Lent, when Jesus enters our desert

“The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Psalm 51: 17

These days many people are struggling. Some struggles are common for we all share the human condition. And yet there are struggles that are unique to each individual, because we cannot know what each person is dealing with, unless they tell us about it. I cannot know what you had to deal with in the past year nor what you had to overcome in order to come to this point. But God does. God knows our hearts.

Normally in Lent we say that we join Jesus in the desert. Having gone through a number of lockdowns since March 2020, and being in lockdown – at least in Ireland – still, the image of a desert may not be as inspiring. We have had our shares of the desert moments throughout the year.

Lent also coincides with Spring in Ireland. It order to burst into bloom, flower-seeds need to rest in the dark of the soil, let go of what they know, and embark on the journey of growth. As they do that, gradually small shoots come out on the surface, and with the support of sunshine, water and nutrients, they grow into beautiful flowers.

Can you notice areas in your life that are undergoing a similar journey?

I like to think of Isaiah 61 as we start Lent,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good need to the poor. He has sent me….. to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Jesus is the one who has been anointed & who exchanges the difficult realities into those where His glory shines forth. This is especially true for the Holy Week, so when we come to it this year, let us allow Him to bring healing into our lives and to lead us through our difficulties, towards His glory.

Until then, it may be helpful to look at this Lent this way: not that we are joining Jesus in the desert but instead He is joining us in our own deserts. And His presence makes all the difference.

© Dr Iva Beranek

Reaching out

What a time it’s been these past few months of needing to live differently, for our own safety and for that of others. How counter-intuitive it has been having to pull back from family and friends, with some of us having to cocoon or even self-isolate in order to ensure community health and well-being.

We are designed to be relational, both with one another and with our Creator. While some have found the enforced period of slowing down and reduced activity to be refreshing, many have found that the pressures inherent in the sudden adaptations required have increased stress, anxiety and ongoing troubles.

As Christians we sometimes find it difficult to reach out for help, berating ourselves for needing to depend on others since all our hope is founded on God.

How good it is to remember that as our loving Father draws us to himself He reaches us in a myriad of ways. Sometimes He touches us through prayer, the Scriptures, through worship and often through the beauty of nature. Other times He cares for us through the words, deeds, kind gestures or simply coming alongside us of other people when we are experiencing a particular need or difficulty.

‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’ (Psalm 46:1) reminds us of His provision. ‘For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you’ (Isaiah 41:13) reassures us of his concern for our wellbeing. Jesus met people where they were at, longing to bring healing and hope into their lives.

One of the many supports available to us in these times is the charity Aware. Aware runs a Support Line 365 days a year, from 10am till 10pm (1800804848). Callers receive support and information about coping with stress, anxiety, depression or bipolar disorder. All calls are confidential within normal limits. A range of beneficial resources and programmes are available through www.aware.ie.

It may take courage to ask for help, but when we do it, we are grateful for taking that step.

 

Jeanne Salter
Jeanne Salter is a Board member of CMH:I & an Aware volunteer

Prayer at a time of social distancing

Prayer is life-giving and also not always easy. God is not ‘socially distant’ so one might think that prayer is to be the same at the time of lockdown, as it was before or as it will be after. But when life changes, often prayer changes as well.
Any authentic prayer will reflect what is going in our life, too.

Over the last number of months we have had to quickly adapt to an online experience of communal worship. Prayer meetings and church services all moved from in-person gatherings to online. While this provided continuity in praying together in a new format, it may have also been overwhelming to a degree. All human interaction moved to online encounters. Now with the easing of restrictions and being able to go to church again, this new phase will bring much needed comfort to some, and will prove to be an additional challenge to others.

If your prayer changed over the last months, or you found it hard to pray, don’t judge yourself for it.
If your prayer carried you through, be grateful. Thank God for it.
If it was somewhere in-between, know you are human and God loves you as you are.
Experiences of fertile valleys and of deserts are both very common in life and in prayer. If you experienced any combination of these during the months of lockdown – take heart.

