’ve taken part in some online Quiet Days. I’ve always come away with so much to think about.  One in December was themed round Advent and it was pointed out to us that so many things had to happen across centuries in order that Jesus would be born when and where he was. How people across Biblical history were moved by God into an exact time and place in history and in the salvation drama; becoming part of the divine jigsaw.

For example, the arranging of marriages across many generations so blood lines were joined culminating in Joseph and Mary meeting; the Romans demanding that a census be taken, meaning Joseph and Mary having to go to Bethlehem; Israel being under Roman occupation and legal jurisdiction at the time of Jesus’s death so His crucifixion was possible, which it wouldn’t have been under Jewish law, even the Romans being expert roadbuilders, which made it easier for the Gospel to be spread over great distances.

So many ‘jigsaw’ pieces – across different countries, cultures and times – needed to be put in place before Jesus was born to complete the picture of our salvation.

Today, God is putting together the jigsaws of our individual lives to make us complete. But we’re also each part of God’s jigsaw for the whole of his creation. He’s putting us, as individuals, into the perfect place, at the perfect time to make his Kingdom perfect.

 As part of that, we’re being called to be part of each other’s jigsaws. Jesus is the bit missing from a lot of the puzzles which are people’s lives. He is the missing piece which fits all jigsaws and completes all lives.

As a Christian I know I carry the Jesus “piece” inside me all the time and that I’m challenged to offer it to everyone I meet through what I say, what I do and who I am. That one piece which will make sense of all the other scattered bits and complete the picture.

Who might you give the Jesus piece to? Who might you come alongside? Whose jigsaw might you complete?

Image by Sigmund at Unsplash.com

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee

I really enjoy drinking coffee. For some years now I’ve chosen to drink decaffeinated coffee as I found that caffeine seemed to affect my sleep but, once I’d got used to not having that instant ‘hit’, I’ve been happy with my choice and I certainly sleep better.

At home I usually drink instant though I have recently succumbed to the occasional coffee pod. However, I just love the smell of freshly ground coffee.

When I was growing up, there was a Tea Importers and Coffee Grinders in a neighbouring town. Just thinking of it now brings back the gorgeous smells that drifted out onto the street as the staff ground beans from the many sacks around the shop floor. Just walking past was a wonderful experience and occasionally going in to buy a paper bag full of freshly ground beans for our home percolator was magical.

I bought the percolator as a Christmas present for my parents and, just the week before Christmas realised that I ought to buy some coffee to go with it! My mother got very annoyed and frustrated because she couldn’t understand why I kept walking some way behind her through the crowds. Of course, it was because I didn’t want her to smell the deliciously fragrant parcel which I had hidden in my shopping bag and so guess what her present was going to be!

At that time, having percolated coffee seemed like the height of sophistication. Now, of course, we have an almost limitless menu of coffees to choose from in even the smallest café.

I find this very frustrating as each coffee has to be made individually. I often begrudge the time it takes to queue up and give my order, defined as it inevitably is by size of cup, type of milk and various other choices when all I want to do is sit down and enjoy a drink.

And that doesn’t take into account all the noises : the hissing, the tamping down, the banging as the used filters are emptied and various other mechanical noises. I really sympathise with anyone who works in a coffee shop. The long-term damage to their hearing must be considerable. As a customer, when sitting drinking my coffee (finally) the relief when the queue disappears and things quieten down temporarily is huge.

Yet, despite all the irritations, the taste and smell of the coffee – even when its decaffeinated instant – gives me a real lift. I generally only have one cup per day and I enjoy it as I start my quiet time.

Whilst the phrase ‘Wake Up and Smell the Coffee’ seems to have originated as a tag line in a coffee advert, another definition reads: “to realize the truth about one’s situation: to become aware of what is really happening.” **

Something I definitely need to do each day. To realise that my day will go best when I don’t rush into things but take some time to pray and ask for help to face what’s really going on in my life, the lives of my family and friends and the wider world. Not just the gorgeous scent of the freshly ground coffee but the bitterness of the used grounds too.

