There is something really powerful about having someone’s full attention and knowing they are listening to every word I am saying. It is no less powerful to give someone your full attention and listen to every word they say. You connect with the other person, you get to know them on a new level, no matter what you are talking about, and a new understanding is found. All of this makes listening one of the most important things we can do for others. Listening alone can make a huge difference in someone’s life and sometimes it is the only thing left to do.
Jesus told us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves. Unfortunately this is hard and gets even harder if we don’t know anything about them. Caring about some nameless and faceless person is infinitely more difficult that caring about someone we know. Therefore I believe, that one part of our Christian calling should be to know as much as possible about the people we meet so that we might love them. If we love our neighbours, we want to be there for them and help them when they need our help. Again, if we don’t listen, we don’t know what they might need and we don’t know how we might help them. Sometimes the best help is just listening and being there.
At University I joined a Nightline, a listening service run by students for students. That means students sit at a phone at night waiting for their fellow students to call, to talk through a problem they are experiencing. This can be anything, from stress with an assignment to a break-up or even worse. By talking it through with the volunteer, the student has someone when nobody else might be available, they can clear their mind and sort through their options. The idea for it was born in Exeter more than 40 years ago and has spread rapidly. The first German Nightline was founded in 1997 and now there are 15.
As a Nightliner I was able to experience the joy and satisfaction that comes with being there for someone who is going through great turmoil, and it has pressed upon me the importance of also listening to others “in real life”. In our society we learn much about how to express ourselves to others. We tend to forget that without people receiving the information and seeing us for what we are, there is something important missing. What is point of being able to tell everyone exactly what you think if nobody is listening?
As a Christian I feel that it is part of my calling to achieve a better understanding between people. I hope that by supporting and promoting the art of listening we can make a difference in how we see each other. I am sure that if we listen to each other’s needs, it will also change how we treat each other and the world will be a better place because of it.
Molnár József: Abraham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
A few days ago I wrote about how I had had two upheavals in my faith and I told you about one of them. The reason, that I didn’t talk about the second one is, that I am not quite sure myself yet. How do you know that God is calling you? There are many, many stories about God calling people in both the Old Testament and the New Testament and every calling seems to be quite unique ad at the same time they all seem to be similar in some way. It confuses me. I thought I knew what my calling was going to be and I was ready for it and happy but it is becoming clearer and clearer to me that it is not happening and I am finding myself at a loss. What am I doing? Did I completely miss the point? How can I get back on track, and was it the right track? If not, how do I find the right one?
Reading about Abraham being called by God to just up and leave with only his faith in God as reassurance that things would work out, I feel similarly. In a kind of limbo, not seeing where I am going and even struggling with where I am coming from. I know I am just supposed to have faith and happily follow along but, honestly, I hat this. It is horrible not to know. I am sure as much as Abraham believed in God, he also had doubts and wanted to know where he was going to go. All he had was this vague promise, that God will show him the land. Well, I have a not-so-vague promise that God is always with me and guides me and will rescue me at the end of time but right now that doesn’t seem very helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I draw a lot of energy from my faith and God and the community in my church and all of this is amazingly helpful in itself. Yet, sometimes, rather often, I think to myself: But what am I doing? And I wish God would answer that question. And I know that eventually he will. (But can’t it be sooner, rather than later, please?)
- Faith Sight (rockchristiancenter.wordpress.com)
- Trustworthy Hope (doylevan.wordpress.com)
Abram Journeying into the Land of Canaan (engraving by Gustave Doré from the 1865 La Sainte Bible) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
In my discipleship course today we studied (some of) the story of Sarah and Abraham. At first I thought, that since I already very much knew this story (backwards and forwards and all) it wouldn’t be a great session and I’d probably not get very much from it but it might be fun anyways. Well, the joke’s on me. I didn’t just have one but two major shifts in my perception of God and his nature. It was amazing how much a new perspective can change the meaning of a story and how talking about the Bible changes how you read it so much. I am starting to think that reading the Bible by yourself is really almost futile (although also important) if you don’t also read it with other people! Preferably with someone who knows what they’re doing.