Where did you find God over the last few months?

For me He seeped into my alone time in the house, like sap drips from the tree giving it life.
“Sap carries important nutrients, water and hormones through the tree that are essential for a healthy plant.” We may judge it as sticky or unpleasant, but for trees it is essential. Trees drip more sap when damaged, when attacked by pests or diseases. At the times of difficulty, perhaps God drips more sap into our lives, by being near through His grace, mercy, love.

What kind of sap did God drip in your life?

Having to incorporate social distancing in our every-day life for now is not natural. Handshake, a hug when meeting a friend, instead of providing human connection have become ‘dangerous’. And yet, we still need them. Grieving these changes will hit some of us harder than others, but allow yourself to grieve if you need to. Bring exactly how you feel to prayer, be real with God in communal worship, in your alone times. Notice what you are grateful for, and where you need healing.

May God drip his healing oil into all aspects of your life. In Isaiah God promises us “the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit” (Isaiah 61:3).
May it be so for us today. Amen

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Consecrating empathy

One time, after Jesus was busy ministering to people and healing them, He went to a
solitary place to pray.

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up,
left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: “Everyone is looking for you!” Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else, to the nearby villages, so I can preach there also. That is why I have come. (Mark 1:35-38)”

Jesus had a freedom to say ‘No’ to certain demands in order to do what He was called to do. This came out of His prayer life and relationship with God the Father. If we are to follow in Jesus’ footsteps then we are to have the same discerning spirit.

Our lives have changed drastically over the last few weeks, with restrictions of movement, many places, schools and churches closing down – for now. People with children are probably busier than before. People living on their own restricting human connection to mostly online encounters. Doctors, nurses, and those working in shops serving the country “on the front line”.

While demands have changed – increased for some, reduced for others – our ability to care for each other, and for the world around us, has been put on overdrive. The positive elements to it show us we are all connected. Our hearts are challenged to expand, to include the whole world in our prayer. But this can also be overwhelming.

The wisdom from John Eldredge may give us much needed peace. Eldredge speaks about “consecrating empathy”. Watching the news can easily overwhelm us. Yet the answer is not in shutting down every negative story we might hear and doing nothing. Instead, what we can do is “consecrate our capacity to care” (Eldredge). In other words, we can say a brief prayer and join our own capacity for care with Jesus’ capacity, which is infinitely greater. This way we are also giving God permission to direct us, to guide us how to use this capacity.

Having invited Jesus to help us in this caring process may eventually increase our own capacity in loving others, deepen our prayer, and bring creative solutions to our actions. Above all, it might increase the peace in our hearts, the peace that surpasses understanding. The more inner peace increases, the more peace there will be in the world too.

 

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Gratitude as a Lenten practice

“In 12 years of research, I have never interviewed a single person with the capacity to really experience joy who does not also actively practice gratitude.”
Brené Brown

Practicing gratitude is simple. It does not requite any special skill, like riding a bicycle for example would. We can write our gratitude notes in a journal or on small pieces of paper that we put into a jar (“a gratitude jar”). While the practice is simple, it is good to be reminded of the value of gratitude.

Research has shown that gratitude can improve both mental and physical health, and “not surprisingly, grateful people are also more likely to take care of their health”.* A number of studies revealed other benefits, such as improvement in self-esteem, better sleep, reduced stress and even a help in overcoming trauma.

I have been writing a gratitude journal for a few years now. When I read through it I notice I am often grateful for small things. Or maybe better to say ordinary things, like sunshine, a fox in my garden, hot water – hot water features quite regularly in my gratitude notes. Green grass, a conversation with a friend, a pressed Autumn leaf in my notebook, especially since I found it at the beginning of Spring.