Sometimes it can be a real wake-up call: almost a deafening one; the equivalent of the noisy coffee machine. Yet, once I’ve ‘talked’ and ‘listened’ (I still have so much to learn about when to speak and when to listen!) and before I turn towards the constant noise of the grinding machinery which is all too often the best description of my busy life, I still myself.

I relax and enjoy the warming scents of prayer and praise as I think of those I love, those I’ll meet during the day, whether in a planned way or unexpectedly, and then I’m ready to go into my day refreshed, always keeping my ears open for the quietest coffee shop should I need a quick ‘pick me up’!

** “Wake up and smell the coffee/roses.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/wake%20up%20and%20smell%20the%20coffee%2Froses

Thawing Out

Recently I defrosted my large top-opening freezer; a job that should be done far more often than it is but which I find physically challenging. I always make sure my husband is at home so that if I do fall inside while trying to dry the inside walls and floor of the freezer, or if I aggravate an old back injury and end up jack knifed over its edge, I should be rescued reasonably quickly!

It’s time consuming taking the food out, packing it into insulated bags or newspaper, stacking the packages together and covering them with blankets, then waiting for the ice inside the freezer to melt, before trying to put everything back again in some sort of logical order. Past experience tells me that what I think is a logical order today will not seem so the next time I’m trying to find something I absolutely know is in there.

But the benefits far outweigh the disadvantages. Sometimes there are surprises, as packages which have lost their labels are puzzled over, prodded and sometimes even have to be defrosted before sharing their secrets and I may find I’ve got just the right ingredients to make some ‘old favourite’ meals again.

Most satisfaction comes when the job is done and I look proudly at (yet another) updated list of contents, which I promise myself this time I really will keep up to date; at least for longer than the last time I made that promise.  

As daylight hours increase and I start to look hopefully towards the end of my Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for another winter, I like to have a personal spiritual defrost and deep clean.

I ask for God’s help and grace as I start my expedition through the frost. What will I find in the darkest, i.e., least visited, corners of my spiritual life? What will take the longest time to thaw having been left untouched for so long? Will I recognise what I’ve found once it’s thawed out or will it melt into oblivion? What things that I thought were safely encased in ice and untouchable might be uncomfortable to revisit once their protective coat has been removed?

The scraping away of the accumulated ice can be time consuming and painful; the reminder of the contents I’ve forgotten – or not had the opportunity – to use, frustrating. But it’s also exciting to see what’s still there and to think about how those things could be used in both old and new ways.

I am excited about adding to my store of spiritual food and sustenance during the coming year. After my defrosting session I now have plenty of extra storage space to fill!

I know for sure that I won’t always be able to find the things I need when I need them, or maybe not recognise them when I see them but God knows where even the tiniest frozen blackberry has rolled to and will let me find it if I keep searching.

So, a quick prayer …. find the bag of stewed apple …. and the one of crumble topping and that’s dessert sorted!

Don’t Mind the Gaps

As 2021 draws to a close, my thoughts are turning, not so much to a review of the year almost finished, as to the year that’s about to start.

Normally in this last week of the year I go back through my diary and list any special days out I’ve had: trips to the theatre and meetings with friends, for example. Compiling the list brings back happy memories and also acts as a useful aide memoire when booking annual appointments in the year ahead.

2021, however, has inevitably provided far fewer really happy moments to remember, as lockdowns and Covid restrictions have continued to limit so many aspects of life and there seem to have been huge gaps of nothingness between the bright spots.

But, looking back and particularly over my spiritual journey through 2021, I see so much change and growth that has happened; happened in the background, in the gaps between the mountain top experiences I’ve been led to through daily reflections from the Pray as You Go ** websiteand online Quiet Days with Beauty from Ashes. ***

It’s so easy (and human) to want to journey on from one highlight to another, always looking ahead for the next excitement: the sunlit path through the shadows, to use the analogy which inspired this blog.

