When you’re asked about your relationship to Jesus are you able to say: “I’m hopelessly devoted to you.”
Today reading an old article written by the late Rev. Tom Swanston I was reminded of something I’m more and more convinced off: “that many worthy churchgoers come to a saving knowledge of Christ as they sit quietly and unobtrusively through worship, the Word and the Spirit of God working silently and effectively in their hearts and souls.” There is something deeply touching about hearing such speak of their faith. However, whether we come to faith dramatically or quietly there are certain truisms of this new-found love relationship.
When we speak about human love I know you cannot make absolute parallels spiritually. However, one can see in human love what ought to make our love for Jesus so special and intimate to us. After all, human love is a gift from God and a reflection of the fact He loves.
Have you ever been in love? Have you experienced [what I’ve said to my young daughter would be indicative of the real thing when it happened] ‘your mountain moving’? That is, that moment when you find your head and your heart in once incredible spin! Have you been at the place where you’ve been captivated, captured, committed and as it were under God, consecrated? I confess I have and can still say after 43 years of marriage: “I’m hopelessly devoted to you.” Soppy? Yes! Precious? Absolutely!
Surely we must be able to say the same thing to Jesus Christ? Sure, there was a time, when like those of old, we saw no beauty in Him. However, that changed, and under the drawing power of God’s Spirit, we found ourselves captivated, captured, committed and ultimately consecrated to Him. True, as in any relationship we must keep working at it to ensure it remains sweet and exciting. If not, tensions are sure to arise and in all too many moments, distance emerges between us. That is why I think often about the quotation that tells us that the church’s greatest need today is to fall in love all over again with Jesus Christ. When we do, what signs can we expect to see visible in us:
See a beauty in Him – we will find our hearts saying like that of the Shulamite women when asked what made her lover more precious than all others: “He is altogether lovely, this is my beloved, this is my friend.”
See worth in Him – worth that demands of us our consecration of body, mind and spirit. Worth that will see us serve with renewed vigour and vision. Worth that will have us take delight in the worship of His person, His works, His glory. The Hymn writer said it best: Love so amazing so divine, demands my soul my life, my all!
See incentive through Him – to run the race of faith and not grow weary. We will have the assuring comfort and constraint of knowing that this relationship is not in vain and fruitless. Like the apostle we will not so much look back but forward, pressing onwards towards the crown, the prize!
See a future with Him – we will have the spirit of the aged Simeon who had that ‘future waiting’ gaze! That waiting that will allow you and me come soon to see Him as He is and be with Him – never again to be separated. His promise was that he was going to prepare a place for us that where he would be, we too, would join Him. What a hope this love offers and is grounded on! What a destiny!
Some time ago a quotation resonated with me: “I laugh, I love, I hope, I try, I hurt, I need, I fear, I cry. And I know you do the same things too! So we’re really not that different, me and you.” It reminded me that humankind the world over is the same.
I have to confess I love people-watching whether that is in the staff canteen, street, shopping mall or airport – at home or abroad. I find looking at people, particularly their faces; they are fascinating! I’m trying to appreciate them, who they are, what they do, where they’re from, what’s the story of their life. Consequently, I remember people and their faces before their names! The other day I bumped into someone who I last saw some years ago, quite unwell, in the hospital. I recognised her and her me but I had to admit to her that I had forgotten her name. Perhaps that fascination is intensified by the fact that most of my professional working life has been people-orientated. In that time I have looked at so many faces. I constantly remind myself that every face is a person of significance and worth even if that face is of someone gone wrong or whose face speaks of failure. There are more of us around that sometimes we care to admit too!
I have seen beautiful faces, ugly faces, life-worn faces, happy faces, sad faces, old faces, young faces, broken faces, damaged faces, confused faces, grief-stricken faces, laughter-lined faces, bemused and confused faces, welcoming faces, winsome faces, funny faces, innocent faces, adult faces, streets full of fat, thin, long, short and wide faces, colleagues faces, friends faces, parents faces, family faces, my own children’s faces, grandchildren’s faces, my wife’s loving face and not least the horror of my own in the mirror!
In every face, there is a story – the past, a present and a future! In every face, there is the reality of life – good or bad, rich or poor, comfortable or struggle, in health or otherwise. The faces may well differ and their stories but the truth is that “we’re really not that different, me and you!”