In “One thousand gifts”, Ann Voskamp describes her practice of writing one thousand gratitude notes into a journal. This practice gradually transformed her. When she was young, something tragic happened in her family and it marked the rest of her life. As a grown up woman, she had lovely six children, a husband, they lived on a farm, but her daily living was marked with anxiety and worry. Until she started to write the gratitude notes in her journal. She started noticing that her days were filled with beauty. Interestingly, a lot of the things she wrote about were also every-day and simple. 

           “243. Clean sheets smelling like wind
             244. Hot oatmeal tasting like home
             245. Bare toes in early light”
           [Ann Voskamp, “One thousand gifts”, p. 55]

We have just started our Lenten journey. Lent is a time where we reflect on Jesus’ time in the desert. We journey with Jesus towards His final days on earth, His death and resurrection. I have never been in an actual desert, but I am sure that even there we can find things to be grateful for. Some deserts bloom with flowers during certain seasons.

There can be an oasis in the desert, and it must feel almost like a little miracle to come across one. Perhaps those who travel in the desert become aware of the essentials they need. We can be grateful for company, water, food, a shelter for the night. Even if we are not going to go physically into the desert, we can experience that life sometimes provides ‘desert-experiences’. During the difficult times, too, we can practice gratitude, and it may help to ground us into the experience of God’s goodness.

In Lent, at least liturgically, we don’t sing Alleluia, which is exclamation of relief and ultimate victory. But the prayers are still filled with praises to God. Those praises, as well as noticing gifts of each day, are a bit like new buds on the trees as Spring is gradually bursting into bloom. The more blossoms we notice, the more grateful we feel.

If we take gratitude as our Lenten practice, noticing goodness in life will guide us from the praises of God’s goodness towards the Easter Alleluia. We might even notice that some of the desert places within us bloomed as we did that.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland

Advent – when light makes a difference in the dark

Each Sunday in Advent, we light a candle on our Advent wreath, flickering and shining their light into our churches and homes. As the evenings grow shorter, we can see the candles clearly. They appear brighter and more distinct to us the darker it becomes, and as nighttime falls, they appear quite brilliant in the inky surroundings, little beacons of light in a sea of darkness. And the light from a single candle can be seen from a great distance in total darkness.

According to scientific study, the human eye could detect the flicker of a candle in total darkness, with a direct line of sight, at 46km away, or 30 miles. It seems an impossible task for a tiny little flame to emit light that can be seen from that distance but it can. And the strange thing is that that little beam of light can be seen further the darker the world around it is. Truly light can cut through darkness, the light only becomes stronger the darker it gets.

In our day to day lives, it is all too easy to become a little down trodden, to become overwhelmed with our own worries and concerns. Yet we are not alone. If a small bulb or a candle can shine far out into the darkness, how much further can the light of Jesus’ love shine? As the mirrors of a lighthouse amplify and direct light into the darkness, so too can we take that light that Jesus brings to us and reflect it in how we live our lives and in how we share our lives with others, in how we treat others. In this season of Advent, we can reflect that light and that love into the darkest corners of our world. Jesus is the bearer of that light, his healing love is there for all, yet it is up to us to open the door and let it shine into our lives, into our world.

Rev Ross Styles

Grief at a time of Advent

Grief is never easy. But some times of the year it may be amplified. I have friends who recently lost people close to them. It’s hard to see their pain, and yet only by witnessing the pain – ours and someone else’s – will we find healing in it. 

Whether the loss was recent or from the years past, the closer we are to the season of Christmas the more painful some memories become. On the other hand, Advent in its gentleness, like candles lit in the dark nights, can provide a cloak of comfort. Advent is a season of gentle contrasts: darkness in which light comes, longing for hope into which hope is born, desire for peace that comes out a deep anguish and a need for change. It is Christ coming into our humanity, bringing us His light, hope, peace. But this coming comes softly, like the frost on the winter grass. 

If you are in a season of grief and if the pain of memory knocks on your door each morning, know there is nothing wrong with you. It is not only human, but also healthy to allow ourselves to feel all the nuances of emotion we experience. Grief is painful, but only by walking through it will darkness of the night lead us towards the dawn.