But yes, I learned something today. I learned, by reading the conversation between God and Abraham, that it wasn’t important to God what Abraham thought or believed so much. He made him promises and “signed a contract” (by moving a torch between carcasses of Abraham’s sacrifice, there is no accounting for culture, is there?) and he didn’t ask anything from Abraham in return. He had faith in him and that was it. And when Sarah laughed at him, at the idea of her having a child, that didn’t matter either (so much for being vengeful and jealous, I always knew that was not the God I know), he just reaffirmed his promise. And when I thought about it, this happens again and again; he calls Moses and promises him he’ll free his people, and Moses says: No! Not me! but God has faith in him. And he talks to Solomon who says: I don’t know what I’m doing! but God believes in him. And then, of course there is Jonah who needs a lot of persuasion before he finally knows that he can do it, too. And eventually God sent the world his son and never asked anything in return. He had faith in all of us, that his suffering would not be in vain. It is an amazing feeling and I needed quite some time to process all of this. And now I feel very, very lucky.
- Faithful Defiance (divorcecovenant.wordpress.com)
- Ready or Not (faithumc.me)
St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham (Photo credit: Dogfael)
Every Saturday my church opens its doors to anyone who wants to come in. Volunteers staff it for two hours, and people come in to pray, look around, get a tour or just talk to the volunteers about church stuff (like weddings, baptisms, Christianity) or just chat. It’s great, I’ve volunteered myself a few times and you get to meet and chat to some very nice people. I don’t like that it is only open on a Saturday, though, Shouldn’t a church be always open to anyone, so that anyone ca come in to pray ad find a quiet space to just be for a while? I know, I know, you need somebody there to make sure nobody steals anything or vandalizes the place, for insurance reasons etc. etc. I am not talking about the practical side (which I understand makes it impossible for every church) but just generally, can we agree on it? Even the cathedral in the town centre is only open until 5 o’clock and then closes until the next morning. I get that it is expensive to keep a church ope but I also think that it is sad that we can’t make it possible in at least one church per city. A church should be a refuge for anyone who needs it whenever they need it, be it in the middle of the night or at noon on a Wednesday.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
And that is the most important truth about God. He loves us. Always. Whether we know it or not. And it is his love that brings out the best in us. Feeling his love can turn a life around forever.
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.
My favourite verse in the New Testament is this one. It really shows the priorities we should all have and what Jesus expects of us. If only it were as easy as it sounds…
English: Traditional German Magnificat (music notes, transcription) Русский: Немецкий (протестантский) магнификат (ноты, транскрипция) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This last Sunday, I was reminded of a phenomenon that I had noticed before. When I sing with the choir (every Sunday) or have some other role during the service, I can get really distracted. The anticipation of whatever it is I am doing stops me from concentrating and enjoying the service, but also, even more importantly, it hinders my spiritual experience. I am not sure why this is the case for me, but it has something to do with nervousness and bad concentration in general. For example, after communion we all go back into our choir stall and this is when I usually pray to thank God for his sacrifice and for the opportunity to experience him through the bread and wine. However, depending on what we are singing with the choir, I find it very difficult to do that. This is, of course, amplified by the other choir members to the right and left to me who tend to not pray and rustle about and sometimes whisper to each other. I don’t blame then, though. I would be able to tune them out if it wasn’t for the song we are about to sing and when will we start and should I really be closing my eyes, what if I miss the cue? You get the gist. I wonder if I am the only one who feels like this. Many people are nervous when they have to get up in front of a crowd and read something or say something off their head. I certainly generally loose my breath when doing this because I am so nervous (unless the group is not so big, then I am fine). So should we make sure that the same person doesn’t have to read or pray or speak too many Sundays in a row? And I wonder, what about ministers? Can they ever really feel the same connection with God when they constantly have to concentrate on the service and what comes next? Or is their connection stronger, so it’s fine?
Personally I have been going to our Wednesday night communion services where I am just a normal member of the congregation and it has helped me. I am glad I have found somewhere because singing in the choir gives me a completely different but no less valuable connection to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It is just as valuable to me as quiet prayer time during a service.
Something happened today that made me really uncomfortable. I was with a group of people, some of which I didn’t know very well and we were talking about nothing and everything, being funny and hilarious. Then, one woman started talking about a situation she’d been in at her previous job. A colleague, who everyone knew to be on the autistic spectrum, had invited everyone to his birthday party and asked everyone to prepare some kind of activity. So far so good, but then she proceeded to make fun of the party and described various activities in the most ridiculous way possible.It did sound terrible but she had told us before that the poor guy wasn’t like everyone else and I felt really, really uncomfortable with the direction this was taking. First of all, shouldn’t she just have played along at the party (which apparently she didn’t) because, well, it’s what the guy liked and she did go for him after all. Secondly, why tell us about it in a way that became more and more mean (I felt) as she went on. And thirdly, no-one said a thing. I think I would have if I had been with friends but I didn’t want to be the killjoy. Now I feel guilty. Was it my responsibility to interfere? She wasn’t really hurting anyone. But making fun of someone with whatever-it-is-called just seems so very wrong to me. I’m not sure what to think. I hope I would have had the guts to stand up to her if there had been someone affected present. On the other hand I don’t know that there wasn’t; I didn’t really know the people all that well after all. In the situation I realised what was going on but I made the choice not to say anything because everyone else was laughing and didn’t seem to feel like there was anything wrong with it. Were they all thinking the same maybe? She isn’t a terrible person, I don’t think. But I feel a lot more cautious about her now. Maybe that is also not fair.
