Sunday, 10 March 2019


I’m thinking about my friend, she’s walking the Camino over the next few weeks. She’s approaching 60 and has a lifetime of adventure, risk-taking and getting-out-there that makes this opportunity to hike daily through Lent alluring and exciting. All that living out of back-packs, sleeping in strange beds, and meeting new people should be like falling off a log for her.

Then she finally paid attention to some pain she’d been having in her knee, and the scan showed a tear in the meniscus. Ah, sweet reality; this could scupper expectations. Her initial reaction was unsurprising, after these years of activity and soldiering on. This news would not be permitted to impact on the plans she’d laid: she’d said she’d walk the Camino, a certain number of kilometres each day, and walk it she would!

It’s not often that we are like swiftly turning kayaks when it comes to our expectations and plans. More like great ships of the ocean that take time to shift orientation, inch by grudgingly given inch.

Anyway, all this got me thinking about ageing - the way we frame it and the way we engage it. Had my friend been on this hiking adventure decades ago, in her twenties say, she may have suffered a few blisters, the odd aching muscle from hours of shouldering a back-pack, but youthful strength and capacity could be depended on. In this sense, ageing can feel like a diminishment, a reduction of what was previously possible. Physical limitations might mean that she walks fewer kilometres each day than she planned, or even that she is unable to complete the entire route. 

The Camino is about more than checking off the kays, though. It is world famous as being a pilgrimage, an opportunity to traverse challenge and setback, to reorientate one’s inner being in some way, and to journey to sacred places within oneself. 

In this sense, I wonder if the hiker in her twenties is at a bit of a disadvantage. Physical strength causes us to be self-reliant. Yes, the trail is long and yet it feels well within our capacities. Yes, we might bemoan the odd blister and rejoice in the experience of camaraderie and endurance, and yet our learning can only go as deep as the depths we are ready for in this stage of our lives. While all experiences teach us, and all reflection is good, our stage of development limits our ability to engage this inner growth. Quite simply, as in any good game, we have to pass through all the stages; we don’t get to skip them. 

When we embark on these journeys at a more mature age, then, are we not in fact enlarged by the experience of years and therefore able to go deeper into this invitation to reflection? Learning to reflect on our limitations, and our reactions to them, can become a treasure trove of gifts. Limitations - and our struggles to acknowledge and embrace them - invite us to accept the reality that we are not the masters of our own fate. We have dreams that are larger than our capacity to fulfil them. We have ego that resists unwanted identities that we are forced into at moments of limitation. To become ‘the slow one’ when we have always been fast, or ‘the one who gave up’ when we have always pushed through, or ‘the one who cried’ when we have prided ourselves on being upbeat or stoic. 

These moments, unsought-for as they are, can become the very things that crack us open to new ways of being. To become new in some area of my life, I have to first recognise that the old way is not serving me so well anymore. And so often, it is only when I face my own limitations - physical, emotional spiritual, relational - that I am willing to admit to this truth.

There is such grace in having navigated several stages of life’s journey, and learned a few things along the way. As we find ourselves approaching some new difficulty, we might say “Ah, I think I’ve been somewhere like this before.” We know that we will come through whatever it is, and that we will be enlarged in some way.

May you have grace to face your limitations with a reflective heart. May your years be honoured for the ways they have enlarged your soul. May you offer the world around you something deeper and sweeter as you continue to hike along life’s trails.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Spring Shake-Out

I am sitting on my bed with darkness still shrouding the valley beyond the window. Yet I am aware that the air outside is filled with the chirruping and whistling of all kinds of birds as the waken to a new day. I found that I have the option on my phone to choose this sound as my alarm; it’s so much more gentle to wake up to the sound of birds than to some ghastly claxon!

The cheeriness of the birds outside my window tells me that spring is well underway here in southern Spain. I like the way I am becoming familiar with the incremental steps that move us towards warmer weather here. First, of course, is the almond blossom, that joyous herald of new things. The earliest blossoms to bloom, these delicate white flowers are hard to miss once they get going and now they cover the countryside in a way that yells springtime! 

