Baptismal Reflections

IMG_2034Well…it was everything I hoped and expected and more.  The Glen was as beautiful and magical as ever.  The peaty brown river was flowing softly on its course.  It was a pleasantly warm autumn morning and great to meet with my family and my good friends Peter Neilson and James Faddes, who did the honourable deed for me!

It was wonderful to be in a place that brought such a powerful spiritual experience to me in the summer and to do something as spiritually significant for my onward journey there.  And…that it was in my native Scotland was just even better.

Peter shared the text from Genesis of Jacob’s dream, the angels ascending and descending on the stairway between heaven and earth…he recognises that there, in that spot, was the house of God and the gateway to heaven, what the Celtic Christians would have called a ‘thin place’ where the veil between heaven and earth is so narrow that you can touch it, and so he set his memorial there and worshipped the God of his fathers.  The Sma’ Glen became a Bethel for us too, a House of God in a very real sense.  That Glen taught me many things…lessons that I will share one day but which for now I hold close to my heart.  Peter also shared words from 2 Cor 4, ever special words for me, which speak of treasure held in clay jars.

And then, to step into the water as a thoroughly convicted follower of Jesus and to identify with his death and resurrection in that symbolic way was just…well, there are no words.  It was a holy moment that brought not only a deep sense of joy but a deep sense of belonging, both to God and to the place.

Peter concluded the time with a Celtic Easter liturgy and, unaware of my novitiate with the Northumbria Community, prayed the blessing from the Northumbria Community morning office as we stood there in the wilderness ready to go home rejoicing!

And then…the rest of the day, God’s creation signalled its usual signs of affirmation and calling to me.  First there was the appearance of the dragonfly who, on my day in the Glen in the summer, taught me so much about God’s leading and provision.  Later, there was a flock of Wild Geese that flew alongside our car – long term symbols in my spiritual journey – calling out as the prepared to fly south.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”  – Mary Oliver

And then, in the afternoon, sharing a meal with good friends, a great sense of connection and communion in the ordinariness of shared food, conversation and prayer.  It was a really holy day.  So special and will truly rank as one of the very best in my life, of that I’m sure.

“And now, hallelujah! the rest of my days
Shall gladly be spent in promoting His praise
Who opened His bosom to pour out this sea,
Of boundless salvation for you and for me.” – William Booth

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Baptism Day – One Day to Go!

A day to go and so good to have a chat with my brother, Peter, who will lead the proceedings tomorrow in the Sma’ Glen.  All is set….the water is warming up nicely (!!)

Most of my spiritual journey has been openly shared on this blog for over 9 years and I don’t want this significant event to be any less so.  I’m continuing to reflect on where I am in my spiritual journey at the moment and what these days mean for me.

As I mentioned yesterday, this is exactly the right time for me for baptism.  Not only because I am moving on from a different way of being and understanding, but because of how my life of faith has morphed in these recent years.  When I left the Army I delcared to Jesus that it was going to be all about him from now on, everything else was going to be secondary.  In this last three years I’ve thought about baptism as a logical next step in identifying with the part of the body of Christ I now serve in but didn’t want that to be the only reason.

As I’ve said, it was on retreat in the summer that I came to the conviction that I should be baptised as an outward expression of the direct spiritual experience of that week.  It was on that retreat that a shift in spiritual understanding came…a deepening, a profound experience of the whole mystery of the Gospel and what we are invited into.  I did, in many ways, feel like a second conversion.  My experiences from that week have fundamentally changed my whole mindset on so many things but, more profoundly, radically changed my heart on so many things.  I’m struggling to fully articulate it all for fear of betraying the experience.

It can all be summed up in this:  in the first half of our spiritual lives we build for ourselves a spirituality and frame work to serve us well as we grow in faith, understanding and take on the new Kingdom mindset for ourselves.  But we’re still processing things at a basic level, ‘like children craving milk.’  Life takes us places, especially in our 30s, where we evaluate our ‘container,’ our framework, and where we realise that although it was all very necessary to have, it will never serve us for our ongoing development and so a shift comes.  Its like new wine and old wineskins.  The invitation, in Paul’s experience, is to begin to desire the ‘meat’ of things.  As we grow, we are then able to say with Paul:

“When I was a child, I thought like a child.  Now I am a man, I have put childish ways behind me.”  – 1 Cor 13

For me, this really is about laying aside the narrow scaffolding that served me so well and got me to where I am.  To dismiss that loyal soldier who has stood by my side and brought me through the battle of childhood, youth and early adulthood to the place where I must now be the father not just to my children, but to those for whom I care for.