Yet, so often it’s through the gaps that the real beauty comes. The sudden sunbeam slanting through the glowering trees in the darkest part of the wood; the sounds and scents just on the edge of our consciousness as we walk.

I’m so thankful that the shortest day of the year, potentially the lowest point for my Seasonal Affective Disorder, has passed; now I can look forward to lighter times to come as the days gradually lengthen.

In 2022 I’m determined that, even if it becomes easier to plan travel, days out and other treats, I’m going to be open to exploring, experiencing and enjoying all the gaps in my year too. After all, it’s in the tiniest gaps in dry stone walls and paving where the most beautiful miniature flowers flourish.

I didn’t have the opportunity to go to university and, even if I had done so, the now ubiquitous ‘gap year’ was not something that was common at the time.

So, rather belatedly, 2022 will be my ‘Gap Year’: not crammed with travelling and pre-planned projects though but full of the Christian promise, exploration and hope to be found among the everyday.

Will you join me?

Happy New Year.


*** https://www.beautyfromashes.co.uk/

Tales of Christmases Past

I’m finally into single figures in my countdown towards December 21st, the shortest day; the day I hope will prove to be the turning point in my annual battle with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) It’s an arbitrary landmark really and last year proved to be a false dawn as the effects of SAD affected me much more in January than in December.

Friday saw my happiest afternoon of this year, when we put up our Christmas decorations, culminating in the Christmas tree. I love to do this to a background of Christmas music.

Once I’ve finished decorating, I put out the room lights and just sit and look at the lighted tree, giving thanks that, whatever the problems of the past twelve months, I’ve reached my most light-filled time of year again.

This Year’s Tree

Like many others, I suspect, I then dip into my store of special festive memories which always come flooding back: some sad as we remember special people who are no longer with us but also happier and even amusing Christmas times. Here are some of my memories.

I’ll never forget the Christmas when I was around fourteen years of age and helping my very long-suffering mother to make a Christmas cake and four Christmas puddings despite having forgotten to buy any extra eggs and so only having the exact quantity needed. Promising to be very careful, unfortunately I cracked four of the eggs into a bowl while the other two ended up on the floor! I fled pursued by angry words.

When I returned sometime later to try and make amends, I was drying the dishes when I noticed a scale pan full of dried fruit. When I enquired innocently what that was for, I had to beat another hasty retreat as my mother realised that, in her fury, she’d put the Christmas cake into the oven without any fruit inside it.

Another food related memory – which I very much fear may have happened the same year as the fruitless cake episode! – was when mum returned to work the day after Boxing Day leaving me to wash up after the dinner party we’d had the evening before with a much-loved great uncle and aunt.

I spent a long time washing, drying, putting away, then washing the next stack of plates and dishes. Finally, I’d finished and looked round the kitchen tired but satisfied with my work. Then I spotted another large saucepan on the stove. It was full of greasy water: mum had obviously left it soaking overnight. Tempted as I was to ignore it, I buckled down and cleaned it.

When mum came home, she was so pleased with all my hard work. Or at least she was initially. Some time later she came and asked what had happened to the saucepan on the stove. Proudly I told her how much time and effort had gone into cleaning it. Only to be told that the greasy content was actually ‘two days matured’ home made turkey stock which was going to be the base for a soup.

Somehow, we managed to get through a few more Christmases together before I left home to get married! For our first Christmas, Paul and I had a small tree which we spent a long, long time trying to wedge upright in a pail. Once we’d succeeded, Paul added the lights and then, although we were both tired and rather fractious, I was ready to decorate.

As some of the bottom branches had been forced upwards by the edges of the pail, I decided to cut a few off before I started. That was easily achieved but, unfortunately, at the expense of the coloured lights, the cable to which I’d cut straight through!

It’s so wonderful to have these (and many other) Christmas memories. Everybody has their own stories to tell and people have their own versions of the same events: which can lead to some animated ‘discussions’ at subsequent get-togethers.

This Christmas I hope to make some more memories to add to my collection, at the end of what has often been an isolating, painful and frustrating year.