After talking about how great it is to be part of a community before, I was struck today by how easy it is to include people. My parish is doing a fairly good job I think, although it is not too difficult for a parish in a suburb where everyone has lived all their life and knows each other really well. Sometimes though, there are new people (like me) and sometimes people don’t get included when they could be. Today we had a get-together of the young people, that is the age group of 18 -early 30s, the second one so far. It was a great opportunity to meet new people (I didn’t know half of the people there despite having been an active member of the parish for about a year) to get to know the people you do know better and to have a good time. We laughed hysterically, ate really good food, prepared by our gracious host (one of the group), and just had conversations that were new and nice and – well, funny. I know that on Sunday I will see some of these people again and I will feel comfortable with instigating a conversation and feel more a member of the parish for it. Knowing who people are and some basic information about them is, I think, what makes us feel part of a group. When X says, have you heard that Y’s son broke his leg? and you know what they look like and maybe even that Y’s son is a great swimmer, it feels so much more personal and included. Meetings like today’s are, I think, the backbone of any community. Giving people a platform where they can get to know each other in an informal or even formal way, is what makes the difference between an active community and a group of people who all go to the same place every Sunday. I am really glad I went today and I am sure thanks to this new group I will feel so much more included. I am grateful that I got to meet some more people my age because frankly, I had started to think that there were only 4 of us in the whole congregation, and tonight there were 12 of us. Just like that the number of possible friends tripled. We got our inspiration from a neighbour parish who have had a similar group for a while and have had very good experiences with it. Especially this age range is easy to overlook because most churches have something for children and parents but the group of people who are neither is growing. Tonight’s get-together was a resounding success and everyone had already some ideas of what to do the next time we meet. Isn’t it a great feeling when you meet new people and you like them?
I think for a lot of people, certainly for me, going to church means being a member of the church community and therefore a member of something bigger than all of us. I was reminded of that today, when I returned to my parish’s Wednesday evening service (you are getting this post a little later I think) after a longish time of absence and I was greeted with great joy and enthusiasm. It was so much more appreciated because I did not expect it. When the vicar asked “Is this who I think it is?” and was so obviously glad to see me, I was so surprised and happy to have been missed. I was even hugged (English people don’t hug each other all that much; in Germany this would have meant a lot less) and welcomed warmly by everyone. It was lovely. It reminded me of the Church of Christ being a place for us where we feel at home, safe, and loved. I am lucky because I have found a parish where I do feel all of these things but there are probably quite a few people out there who are Christians but haven’t found a way into a church yet, maybe because they had a few bad experiences or maybe because they never dared. I was one of them until just about a year ago. I was lucky because I had a friend who introduced me to the possibility of Anglicanism and helped me find out which church was right for me. When I arrived at my parish I was welcomed with open arms. It has been easy to become one of the group. How many people must be out there who didn’t get that chance, though? Not only is it so much easier to live your faith and worship when you are with others who feel the same, it also helps you feel a part of something bigger, something amazing, something that is more than the sum of its parts. Coming back to Christ’s Church was one the best decisions in my life but it was not an easy one. (I talk more about that here). But I had help and encouragement and had a background in the faith. Today I am glad to have been reminded of my luck and God’s grace in letting me be a part of this great community. Together, we can accomplish almost anything.
I found this amazing poem by Jalal al Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273 from Persia) which describes his thoughts on life after death and it is truly inspiring:
I died as a mineral and I became a plant,
I died as a plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was man.
Why should I fear?
When was I less for dying?
Yet, once more, I shall die as man
to soar with the angels blest.
But even from angelhood I must pass on: all except God doth perish.
When I have sacrificed my angel soul, I shall become what no mind e’er conceived.