When King David learned of the death of Saul and his son Jonathan he personally sang a lament and then gave orders that the nation learn it by heart. His own son Solomon would say sometime later “there is a time…a time to mourn” [Eccles.3:1]
In a world that daily confronts us with the reality of loss in the midst of our living whether somewhere in the world or, in our own world, we need to give ourselves space to grieve – to face grief with tears, time and truth. I say tears [despite their pain] because tears are not a sign of weakness rather they hold a dignity and are therapeutic. Again, Solomon would say: “sorrow is better than laughter, for sadness has a refining influence on us” [Ecclesiastes 7:3]. I say time because each of us travels the ‘grief-road’ at our own pace. I like the thought that grief has its own rhythm, pace and refrains which differs from person to person. I say truth because as we face the harsh reality of loss, from a Christian perspective it’s always good to remind ourselves that God will ultimately have the last word on death.
I reflect on the issue of grief both from a professional and personal vantage. I do not deem myself an expert but in mix of learning and experience there is much to share and we ought to unashamedly seek to comfort one another. Grief hurts! When C. S. Lewis lost his wife he wrote: “her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.”
Reading recently I was reminded that grief is not an illness. That said, it can sometimes feel like it. Triggered by that reading the main aspect I wish to think about is set against the focus on words in loss. It is the role that creativity has in contributing towards comfort. Just as there are different preferred modalities in learning so there are different ways of communicating our feelings, pain, sense of loss and our exploration of grief. The importance of creativity in health and well-being as a means of overcoming distress is well evidenced. My own Highland cultural baggage had me live too much of my life stoically regarding the expressing of emotions and feelings. I like to think much has changed in my thinking and practice.
It is true in loss that there are times when in the presence of friends, listening to a piece of music in solitude, taking a photograph, painting, cooking or gardening that we can set aside our pain for a little. However, it returns and thus many find they can express their emotions through their creativity. I’ve come to appreciate that creative therapies can really help people explore and express emotions far beyond the reach of speech.
What might some of these creative means be?
One has said: “when we give testimony to experience through writing our stories, we bear witness to the past and challenge the idea that terrible experiences are too awful to be told.” Writing can take the form of a diary, journal, fiction or factual and can significantly enhance the grieving process and bring healing. Simon Stephens has said: “grief only becomes a tolerable and creative experience when love enables it to be shared with someone who really understands.” There are many who understand that fact!
Poetry is often associated with the expression of profound emotion – much arising from loss. There are so many examples like Nell Dale’s What Colour is grief: A journey:
Grief is a dark still foggy day
It is November in June
It is the colour of gloom
It is the starless night of the black moon
Grief is the lost on a boggy moor
Grief is drowning in the cold sea
Grief wades through the oceans of time and goes nowhere
Grief is a stopped clock
Grief you were not invited in – you have invaded my space
Grief you were not invited in – you have invaded my spirit
You have overtaken my brain and body
Grief you have no direction
Grief you are too heavy – you drag me down
Grief I never wanted you as my partner
We may not write, listen or read poetry but it is not difficult to sense the emotions that Dale gives expression too if we have known the sting of loss! Evidence suggests it is a means that many use to give expression to their emotions.
Research affirms the therapeutic value of letter writing. Sometimes it is used in bereavement counselling particularly if there has been no opportunity to say ‘goodbye’! Reg Thompson lost a 13 year daughter on a railway where there was no footbridge. He found writing letters kept some contact with her. Thus, the book ‘Dear Charlie’! He says: “when I write I am with her, surrounded by her presence, immersed in memories of her”.
Memory Boxes or Walls
When bereaved so many of us collect or keep objects that remind us of our loved one [mobile phones, photographs, clothing, jewellery, letters, perfume or music]. In some instances I’ve known terminal patients create their own memory box so as to leave their own legacy. In Uganda women suffering from AIDS and HIV were encouraged by such a project to create memory books for their children. One lady has said of that project: “the memory box/book is important because if I die my child will see what I have written for her, and my photos are there, my birth certificate is there and her drawings are there. I will help her to remember me when I have gone. For now she is very young – she is unable to understand…” Such initiatives must not be seen as insignificant.