As I approach the shortest day of the year and look forward to feeling I’m coming out of the depths of SAD, I’m rejoicing, both in the Christmas lights I’ve got at home and the inner light God provides every day of the year even when I sometimes find it hard to access it.

I hope your Christmas decorations will bring you joy, light and…. some wonderful Christmas memories.

Once a Writer …….

Look Through Any Window

Image by Stijn te Strake at Unsplash

We’re now in the second week of Advent and I’m enjoying a new image every day as I open a door on my nativity story Advent calendar.

Such a sense of anticipation and excitement: What will be behind today’s door? What will it add to the story? Should I open it quickly: the sooner to reveal the image, or slowly: to prolong the reliving of childhood excitement at this daily activity?

Each image is a representation of a small part of the journey through Advent towards Christmas; a fleeting glimpse of one bit of the story.

I love the momentary glimpses into other lives I get from the window of a train carriage when passing through a residential area. I find it really difficult to understand how other passengers can work on a laptop or bury themselves in a book while commuting; even allowing for work pressures and the tedium of having to make the same journey each day.

Though I do sometimes carry a book or pick up a free newspaper at a station, I inevitably put it aside to look out of the window, especially on a journey after dark when the windows of the trackside homes are lit up.

I love the constantly changing ‘slide show’ as one small scene of someone else’s life is replaced by another equally fleeting, but still fascinating one, of someone else’s.

If the train stops at a signal, while seasoned commuters in the carriage complain, I rejoice, as any delay gives me precious extra seconds to invent stories for the people I can see through the windows of the apartments and houses.

If they’re eating, what are they eating? If ironing, who are they ironing for? If reading, what are they reading? Is their reading for homework or study? What are they studying?

Getting glimpses of other peoples’ lives is endlessly fascinating and if those glimpses are part of a journey we’re on, how much more so.

During Advent we’re given tiny glimpses (both visually and in words) into some of the greatest journeys ever undertaken: Mary’s to visit Elizabeth; Mary and Joseph’s to reach Bethlehem; the shepherds to Bethlehem; the Maji to the Emperor; the Maji from the Emperor to Bethlehem.

For most of these journeys we have to imagine many of the details for ourselves: for example, the thoughts and emotions of those travellers and how these may have changed during their journeys.

As I continue opening the doors of my Advent calendar and enjoying the occasional view through other peoples’ windows from a train, how wonderful it is to know that God is always looking into our lives; not just occasionally glancing through an open window in passing but seeing, understanding and becoming part of our story, completely, wherever we are and whatever we’re doing during Advent and far beyond it.

How wonderful to know that He’s endlessly interested in and fascinated by whatever I’m doing, what each of us is doing. How wonderful to be known in that way.

Taste and See …

During a recent bout of illness, I lost my sense of taste and smell for over a week. It made me realise how much I rely on smelling food for it to be appetising and, if it hadn’t been for physical hunger pangs, I wouldn’t have wanted to eat much at all. And, not being able to taste the food meant that I finished meal times as quickly as possible; there was no incentive to linger over putting food into my mouth.

This was the first time this has happened to me and I feel real sympathy for my sister-in-law who lost the ability to taste and smell following a heavy cold two years ago, has never recovered those senses and has to rely on her ‘food memory’ as she eats.

I’m currently watching Masterchef on UK television, one of my favourite programmes: whether the amateur, professional or celebrity version.

It does seem strange that these programmes are so popular – in many different countries now – because, although there is some sense of jeopardy as the chefs battle with undercooked or overcooked main courses, desserts which have refused to set and the ever-present ticking clock, the audience is excluded from the most important part: tasting the final result.

We have to rely on the appreciative (or unappreciative!) comments of the judges and food critics who get to taste the food, helped by our knowledge and experience of some of the ingredient combinations used, and our food memories so that we can imagine how the food tastes without actually eating it.

I’ve recently been enjoying trying out different kinds of prayer, guided by Amy Boucher Pye’s 7 Ways to Pray** which introduced me to the concept of ‘slow, deliberate reading of the Bible, chewing on the words and being wonderfully and luxuriously fed without anything physically passing my lips.