I am swimming in the Mystery of God.  Its like God has stepped out from behind the bush and I’ve caught a glimpse of his glory as he passes by with his hand over me, hiding me lest I die.  I am experiencing what I believe Samuel Logan Brengle experienced on Boston Common, what Booth, Wesley and Palmer and the rest called Full Salvation, what I call peace, pure and simple.

And yet, this is not a destination but merely the arrival at another starting point for the future.  Its a turning the corner in spiritual terms, a corner that has been spiritually tormenting me for near 4 years.  So, having got to the place of facing my own death before I die, taking on the wounds and suffering of Christ, and allowing myself to be wakened by God in such a profound and powerful way, the only way to describe my experience is that of Resurrection.  What I intellectually and spiritually understood through a glass darkly, I now see through less frosted glass!

The bottom line is that I want to make witness at this stage of my journey that I identify fully with Jesus.  I desire to declare to you and to anyone that its ok to rethink things.  Its ok to re-evalute.  But also, its always good to go with your spirtual hunches, your deep urgings that come to you about things without shame.

I also want to encourage all my friends to fix their eyes on Jesus, to follow closely in his footsteps and allow his divine life to flood you in ever amazing and new ways.  I look forward to baptising some of you soon 😉

Again, I know many can’t be with me in body, but please join me in prayer.  I’ll try and get Mrs Clark to take a video!  11am tomorrow (Saturday) in the River Almond at Newton bridge, north of Crieff in Perthshire.

blessings,
Andrew

Pre-Baptism Reflections!

Since making the decision to be baptised in the River Almond its been an interesting old journey.  The event takes place this Saturday morning at 11am.  It was looking for a moment that illness would prevent me, but all being well, should be able to go ahead!

I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect on the whole thing.  I’ve also been trying to ignore my own well trained internal arguments about why I shouldn’t do it…but in the end, that is exactly the thing in me (in all of us perhaps) that has to die.  Ego, pride, self-reliance, self-sufficiency and my own personal salvation project.  When I sit with my thinking on this topic over the years, all I sit with is a pile of arrogance to think that I was any better or any wiser than centuries of Jesus followers.  That’s my honest reflection on my own state of mind.  You’ll understand how much of a mental change (read metanoia = repentance) it has been.

. I think if I’d have been baptised as a rampant fundamentalist, it would have given me one more thing to be fanatical about.  It would have given me one more thing to be smug about.  One more set of religious arrogances to repent over.

Having said that, I’m glad I’ve waited until now.  Its not just about the form of a rite, its what it symbolises.  I’m glad I’m being baptised in my 30s, having sat with my own darkness, dealt with my own death, shed my own scaffolding.  I’m glad I’m being baptised in my 30s with a more developed awareness of Christ in the person of Jesus and the resurrection life and promise he calls to.  I’m glad I’m being baptised in my 30s at the beginning of a completely new phase and stage of journey in my spiritual life.  It feels like the right time…utterly.

Thanks in advance for your prayers.  I know its far away for some folks but would love any friends nearby to share the occasion with me.  Saturday, 11am, Newton Bridge, the Sma’ Glen, Perthshire on the A822.

Disapproval

There will never be a shortage of people to disapprove of you.  If I’m right about this, it moves us towards facing some important stuff.  It changes how we bend and shift to outside opinion, it changes how we respond to people and it affects the kind of people we will be.  The disapproval of others will either beat you down, or it will move you from life which is a ‘survival dance’ – doing what you think you must to get by – to your ‘sacred dance’ – which is what and who God created you for.

I believe disapproval is key in this life shift because we all inevitably spend the first half of our life trying to see where our life fits in the grand scheme of things.  We build our lives, personalities, and preferences often on things which win us the approval of others and the acceptance of others rather than the thing that is ultimately important.

When I was younger, I remember trying very hard to listen to Radio 1 and play/attend football matches, go to discos, hang out with the boys and all the rest when what I really wanted to to was go to the beach, listen to Debussy and read a book on my own.

The fitting in attempts didn’t stop there:  as a ‘Christian’, in young adult life, I did the whole religious conformity thing and believed 10 impossible things before breakfast each day.  Prayed in tongues, read the bible, concentrated on other people’s sin instead of mine, kept God in his box, didn’t smoke, drink, take drugs or watch counterfeit movies.  More than that, I continually bent over backwards to be what others expected me to be…and that was the breaking point.

I’m done with most of that now, to be honest, both the silly conformity and the religious conformity.  You see, whether I’m leftist or right wing, heretical or orthodox, pro or anti, liberal or conservative, black or white, up or down, there will be someone to disapprove.   Running after other people’s approval will get you nowhere really.

When we are rooted in the Mystery of faith, becoming more alive to the wonder and fragility of live, moved and inspired by Love, our life takes a new perspective.  If the thing we try to do in each situation is the most loving thing, then we will be on a path that will win.  Love, though, is often controversial.