Then we begin to see a slice of sunshine across the far side of our balcony. All through the winter, the balcony remains in shadow, the angle of the sun never permitting it to create even a small puddle of warmth and light. We miss the way the sunshine can light up this space, with its perfect view across the valley, its comfy chair and basket of books. And then, after many months, we spot it: the sun is back! It has become strong enough to make its mark again on our personal balcony sundial, which tells us that spring has arrived.

There are others things I am aware of in this season. We leave the windows open more often. We had the last fire in the grate without noticing we wouldn’t need it again for many months. I’m close to exchanging my now too-warm slippers for the flip-flops I’ll live in throughout warmer seasons. We’re filled with the urge to clean the patio, to clear the garden of weeds, to make space for ourselves outside. All across our residential area, families are painting and pruning, renovating and renewing in this warm window of time between too cold and too hot.

It’s hard to miss this feeling of new life. It’s like there’s this great sky-written invitation to shake out the shadows of the winter months and dance with fresh air freedom. Does my spirit feel it too? The old way of things is giving way to new life, do I feel it? There’s a shaking out, a breathing deep, a desire for action, to straighten things out so that we can inhabit this new life with all the joy of those singing birds.

May the blossoms bud on your branches. May the light of the sun slice through the shadowy places in your life. May a new song find its way to your lips and may a fresh wind enliven your heart. 

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Words matter

For the second time in a month, last Sunday I stood in church with my two daughters while we sang about being sons of God. It could be that this happens more often in Spanish, a language that doesn’t easily permit us to fudge it when it comes to gender. Still, it got me thinking.

Now, I know we all make excuses for the masculine-oriented way our language for the spiritual life has come about. We talk about what was culturally appropriate in the days scripture was written, so that actually it is so much better that I’ve been made a son than if I were a daughter because that is more honouring. You’ve heard that one? Or we talk about translation and the limitations of language, and the fact that we just have to pick a gender and stick with it, so there’s nothing wrong with using the male pronoun, or talking about ‘mankind.’ It’s not personal, it’s just practical.

And yet, here I am, standing with my two daughters and asking them to get excited about the fact that they are sons. Do you see my deep concern here?

I want them to know that God is for them, that he is inviting them ever more deeply into this wonderful life of relational connection, where they will learn how to be fully themselves in the context of trinitarian love; where within their community they will learn what it is to make their unique contribution to the world, as they learn to walk with and be empowered by the Spirit of God. Am I, then, to present this wonderful life in God as being predominantly masculine in nature, oriented towards those who are male, who are sons? Is this the invitation God himself offers them?

Hear me when I say this: I will never, for all eternity, be a son of God. I will always and forever be a daughter of God, forever female. I will love and glorify him in myriad ways and my femaleness is not incidental to that; I will take my place as a co-heir with Jesus, ruling and reigning with him as part of his Church. And I will be female. 

And Father, Son and Spirit are heartily pleased with this. It is good. Not only that but it is the only possible thing that could be good.

I grew up in church. I’m not here to write about male leadership or male eldership, or how the Church functions in all her geographical or denominational guises. We are stumbling towards the light, and we still have some very dark corners. But I do think that along with functions in the Church, we would do well to seriously consider the way we put language to our faith. It’s not because I want all this to ‘sound fair’ or to ‘be inclusive.’ It is because we are failing to communicate anything close to a true picture of the gospel of Jesus when we tell half the population that they are sons of God.

Mothers, daughters, wives, women, friends: this good news of the kingdom is for you. It is about you being caught up into the fullness of God, who is reflected in both male and female and is so much more than either one alone. There is nothing less brilliant about your light because it is female in nature. This is not something we need to fight for, or protest about, or go overboard in seeking to redress the imbalance. It simply is truth: the heart of God conceived female as part of the expression of the divine. And within that love and wholeness, you will be living out of your strong and beautiful femaleness forever. 

Now, who can write a song about that?