3 Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth. (Ezekiel 3:3 NIV)

8 Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34 NIV)

What wonderful reminders that we don’t need to be able to physically eat something in order to get the most amazing ‘taste’ sensations; ones which will refresh us, stay with us and keep us healthy.

Today, with 31 days left until the shortest day of the year, I’ve felt the first twinges of Seasonal Affective Disorder: feeling tearful for no apparent reason and having a lump in my throat.

It must be time to dose myself with some of Ezekiel’s ‘honey’!

** 7 Ways to Pray Time-Tested practices for encountering God

Publisher: SPCK Publishing (2021); ISBN 978-0-281-08496-8

Emerging From the Wood

I’ve been watching Britain’s Best Woodworker on television recently. Amateur woodworking enthusiasts compete in various challenges to create everything from furniture to dolls houses.

This week’s challenge to create an animal sculpture, saw three of the five contestants work with an individual trunk from an oak tree, complete with bark.

While two had sketches to work from and mainly used chisels to achieve the precise shape they designed, the third contestant attacked his tree trunk with a chainsaw, using its power to cut away excess wood and shape his creation.

The oak proved much harder than any of the contestants had expected and all were completely exhausted by the physical challenges of spending two eight- hour periods standing, kneeling, chipping away, cleaning up the wood chippings and, in the case of the man using the chainsaw, replacing broken belts and regularly cleaning its teeth of wood debris.

At times, each of them was discouraged as they struggled to achieve their vision for their sculpture.

It was fascinating watching as each of their animals: a Boxer dog, a lion and a giant snail ‘emerged’ from their giant tree trunks and took on their own personality, each reflecting in some way the personality of its sculptor.

At the end of the allotted time, some of the sculptures were finished to a high standard while others needed more time for refinement.

It made me think of God’s sculpting of each of us. We may see ourselves as unpromising material and we often prove to be very resistant to being reshaped, but we’re each being turned into the beautiful person He always intended us to be.

He never gets discouraged or tired and is expert at inspiring both the large-scale (chainsaw type) modifications and the much finer (chisel type) ‘tweaks’ needed to fashion us as He intended so we can reflect the personality of Him as our creator.  

For our part, we need to have the faith to step out of the tree trunk, brush away the shavings and totally inhabit our God-given form and personality.

I have a beautiful card on my desk with a photo of the sun shining through tree trunks. Each trunk is a different size and shape; a totally unique part of the world. The sun is shining on and blessing them all; there’s a sense of dawn and expectancy, what will emerge?

Who is emerging as you are being sculpted?

Marilyn Baker’s beautiful song, ‘Jesus You are Changing Me’, which I’ve discovered recently, is on a similar theme, using the images of a potter shaping clay. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64OBMT2mrKU

The Scent of Time Passing

I’m writing this a week after the end of British Summer Time and the evenings are drawing in.

As usual, I’ve numbered the days on my calendar, starting with 51 for October 31st when the clocks changed, working down to 0 on December 21, the shortest day and a significant milestone if I’m battling Seasonal Affective Disorder at the time.

Reaching each milestone of forty days left, then thirty, then twenty and finally into single figures usually really helps me, especially turning from November to December and finding myself on the same page as the shortest day.

Now that it is dark outside, when I’m cooking an evening meal, I make it a habit to step outside (if the weather allows), stand on the doorstep and just breathe in the scents of the evening.

A few days ago, on November 5th – Bonfire or Firework Night in the UK, – the scent was of wood smoke. Strange, as there were no bonfires nearby but, as so often on that evening, I breathed in the cold, frosty air and the smoke and those intoxicating scents brought back memories of childhood firework parties, gloved hands holding hot jacket potatoes and the delight of signing my name across the night sky with a sparkler.

In a few weeks’ time, I’ll smell Christmas approaching: a heady mix of Christmas pudding mixture, tangerines and the smoke from the cigar my father, (who didn’t normally smoke), allowed himself each Christmas. I’ll think about some of my happiest Christmases past and those who peopled them, especially the family and dear friends who are no longer here.