It was Love who offered instant forgiveness and heaven to a crook on a cross in his last seconds of life and told the religious people that tax collectors and prostitutes were getting into heaven before them.  It was Love who allowed a prostitute to bathe his feet with tears and wipe them with her hair.  It was Love who spat in a blind mans eyes to make him see.  It was Love that called the whitewashed tombs a brood of vipers.  It was Love that stood silent before a mock civic court and took the beating.  It was Love who got lost as a child and told his parents he had to be about his Father’s business.  It was Love that inspired the tax man to give bonus rebates.  It was Love that shifted the definition of family from blood to Blood.  It was Love who told the story of the unlikely helper in the Good Samaritan story.  It was Love who walked the planet claiming to be God incarnate.  It was Love who considered the lilies and the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, the seeds, the fig trees, the vine, the branch, the sheep and the shepherd, the little children and said ‘this is how you learn about life.’  It is Love who inspires us to move beyond our Survival Dance and helps us live our Sacred Dance.  It is Love to introduces us to suffering, death, but crowns the whole thing with Resurrection life and the New Creation Kingdom.

The disapproval will always be there.  But Love anyway.

Sit Down for Jesus!

I’ve always been a fairly average scholar…wasn’t astounding at school but got what I needed.  Wasn’t a straight A essay writer or exam sitter at Bible College but more a B average.  One thing that sticks with me from Standard Grade (GCSE level) History is a sentence that was drummed into us for the exam on the causes of the first world war:  we had to learn several of the ‘repercussions of the annexation of Bosnia and the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.’  Now, please don’t ask me to tell you what the repercussions were, all I know is that we had to learn em!

That random piece of information comes to my mind regularly, its hardwired in there, and it did again this evening.  The context was a simple observation of a few friends on facebook and a few conversations in recent weeks, I suppose.  Here is the thing:  I’m totally sick of the shunning culture of Christianity.  The way that people feel they can annex people off because of some fault, failure, ‘sin’, or even if they don’t fit the right package or tick the right boxes for your particular set of theological ducks.

Now don’t get me wrong, its not that I haven’t done it.  I just hope that I’ve repented for enough of it that its no longer a way of thinking that I own. I’ve also been, and currently am, the subject of it from some quarters.  When I hear it or see it these days it just makes me so sad…writing people off because of certain things about them.  Spiritual judgements flying about a persons soundness or lack thereof.  A cruel Phariseeism that is passing for spiritual eliteness, hyper spirituality or super-smug Christian tribalism not worrying about who gets hurt on the way so long as ‘my version of truth’ gets preserved along the way.

The root of this is dualism.  Black and white thinking.  Thinking that is always rushing to judgement and then making assumptions about who is therefore acceptable or not acceptable.  This goes from stuff as serious of people’s sexuality all the way down to being  viewed as suspect because you let your kids read Harry Potter and all the small minded stuff in between.   This sort of stuff does lead to war, this annexation.  Cutting people off, blacking people out, stopping acknowledging people for whatever reason over their lifestyle choices, a mistake or some other thing, it leads to war and many civilian casualties.

We all have our fair share of people/situations that we find difficult, but we need to take the time to see beyond it.  Not saying its easy, its bloody hard, actually.  But its also essential.  There needs to be a seeing revealed to us, a seeing which shows us that as humans we are fundamentally the same…reliant on various shades and bucket loads of grace.

This struck me on my first main trip out the door this week after having been poorly in bed.  Went to ASDA for some healing chicken soup and just became aware in a fresh way that, beyond the appearances, each individual had a precious soul, a unique soul, looking out at the world.  You could read the pain and scars on many.  They were people, real people.

And then I got to thinking about people who get up my nose, in particular.  What was it about them that got to me?  I knew it was the same ugly duality, the same wicked judgementalism that I once saw in myself as a younger ‘Christian’, back in the days when I thought I’d arrived at a full knowledge of what was right and what was clearly not.

In honesty, I’d rather go sit in the street with the people cast out than sit in any house of pharisaical perfection these days.  Its maybe what a few years does, but I think its what I see that Jesus often sat too…I hope thats where I’m learning it from.