Oh, let me not exist,
for non-existence proclaims in organ tones,
To Him We Shall Return
Both my grandmothers have been diagnosed with cancer in the last few months and while they are both doing fine and will likely live for quite some time yet; I have been thinking more and more about what happens after we die. There are so many questions and as many answers. I have come to the conclusion that I don’t believe that we will be divided into “good” people and “bad” people, and go to to heaven or hell and that’s it. I also don’t believe in purgatory, although I kind of like the idea that really bad people have to suffer and pay a price for what they did. But, as satisfying as that sounds, there are so many instances in the Bible where God clearly says that he is all-forgiving and all-loving that I just can’t picture him doing that. But what does happen, when we die? I think, the likeliest thing is that our bodies and all material that makes us is returned into the cycle of matter (we are just stardust after all) and that everything spiritual that makes us (i.e. our souls) will go to what we call heaven, which is outside of our material experience. I don’t think we can fathom what that is going to be like and here is the thing that is probably going to make lots of you shake your heads: I don’t think we’ll come back. I do not believe that at the end of time Jesus is going to come back from the dead and everyone righteous will get back their bodies and live in peace ever after. First of all, it sounds terribly boring to live in peace ever after, much like the Stepford wives and secondly, what would be the point? I think the “end of time” for us is when we die, and Jesus comes and takes us to heaven and that is all the resurrection we are going to get. For my part: It’s all I need.
God must be pretty awesome. He is so amazing and so far away from our human consciousness that I cannot ever understand him and what he is like. He knows all of us, in fact he knows every atom in the universe and even better; he loves every single one of them. He loves me, am member of humanity, one species among many on Earth, enough to send me his son because I need guidance. That’s how much he loves me. He gave me free will; I get to choose to do with my short life what I want to do with it, even if it is completely the wrong thing; that’s how much he loves me. He is this amazing being that is so far above us; it is unimaginable and yet, there are people out there who say that if I don’t go and praise God, he will let me burn in hell for eternity. Or, even better if I insult his name; he get’s angry at me. I cannot believe that. How can this amazing God possibly be insulted by a human being? I don’t think he cares – unless of course I am doing it in order to hurt someone else, then he cares very much because we are not supposed to do that, ever. Same with worship, praise or prayer; I don’t think that God needs me to do that, he doesn’t need his ego stroked, he doesn’t have one; he is God! When I pray, when I worship, when I praise I do it because it helps me. It helps me to remember that I am just a humble human being and that there is a much larger being out there who loves me and who loves absolutely everyone around me. It helps me to be a better person and it helps me to connect to God. And I think that is why he told us to do it. When I hear from a friend that they are worried because their sick grandfather hasn’t been to church in a long time, I can only shake my head. Really?
I understand regular prayer, I do it myself at least once but mostly twice a day (plus all the irregular prayers in between but I am talking about scheduled time for praying here). Regular prayer helps me to keep the connection to God active, it helps me to communicate with him; even if I don’t feel like it, I always get something from it. And part of prayer is always praise, but for me that is remembering who I owe it all to, who made the world and who loves me enough to have died for me (that is so amazing, it gets me every time). So, I don’t understand why some people insist that I have to do it for God. Aren’t you taking away something from yourself if you do it not because you want to but because you feel you have to? I would hate that, I think for me it would lead to the resentment of prayer and ultimately of the God who requires me to do it. So I choose to enact my free will and pray when I want to, what I want to and how I want to.
What do you think? Do you pray regularly and if so, why?
When I decided to join the Church of England and, by default, leave the Catholic Church, people asked me why I bothered. After all, I could have been happily Catholic while being a member of my CoE parish. I didn’t agree. It was not an easy decision, in fact it took me around a year to make it. To start with, I felt (and still do) a strong bond to my home parish in Germany, where I still go to church when I am visiting my family. This parish helped me grow up in faith and community, they where my anchor during some very difficult times and I will never forget that. But I had also grown up with the understanding that the Catholic Church did not represent my views in a lot of areas and in fact opposed them in quite a few (I’ll probably be talking more about that in the future). In my parish and my family it was always understood that what the bishops and the pope were doing had very little to do with our faith. When I had lived for quite a while in England and had experienced the very conservative forms of Catholicism here, had been disappointed a few times when trying to join local Catholic parishes because they were not very welcoming, I decided to branch out and the CoE seemed the obvious choice. I found the parish I am a member of now quite quickly and they were just perfect for me. Eventually, when the Catholic Church was more and more removed from who I feel I am and where I am in my faith, I decided that I wanted to be a full member of my parish, because for me it does make a difference. And really, the Catholic Church hadn’t really done much to make me be proud to be Catholic. I still felt like I was giving up a huge part of me and it took long conversations with friends and family members as well as my Catholic minister from home who had seen me grow up for me to feel comfortable with the decision. From a structural point of view I love the democratic elements in the CoE and the worth they put on the laity. I have found a place where I feel comfortable to make spiritual connections and worship as part of the community.