I’m so thankful for my senses. Although my hearing is declining as I get older, my sense of smell is very strong and I love the way even the briefest exposure to certain scents – passing someone on the street who is wearing a certain perfume, for example – can trigger so many memories.

So, as I go through the next few weeks, I’ll celebrate the wonderful joys I can find in these early winter days. I hope you will be able to do so too.

Psalm 139:14 (KJV): I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well.

My Spiritual Chiropractor

Yesterday I had chiropractic treatment which I began some years ago following unexpected severe back pain. As I have ongoing problems with my back, legs and posture, I now need to have regular ‘maintenance’ sessions.

I’m fortunate to have a very skilled chiropractor who is always smiling, calm and welcoming and very good at relieving my painful symptoms. He rebalances me. I don’t have to tell him which bit or bits of me need attention; he always knows exactly where the problem is and what he’ll need to do to ease it.

But sometimes I wonder what he thinks when he sees my name on his list of patients for the day. Each time I go for an appointment, I seem to have a different problem. I’m sure he must sometimes think “what’s wrong with her now?” (Due to his professionalism, I’m happy to say he never shows that – even if he’s thinking it.)

As the discomfort in one area eases, it seems to move to another area or an old problem is triggered and needs further work. I need to be straightened out constantly, have my pain eased and, sometimes, follow a course of exercises to try and maintain progress and (try and) prevent future problems.

As I was laying there today, I thought about the constantly changing and recurring problems and issues I bring to God. I imagined him saying, ‘Not her again. What’s wrong now? What does she get up to between ‘appointments’ to get into this state? Will she never learn how to look after herself and prevent these problems?’

Then I remembered that God would never say, or even think, ‘Not her again’ or ‘Will she never learn?’ He’s my spiritual chiropractor. No appointment needed. Whether I’ve got a new problem, or an old one has reared its head again, His ease and relief are always on offer. As with my chiropractor, I don’t have to tell him which bit or bits of me need attention; he always knows exactly where the problem is and what he’ll guide me to do to ease it.

Whatever issues I have which are putting me out of kilter, causing tension, perhaps physical pain and, sometimes, even depression, God is always there in those situations with me, alongside me. He knows the source of the problems and pains I suffer and His gentle hands are always ready to work on me: easing out the tensions, rebalancing and strengthening me.

I know that to maintain my progress, I need to exercise and keep challenging myself to grow. Yet, I also know that I sometimes need to rest, to consolidate and to reflect.

I’m not good at remembering the exercises my chiropracter sometimes recommends. Often, I start with good intentions, doing them daily but other priorities take over and my good intentions wane. Sometimes, by the time I get home from my appointment, I can’t even remember exactly how to do the exercises!

My spiritual chiropractor, though, is always there on call, through prayer, 24/7 with a gentle reminder, or, sometimes a more forceful prompt, about what I need to be doing to get myself into better shape – and then keep myself in shape – for Him. I don’t always see results at the end of each ‘treatment’ but I can feel myself being rebalanced and strengthened. It’s not pain free but I’m definitely walking taller as a result.  

A book recommendation:

I’m so enjoying working through the spiritual exercises relating to prayer found in Amy Boucher Pye’s book 7 Ways to Pray.* It’s given me a real hunger to explore new ways of connecting with God through scripture and it has already become a really valued source of inspiration.

The background to each way of praying is interesting and each kind of prayer practice is clearly explained with examples from Amy’s own experience. This book is a ‘must’ for every Christian’s bookshelf and makes a wonderful gift to share with others.

*7 Ways to Pray Time-tested practices for encountering God

Publisher: SPCK Publishing (2021)

ISBN 978-0-281-08496-8 Further resources at: https://amyboucherpye.com/books/7-ways-to-pray/

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I recently had a lovely reunion with a dear friend (my first boss), her husband and her daughter: who is my Goddaughter.