A relatively new but extensive source of information and help is now found online. There are online cemeteries, virtual cemeteries, memorial pages, e-temples and message boards. Love it or loathe it the reality is that in turning to social media as a way of dealing with loss often helps those who grieve make sense of death by talking about it. Further, it proves a way of making loss less isolating. For some, its worth is in helping stay ‘connected’ but for others it’s about having a platform that gives what has been termed a ‘community of mourners’. One has put it this way: “I’ve got 67 people in my life who I can share my grief with…and they all understand where I’m coming from.”
When grieving the question is often where do I put my feelings? Those painful, choking [sometimes] emotions such as love, grief, guilt! Many find social media and online sites comforting as they provide a commonality of experience. Perhaps it is also so popular as we have become adept at speaking to our computer screens before looking into each other’s eyes and expressing our innermost pains, hurts joys and sorrows. Social media also allows for the expression of empathy and sympathy which we witnessed in such a significant way within the community of Tarbert following the tragic loss of the Nancy Glen fishing boat and the deaths of two of its crew. It allowed for a range of people – even those not close to the families or the deceased express their sorrow and support and therein provide a measure of comfort.
Various motivations are detected behind the use of social media. Data suggests  it is a platform for keeping continuity with a loved one  it eliminates geographical boundaries and has the ability to unite large masses of people to grieve together as an online community  allows for family members and friends communicate with one another and  it creates an audience for grief that can contribute in the journey through the different stages of grief. In fairness, we may not agree wholly with the use of social media but it is irrefutable that it is a means whereby people choose to express emotions and to extend mutual help in the painful season of loss. It seems to me, that the key in an age when “intimacy has gone public” that we manage it safely, positively and pastorally.
There are so many other creative ways that can be considered as contributing towards wellbeing in bereavement. The point I’ve tried to make is that we must not underestimate the place of creativity in helping bereaved people express their emotions and find comfort in the process.
Recently, Lachie Macleod MBE, a member of Partick, Glasgow and his daughter Lorna were able to visit Cluj, Romania, to assess developments in the work of palliative care provision in a country where to experience cancer and be poor presents real challenge. For the past eleven years, Something For Romania has financially supported and sought to help establish this much needed care. Part of the week was to join an event organised to profile this work entitled the Labyrinth of Life. Attached is a report of that event. May we recognise the work of SFR which has been in existence for more than 25 years and give it our prayers and support.
Palliative care: light in the darkest hours
In Cluj county hundreds of people suffer from incurable diseases in advanced stages; they need comprehensive multidisciplinary treatment and care. These services have been provided free by Diakonia Christian Foundation since 2007 due to the generosity and help of Something for
Romania a Christian organization from Scotland: this means that medical services are provided at the patient’s’ home, long-term pain relief & medication control, mental health care for the patients and their families together with counselling. As members of the National Assembly of Palliative Care and the National Assembly of the Palliative Coalition, we work to improve our patients’ life conditions, alleviate their suffering, help and support their families and make it possible for them to spend time together with their loved ones.
In order to promote our services, we organized our event The Labyrinth of Life for the second time, on the Citadel of the city. This event targeted our palliative care patients and their families and the general public from Cluj-Napoca, who heard about this approach as well as the ones who were not familiar with it. Since it was an open event, besides those invited passersby could also participate.
On this evening the Citadel’s main stairs were decorated by the Diakonia team and volunteers’ with candle holders made of coloured paper or glass jars. More than 300 handmade candle holders were prepared by our team and the beneficiaries of our programs for socially disadvantaged children.
The symbolic labyrinth of candles is a metaphor for the ’road’ of life. This included stations related to each stage of life: birth, childhood, adolescence, youth, maturity, old age and death. Those who went through our labyrinth had the opportunity to think about their own ’road’ of life or commemorate life stages spent with a loved one, who they lost. The participants were guided by photographs, quotes, light and sound and at the end of the symbolic road were helped by the volunteers of the Protestant Theological Institute of Cluj-Napoca to understand, process and carry on what they observed.
The event reflected upon one of the most important principles of palliative care: this approach respects life and considers death as part of a process. Therefore death was not the last stop on this symbolic journey; it was followed by a station where the participants were greeted by members of Diakonia’s care team and the volunteers and where they were offered hot tea, cake and an opportunity to talk.