Often when we light a candle, its wax drips, like tears. Light a candle, sit next to it, and allow your emotions to surface. Weep if you feel like weeping. Know that God is with you. You are not alone. You are never alone. Let Him cradle you in His love, comfort you, love you. God can hear all your questions. He hears the screams of your pain, and screams of the silence of your heart. You are not alone.

Yet if you are well enough, but you know someone who is in pain: sit with them. Allow them to talk. Don’t be quick to offer answers. Dry their tears. Be there. Show them that God cares by you caring for them. And know that God will sit down with you. He will cradle you both in His gentle presence and lit your inner candles in these dark nights. 

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

“Thy kingdom come” is a prayer for healing

Jesus thought us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is heaven”. In this day-and-age when social media is so prevalent in our lives, the news travels quickly from one part of the world to another. And bad news travels even quicker, or at least it seems that way at times. We don’t even have to go as far as listening to the news. It is enough to talk to people we know, or to look into our own lives, to see that we need healing, this world needs healing. In other words, this world is crying out to receive more of God, more of His presence and more of His kingdom here in our midst. We need the prayer that Jesus thought us to become reality, “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.

Initially in the garden of Eden, before the Fall, there was no illness, no distress, no anxiety, no discord, and we all long to return to that place in one way or another. It must have been amazing to live in that kind of environment – it sounds like a life where everything is in its right order and there is perfect peace. And yet, that’s not how the story ended.

Now we live in the moment of history between the harmony our ancestors enjoyed in the garden of Eden, and between the promise of heaven, where “He will wipe every tear from [our] eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will be removed forever (Revelation 21:4).” Each and every one of us needs healing. Healing is not only for those who are terminally ill or who have experienced deep traumas. We have all been scarred with some experience that has affected us, or still affects us, and that needs to be brought to God so that He can put the balm of His love and the balm of His truth over it. Jesus healed when He encountered people, and that is also how His kingdom spread. Every experience of healing here on this earth is an experience of heaven, a touch of God’s presence. It is an experience of God’s kingdom coming to inhabit our reality now in our daily lives.

The key to allowing God’s kingdom to inhabit us more fully is, I believe, in the Gospel where Jesus visits His friends, Martha and Mary. Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39). You can imagine the scene: Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to Him. There is something peaceful about that…the exchange of love is happening. Mary is fed in the presence of Jesus. Then comes Martha, worried, distracted with what needs to be done, and she does not notice this atmosphere of peace and love. Not until Jesus points it out. “Martha, Martha,” He said, “you are worried and upset about many things,  but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her (Luke 10:41-42).” 

The difference between Martha and Mary is in the attitude of their heart. In the presence of Jesus, Mary is exposed to the depths of His love. This kind of love-relationship with God cannot be taken away from us, yet it also cannot but spill over into our interactions with each other. Mary’s attitude does not mean she will not do anything, but rather that her doing will have a different flavour. Out of this love-relationship with Jesus we bring God’s kingdom to this earth. Martha, or any one of us when we are worried, disappointed, hurt, in any kind of need, are invited into a similar relationship with Jesus, where we can bring our worries, stresses, discouragements, needs and over time encounter His healing and His peace.

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

A tribute to Rev Robert Lawson

Robert was a friend. I met him first via Facebook, before ever meeting him in person. Later we would meet through the ministry of healing. He had a great online presence, and connected with many people that way. 

Presence and gratitude are two realities that make me think of Robert the most. You could feel he was present to you in a conversation, but he also brought a deep awareness of God’s presence with him. We would meet for coffee, sometimes before the Thursday healing service in Christ Church when he was the celebrant, sometimes in town. A few years ago I was going through a deep healing of a painful memory, and Robert was among those who knew about it. A significant moment on my journey of healing happened and I was grateful to God. I remembered how Jesus said to ten lepers, “Go and show yourself to the priest” (Luke 17:14). In my case, I wanted to share what happened to a priest as a sign of my thanksgiving to God. I was meeting Robert for coffee and decided he was going to be the priest. I also asked him for anointing and he brought the oil with him to a coffee shop. It was easy to be real with Robert because he was real. There was nothing of pretence about him. After a deep conversation in the coffee shop, Robert anointed me, which was a support and a blessing to continue on the journey of healing. And even among coffee-cups, God was present.