We met for afternoon tea in London which, for me involved a train then a subway journey and Light Railway journey; the latter being something I’d not done for some time.

The noise levels on the subway line, one of the deepest on the London network, were almost unbearable without having one finger in my ear most of the time while I was being flung from side to side in my seat as we travelled along, at what seemed to be an unnecessarily high speed.

It was a very unsettling experience for several reasons. Firstly, there were no points of reference as we hurtled past blank walls, just an occasional tiny light on the tunnel wall.

Also, I was putting myself completely into someone else’s (the driver’s) hands with no way of controlling whether or not we’d reach our destination safely.

We had to change from the subway to the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to reach our destination. On the return journey, the station platform was blocked by a faulty train and I was reminded that the DLR is a driverless system.

The stations too are, largely, unstaffed so information when something goes wrong can be hard to come by.  So, we felt stranded with the information boards inaccurate and the system temporarily paralysed.

Fortunately, the situation was quickly resolved, the faulty train was removed and we were on our way again. Yet, it was disconcerting. We knew where we wanted to be but our route was blocked.

Now, a few days later and looking back at that journey, I’m struck by how parts of our Christian journey through life can feel as though we’re being taken along – or maybe, even, being pulled along – through a dark tunnel.

Are we really going in the right direction, on the right line? Everything is hurtling by; we’re being shaken around; can we really trust the driver? Our life in His hands? Is it really safe to give up that much control?

The points of light along the way can be so small sometimes that they’re easy to miss and the light they give can be fleeting.

Sometimes we have problems, we may feel completely ‘stuck’. Our preferred route is temporarily blocked. There doesn’t seem to be anyone we can ask about when the situation will improve.  It’s all very unsettling.

We know what we expect and hope our destination to be but, on the journey, we don’t always have the clear signs we’d like to have.

All we can do is place all our worries, fears, frustrations, even anger into God’s hands and then allow ourselves to be carried.

Isaiah 42:16 (KJV):

16 And I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight. These things will I do unto them, and not forsake them.

It was worth the journey!

Lighting the Way

We’re now almost at the end of September and have passed the autumn equinox when we have an equal amount of daytime and night time hours before the shortening daylight hours bring us to the slippery slope towards winter in England.

I’ve just started daily sessions with my special SAD lamp to try and combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

For me, the lamp is a reasonably effective therapy and also gives me half an hour daily when I’m free from interruptions.

It’s an good opportunity to read my daily scripture passage from Day by Day with God published by The Bible Reading Fellowship and listen to and reflect on the daily content from Pray as You Go (https://pray-as-you-go.org/), the latter being especially important for centering me.

Today, 29th September, is also a Quarter Day, a traditional division of the British calendar associated at one time with the hiring of servants, the beginning of new school terms and the time when rents were to be settled. Indeed, some rentals are still calculated to and payable on quarter days.

At their inception, at least as far back as the Middle Ages, it was when debts and unresolved lawsuits were settled and publicly recorded as such before the next quarter began.

The significance of quarter days is now limited, although rents for properties in England may still fall due on the old English quarter days and the names are sometimes used in connection with academic terms starting in the relevant months, especially at some of the older universities.

Today’s quarter day is called Michaelmas, the feast day of St. Michael and all Angels; St. Michael who defeats the dragon in Revelation 12: 7-9.

I find it so comforting that, while there are battles between light and darkness in so many areas of our human life and world and while I’m about to start on my own annual mental battle resulting from shortened days and lengthened nights, the final battle has already been won.

So, I’m entering the final quarter of this year with hope and a sense of light that comes not from my SAD lamp but from God’s love around and before me, lighting the way and leading me through the season’s shadows.

I pray that light will lead you too.

Beginning a New Chapter

Here we are in September – my favourite month of the year. It always seems to bring with it a sense of anticipation and of the beginning of a new chapter. I know many people feel the same as the start of a new academic year (in England) fills the shops with new stationery and planners.

