Tag Archives: Bishop Stephen Cottrell

#adventbookclub 2014

Yes, I know it’s only August and anyone who mentions the C word should be severely dealt with!  But, in an attempt to get organised, and because I saw this book and liked the look of it, I have chosen what my Advent book will be.  As usual I will be blogging my reflections here and you are very welcome to join in, in whichever way suits you best.

I have chosen Walking Backwards to Christmas by Stephen Cottrell from SPCK (and thanks to Claire for her help)

partly because I have enjoyed other books written by Stephen Cottrell, and I loved the strapline,

For those who thought they knew the story well

This book takes a slightly different approach.  It is not a reading for every day, but eleven chapters, which may suit some people better.  By my reckoning that is three a week, but anyone can share their thoughts as they read at their own pace.

I intend to continue the Adventbookclub Facebook page and #adventbookclub on Twitter for conversation and shared reflection.

I would love anyone to join me.  Last year it worked really well as a shared journey through Advent together.

Once you’ve bought the book, I promise I won’t mention Christm*s or Advent again 🙂

Being With

In the ‘Afterword’, Cottrell speaks of Stanley Spencer,

He started to see the everyday life and activities of the village as sacred, as revealing the presence and purposes of God (p93)

God is everywhere and in  everything. He is not kept in a box for special occasions, or only in certain special places.

He also came to the realisation that,

In the eyes of God, all work is of equal importance (p93)

Everything we do is done in God’s service – God is in everything we do, not just what we think of as the “holy” bits, because In God’s service everything should be done to his glory.  We do not need to long for a “better” service, we can serve God where we are. What we are called, or asked to do, should be done showing that we love him.  Brother Lawrence is cited as reminding us that, ‘common business’, no matter how mundane, could be a medium for God’s love, including this brilliant quote from The Practice of the Presence of God:

It is not needful to have great things to do.  I turn my little omelette in the pan for the love of God.  When it is finished, if I have nothing to do, I prostrate myself on the ground and worship my God, who gave me the grace to make it, after which I arise happier than a king.  When I can do nothing else, it is enough to have picked up a straw for the love of God (p96)

This is the challenge for us – sometimes a huge challenge, to see God in all things, to live for God in all things.

In Spencer’s paintings, we have seen Jesus amongst the flowers, the potentially dangerous scorpion, the foxes, and wrapping his arms of love around the hen and her brood.  This is God with us.

And perhaps that is the ongoing message of Lent.  We have spent some time set aside, been in the wilderness and been stripped bare, but all that is to enable us to live life, to be a part of, to be amongst, as Jesus was.  His time in the wilderness was not the end, but the beginning of his ministry, a time of equipping – from which he then had to go out and be with.  To show people God’s love, God’s life, in the special times, but more in the ordinary times.  When they were at work, struggling with illness, questioning on what really mattered in life,.  Jesus was there amongst them, and that is our calling too – to be amongst people and show God’s love and hope to them.  We are not to shut our faith away, save it for Sundays or special places. It is to be lived where we are, where other people are.

Whatever you do, you’re doing it for God.  As Cottrell reminds us, every place is a place of encounter (p98).

Cottrell points us to this hymn

I have really enjoyed this book and found it really helpful. Many thanks to Stephen Cottrell for the insights and especially Stanley Spencer for the paintings.

This year for Lent, I am reading Christ in the Wilderness by Bishop Stephen Cottrell, published by SPCK, reflecting on Stanley Spencer’s paintings of that title.

I’m not necessarily going to blog every day on it, just when something leaps out at me – and they will be thoughts rather than full blog posts

Wilderness Times

For Christians this wilderness is a place of discovery (p88)

Amen and amen.  No one wants to be in the wilderness, we would rather be in a place of comfort and pleasure.  But it is in the wilderness we learn who and what matters.  What will support and sustain us.  Who we can rely on.

I once spent several months, deep in my own wilderness.  I won’t go into detail, but it was a place where no one could reach me.  I was functioning of a sort, but I was lost and lonely.  Things that I had been ignoring finally reared their head and had to be dealt with.  I always explain it as all the stuff that I had been just pushing under the carpet, pretending they weren’t there, that they didn’t matter – well I turned round and fell over that pile I had buried there.  It was not a good place to be, but it was the place I finally had to confront what had happened, how I really felt, and what I was going to do about it now.

I discovered a lot about myself, and that time went a long way to making me the person I am now, and informing how I deal with other people.  I matured a lot.  I learned things weren’t black and white.  I learned that however sore and tender scars are, better to know them than ignore them.  Even as I came out of the wilderness, the scars are still there, and I think for me need to be, but I have learned to live with them (most of the time) by acknowledging them.  That was something I never did while I was living life pretending everything was alright.  It was only in going into the wilderness that made me face up to what was going on, sweep out the pile, and start to sort it.

I would have much preferred not to go there, but once there, I knew I had to stay there, confront stuff and sort it out, otherwise I would be no good to anyone or myself.  I guess it was my broken and being remoulded.

But I knew the arms of God around me.  Giving me the space to allow me to break apart and come back together again.

The Hand of God by Rodin By Yair Haklai (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

It was the time when I grew to love the end of Habakkuk:

Trust in a Time of Trouble

17 Fig trees may no longer bloom,
or vineyards produce grapes;
olive trees may be fruitless,
and harvest time a failure;
sheep pens may be empty,
and cattle stalls vacant—
18 but I will still celebrate
because the Lord God
saves me.
19 The Lord gives me strength.
He makes my feet as sure
as those of a deer,
and he helps me stand
on the mountains.

The wilderness doesn’t always give us answers or make all things right, but it gives us knowledge of what is, how things are.  Broken I might be, but God will give me the strength to stand secure.

In Jesus arms in the picture of The Hen, there is a space.  God’s love and care is not crushing or suffocating, but makes a space in which we are safe for whatever to happen.  Like the chick in the picture stretching its wings to see if it can fly.  We know that God is there, wrapping his arms around us, watching over us, loving us.

I’m not sure I sat down to tell you any of that, but that’s what happens with art and a well written reflective book…

Hope it makes some sense and helps in the lenten, and lifetime, journey of discovery 🙂

These thoughts are reflecting on Stanley Spencer’s painting The Hen (seen here).

This year for Lent, I am reading Christ in the Wilderness by Bishop Stephen Cottrell, published by SPCK, reflecting on Stanley Spencer’s paintings of that title.

I’m not necessarily going to blog every day on it, just when something leaps out at me – and they will be thoughts rather than full blog posts