In Christ Church Cathedral, during the healing Eucharist, Robert often prayed in thanksgiving about his journey with cancer. Not many of us would know how to give thank for things that are humanly difficult, but Robert had an insight that this journey brought him closer to God, deeper into his true self and closer to others too. Now that Robert is gone to be with the Father in Heaven, I think I will often associate Thursday healing Eucharist with Robert’s prayers of thanksgiving. This is very fitting in that prayerful context as ‘eucharisteo’ in Greek means ‘to give thanks’.

I have to admit, I will miss Robert. Many of us will. If you are reading this and you are not a family member or a close friend, I want to give you a permission to grieve. If tears come, let them. I was thinking of him last week on the bus going home, and I cried. This does not mean we don’t believe that Robert lived for God and has returned to God. It means that his presence here on earth meant a lot to us. Sometimes we acknowledge it by recalling a memory, sometimes with a few tears.

Both Robert and myself were inspired by St John of the Cross and found great comfort in his teaching on the dark night. It is counter-intuitive to think that difficulties in life can bring a deep healing to our soul. And yet, it is the nature of Jesus’ cross and resurrection that God lets Himself be found when we least expect it. Robert lived in such a way that he found God in all of his experiences. At his funeral it was said how he learned to live in the moment. We have so much to learn from Robert. Also at the funeral there was a five minute silence after the Holy communion, which I am sure Robert asked for. It is through silence that we connect with God and allow Him to enter our reality. Robert was teaching us this even in his death.

Thank you for your friendship, Robert. Jesus told us, “In my Father’s house there are many rooms” (John 14:2). I pray Robert enjoys exploring those that are in the fullness of God’s presence in Heaven, and until we meet again may he RIP.

Condolences to his family and friends on behalf of the Church’s Ministry of Healing: Ireland.

(The picture is taken from Robert’s Facebook page as his latest profile picture)

Iva Beranek
Dr. Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for CMH:I

A gift of vulnerability

“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brené Brown

Often we Christians think that we have to hold it all together, that we have to be happy and satisfied because if we are not there might be something wrong with our faith, or with us. This anxiety or guilt arises in many life’s circumstances. Perhaps we don’t hold that belief openly or even very consciously, but it affects how we deal with difficult situations in life. At times life is not easy, but it is easier if we can talk to someone about it. God also invites us to come to Him as we are, not as we think we ‘ought to be’.

Jesus understands all and every emotion we may be experiencing, from happier ones to the more difficult ones. We can always be honest with God and tell Him everything exactly as it is. Jesus tells us, “come to me all who are thirsty, all who need rest”. Our vulnerability can be a point of connection with others, where we meet heart-to-heart. It does not have to isolate us from others. Often it brings us closer together. For example, by bringing our vulnerability to prayer, or by talking to a trusted other in a confidential manner, we connect with each other and we feel less alone. This may seem scary at first, but less scary than feeling alone. There is a power of healing in simply being heard, being listened to, because through it we are acknowledged. We experience that we ‘matter’.

Many of the healing stories in the Bible show people who were vulnerable. In Luke 8:43-48 we read, 

“A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Jesus and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. When they all denied it, Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.” But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”
Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

This woman was vulnerable, both in her actions and in her words. Brené Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen”. In other words, it is brave to be vulnerable. This year, let us allow each other spaces where we can be seen. The power that rises out of vulnerability is not merely ours, but Christ’s, and He never leaves us as we are.

Iva Beranek
Dr Iva Beranek is the Ministry Facilitator for the CMH: Ireland