I even moved my birthday celebration with its promise of cards and gifts from its real date of 1st January to my late grandmother’s birthday of 7th September for several years. It seemed so much nicer in September when the weather is usually better and almost certainly warmer than it is in January and – a huge plus for me, suffering as I do from Seasonal Affective Disorder – the days are lighter and therefore seem longer.

Plus, I could pretend that I was nine months younger than I really was!

The change of date lasted only a few years till I reached another big decade-beginning birthday, which I felt I had to celebrate on the correct date and so January it’s been ever since.

Of course, in many ways, January 1st, my real birthdate, is the obvious date for beginning a new chapter and people often make New Year’s resolutions then.

Yet, as Christians, every new day carries with it the promise of a new beginning; whether that day is in January, September or any other month. Each new day gives us the chance to begin a new chapter, to write the next bit of our life’s story on a clean page, forgiven and renewed. Surely the best gift, birthday or otherwise, we’ve ever been given.

Photo by Oliver Hihn on Unsplash

Opening the Curtains

Image by Rob Wingate at Unsplash

I’ve recently had a curtain pole and curtains installed in my office. I’ve not had any curtains in this room since we moved here over nine years ago. This is mainly because the room faces north so gets no direct sunlight even on the brightest of summer days and I thought that having curtains, however far back I can pull them when they’re open, would only make the room darker than it is anyway.

I’ve always been someone who needs to have plenty of light. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder and this often leads to mild depression in the winter. So, I go round putting on lights as soon as daylight starts to fade and closing shutters and blinds to keep the outside gloom at bay.

Yet, having the curtains in my office has given me a new pleasure. Each morning, I can pull them back: a physical expression of letting in the light of a new day. Whether that’s summer brightness, a non-descript greyness or even heavy rain, I get much more of a sense of anticipation as a new day begins than I used to without the curtains.

The first thing I do when I sit at my desk is to fire up the laptop and open my spiritual curtains via the Pray as You Go website https://pray-as-you-go.org/ I first discovered this site when someone mentioned it at the weekly online prayer group I belong to.

The details remained on a scrap of paper, buried amongst all the other ‘I must look at these sometime’ scraps of paper until it re-emerged during one of my thrice yearly tidying sessions. I visited the site and was totally captivated.

Pray As You Go is based on Ignatian Spirituality. Each session (less than fifteen minutes), starts with music ranging from well known spiritual pieces like Spem in Alium through Taize chants, African music from the Keur Moussa monastery to modern worship songs, followed by a Bible passage and questions for self reflection and prayer, the session finishing with The Grace.

I find this time so helpful and calming. A chance to draw close to God before a busy day. I feel myself opening the curtains of my soul in the gentlest way possible, to bathe in God’s light.

How do you start your day?

A Walk in the Woods

The photo on my Home Page (by Adrien Tutin at Unsplash) reminds me of my lovely and much missed West Highland Terrier, Hamish, who loved to walk in woodland.  

He’d dash off to explore the scents in the leaf mould, rush from the base of one tree to another, barking futilely as squirrels chased one another through the canopy above. Hamish was perfectly at home in the woods and often, once he’d fallen into a deep sleep after the walk, he’d twitch and (or so I imagined), relive our walk and all his adventures in his dreams.

I’d usually walk with a friend and her dogs and I rarely took Hamish to the woods on my own. Even when the sun was visible through the trees, being on my own sometimes felt eerie and disorientating.

Sometimes my Christian journey feels like walking alone through the woods. It’s a beautiful, multi layered, multi textured thing but I can’t always see the way ahead clearly and the rustles and crackles in the undergrowth and the shifting shadows can be very unsettling. Small paths, branching off from the main ones, can confuse and divert me.

But there’s so much that’s rich in the woods: the richness of nature, its textures, sounds and smells, the sense of renewal as the woods move through the seasons.

I feel blessed deeply that I’m on this life journey through the beautiful but unknown woods, knowing that so many other people have walked the path before me and have left signs to help me on the way. I can’t see those who’ve gone before but their experience draws me forward through the patches of sunlight and the confusion of shadows.

I pray that this blog may help you as you walk your own journey.