When I was at school, a favourite song of mine at Saturday night community centre discos was ‘Sit Down’ by James.  It speaks of a connection with the Other as brother and sister.  I remember a hall full of young people sitting on the floor…powerful memories.  Here’s the words:

I’ll sing myself to sleep
A song from the darkest hour
Secrets I can’t keep
Inside of the day
Swing from high to deep
Extremes of sweet and sour
Hope that God exists
I hope I pray

Drawn by the undertow
My life is out of control
I believe this wave will bear my weight
So let it flow

Oh sit down 
Sit down next to me 
Sit down, down, down, down, down 
In sympathy 

Now I’m relieved to hear
That you’ve been to some far out places
It’s hard to carry on
When you feel all alone
Now I’ve swung back down again
It’s worse than it was before
If I hadn’t seen such riches
I could live with being poor

Those who feel the breath of sadness
Sit down next to me
Those who find they’re touched by madness
Sit down next to me
Those who find themselves ridiculous
Sit down next to me
Love, in fear, in hate, in tears

 

Nec Tamen Consumebatur

1185066_10151856410042069_155186769_nNo, this time its not gaelic but some Latin for you.  Although, if you’re Scottish, this phrase might be familiar to you.  Its the ‘motto’ of the Church of Scotland and it means ‘And it was not consumed.’  It us usually accompanied by the cross of St Andrew and a burning bush.

My personal journey in the recent five years or so has been a firm descent into the darkness of my own experience: the hurts, pains, rejections and the things that has produced. It has been a path which has sucked me in as the seemingly only path to go down and there has been long darkness.  Dealing there with childhood rejections, spiritual and emotional abuses, and their effects.  All along, there has been the necessity, as much as humanly possible, to remain ‘on the surface’ for all the reasons that one needs to remain afloat for.

We’re not good at ‘dark nights of the soul’ in the Western cultures we live in.  Especially in Christian cultures, we have developed strategies for avoidance and ‘coping’ instead of deeper soul work.  So, like Moses running from his murderous and fearful past, I’ve been in the desert for some time.  Not, however, spiritually dry…sometimes suffering, but not overcome because God is a specialist at meeting us in the desert.

When everything else is stripping away, the things that we use to bolster our image, ego or public face, it is God who issues the command ‘take of your shoes.’  Notice that God utters these words in the depth of the wilderness, both physically and spiritually, for Moses.

Moses sees the bush aflame but realises it is not consumed.  It is not burning up, it is holding the presence of holy fire within as the messenger of the Lord speaks from it.  I don’t know if you’re faith requires a physical fire to burn in that physical bush, but a vision of Moses recorded for us has just the same amount of truth and message.

My question is this:  did Moses ever look at a tree in the same way again?  Did he ever lose the ability to see the fire?

As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

As I took the opportunity to ‘draw a line in the sand’ of my desert in my summer retreat, it was on my 8 hour day of initiation in the ‘wild’ that God invited me to take of my shoes (and more!).  For the first time in my life my mind stopped whirring and stirring, fretting and aching as the amazing beauty and incredibly creativity of that Highland Glen spoke volumes about my place in the world.  For the first time ever I was still and just ‘was’.  For several hours.  After 18 years of Jesus following, or to be more accurate, as a professional religionist, I understood and I saw the everyday surroundings afire with the Holy.

As for Moses, Jesus and for many others, it was in the desert that the clamour of my own mind was subdued enough to let my soul speak out, and speak out it did.  It danced and sang and cried and laughed and rejoiced and stood tall like never before.  That is the most freeing thing.  My current exercise is to work in such a way to enable that freedom its expression:  the true task of every human being in God.

Coincidentally, the motto of the ‘Clan Clark’ just happens to be Nec Tamen Consumebatur.  How great is that?!

Pursuing Honesty

Unsurprisingly, honesty is something we all desire in our deepest self. The yearning to be fully you and fully me is always there and we spend our lives in the battle between the true and false according to our environment. It can be difficult to be yourself. So many expectations fly. Life can overwhelm us by its expectation of us. It’s easy to place so much importance on what people think of us.

How do we pursue honesty? How do we become more fully our true selves?

Since the summer, I’ve committed myself each to what I’m calling my Contemplative Sit. Not a time when I come before God with words and a spiritual shopping list, but where I stop, pause, and enter Silence. Here there is no argument to win, no opinion to bolster, no ego to boost. It is stillness. It is moments of recognising that I am breathing, alive, and that I have life pulsating through my body. It is taking time to recognise what the Contemplatives call ‘the naked now’ or ‘the sacrament of the present moment.’ It is accepting that this moment is as perfect as it can be and to accept it for what it is.

Our Western society is shaped by the need to produce and consume. How important then to take moments of sabbath, moments of peace. Times in the day where we achieve nothing, produce nothing, but simply be where we are.

I find that in the stillness, in the hushing of my frantic mind, the still small voice of God can call out his divine image in me. ‘Deep cries out to deep’ and you can find a place where God’s Spirit connects with our spirit and confirms we are much loved sons and daughters.

In the next blog, I’ll talking about how I do that practically in the hope that you might find opportunity to engage in your own journey.