Pastoral ministry has never been straight-forward and easy. Let none of us buy into the idea it is! Ministry in the 21st century confronts us with challenges that are increasingly demanding and difficult at times to navigate. Leadership decisions often prove stressful! How empowering the words ‘be strong and courageous’ [Deuteronomy 1:6]
I liked these lessons and wisdom from Dr John Maxwell when he writes that ‘courageous leadership means I’ve developed:
Convictions that are stronger than my fears
Vision that is clearer than my doubts
Spiritual sensitivity that is louder than popular opinion
Self-esteem that is deeper than self-protection
Appreciation for discipline that is greater than my desire for leisure
Dissatisfaction that is more forceful than the status quo
Poise that is more unshakable than panic
Risk-taking than is stronger than safety-keeping
Actions that are more robust than rationalization
A desire to see potential reached more than to see people pleased
Something for Romania [SFR] charity run by Lachie Macleod, member of the Partick Free Church congregation in Glasgow, has, along with his family worked tirelessly to relieve suffering in Romania for more than 25 years. Dedicated work that witnessed him awarded an MBE. Most recent years have witnessed the charity focus on the provision of palliative care, an area of great need, particularly among the poor. Through the agency of Diakonia, the charity has been supporting through finance and training the development of a dedicated team working out of the city of Cluj.
On Tuesday 10th October, Lachie and his daughter Lorna fly to Cluj having been invited to an event with the title ‘The Labyrinth of Life’. This event has been organized by Diakonia in Cluj for Saturday 14th October – World Hospice and Palliative Care Day. The focus of the event is primarily addressing issues around loss and bereavement.
It is hoped that whilst in Romania and before returning on the 18th October, Lachie and Lorna will have the opportunity to get a better picture of the current status of the palliative care service being developed by Diakonia following a period of change within the care team. Despite changes, Lachie reports “that the work continues.”
Pray for the very vital work done by Diakonia and for Lachie and Lorna who both have known health scares recent months.
There is always ‘something’ is an expression often heard! All these ‘something’s that make life tough are completely indiscriminate. They do not respect the fact we’re single or married, childless or have a house full of kids, own or rent our home, how much or little we earn, whether we’re older or young. Tough and trying days come our way regardless. It is impossible to escape these trials and the turmoil related to them and sometimes just being human. We all acknowledge that it can be a struggle and very wearying.
Athletes tell us that once they find their ‘second wind’ they feel they can run forever. I sometimes think in our lives at times when there is ‘something’ we need to discover this ‘second wind’. The source of this varies for different people. For some, it is in music, prose and poetry, in friends support, in the liturgy and literature of their faith, their faith community and sometimes in the inspiration and confidence their physicians give.
Speaking from a Christian perspective perhaps the following points are worth bearing in mind:
1 Whatever it is, it is not unique to you. The reality is that you and I are human and because of that, such times will inevitably be experienced. Recall what Job said, and as you know he had his share of tough days: “We’re all adrift in the same boat: too few days, too many troubles.” [Job 14:1]
2 Whatever it is, it is temporary. I think that is what the apostle Peter meant when writing to his suffering people: “The God of all grace, who called you…after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” [1 Peter 5:10] The apostle Paul will speak of our suffering in terms of ‘a moment’. I had a friend who would say in difficult days: “this too shall pass.
3 Whatever it is, God understands. Eugene Petersen in his Bible translation called the Message expresses a most comforting verse this way: “we don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through the weakness and testing, experienced it all… so let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give…accept the help.” [Hebrews 4:15]
4 Whatever it is, we will get help. That help within a hospital will come in lots of ways: the caring support of friends, family and staff, the treatment and medication and the nourishment. However, perhaps for some there remains the distress of tough days. You might well be thinking that you have not got what it takes to press on – you’re bursting inside! Screaming for relief! You’re sandwiched by the days you’re passing through, stretched to breaking point and so stressed that tears come involuntarily. The apostle Paul knew days like that: “We’ve been surrounded and battered by troubles, but we’re not demoralized; we’re not sure what to do, but we know that God knows what to do; we’ve been spiritually terrorized, but God hasn’t left our side; we’ve been thrown down, but we haven’t broken.” In my mind when I ask him how he can say that in the light of his experiences I hear him answer: [a] I have power for all things through Him who puts a dynamo in me. He likens his God to a power pack within. [b] I see it all as momentary. [c] I receive help.
I hope today whatever your ‘something’ this. In whatever is making your day tough that you will know and experience this spiritual power personally.