The Next Right Thing

“The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.”
‭‭(Luke‬ ‭23:55-56‬, NIVUK‬‬)

They rested. But was it Sabbath rest? Or the rest of grief? The tiredness of grief that must have consumed them immediately after the brutal death of their friend and teacher, Jesus. This is the part of the story that I so want to read, and yet there’s so little detail of what they did. Is this it? Is this all they did? Rested?

Holy Saturday – Day of Sadness by Hanabella

This is the bit of the story that is scant with detail, but anyone who has ever experienced grief or loss knows what came next. The fatigue. The loss of appetite. The tears for no reason. The isolation. How could they have rested, truly rested, and worshipped at a time such as that? How could they have participated in Sabbath rest and worship?

We see this played out in Frozen 2, when Anna loses both her sister and her friend. She sinks to the floor, barely able to speak. She sits alone in the dark, a metaphor for the isolation in your mind after loss. When she sings, it is with a whisper.

I’ve seen dark before, but not like this
This is cold, this is empty, this is numb
The life I knew is over, the lights are out
Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb
I follow you around, I always have
But you’ve gone to a place I cannot find
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down
But a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone
.

“You’ve gone to a place I cannot find … you are lost, hope is gone.” Words sun by Anna in the song Do the Next Right Thing. It’s a hint given throughout the film: when all seems lost, we do the next right thing. Yet, Jesus gives the same instructions. He tells them to break bread and to do it in remembrance of him; to drink wine, remembering his blood poured out for all; to worship their God, without pretense, and with their whole hearts. Despite their loss, despite the hopelessness they find themselves inhabiting, the women, we are told, do the next right thing. They entered the Sabbath and they rested in their grief.

Can there be a day beyond this night?
I don’t know anymore what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone
The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor
When it’s not you I’m rising for?

In the immediacy of losing Jesus, they must have wondered what happened next. Here was a man who’d taught them so much, proclaimed to BE the truth. The way. The life. But now he was gone. They had rooted their lives in his; where he went, they followed. Even until the end, even with the danger of being associated with this man, the women followed to the cross. And to the tomb.

In the same way, Anna’s life is rooted into that of her sister. She finds her truth and identity in being Elsa’s plucky but vulnerable younger sister. She’s not the queen, but by blood she is royalty. And when her sister is lost, Anna doesn’t know how to do the next right thing. Why? Because the one who guided her towards that thing has gone. I wonder if the women felt this despondency. How do we rest and worship when the one who guided us to rest and worship is gone?

But break it down to this next breath, this next step
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

They must have felt lost. Yet they had a deeper faith, rooted into a tradition of worship and rest found in keeping the Sabbath. They knew that Yahweh had delivered the people they belonged to out of Egypt and through the waters into new life. They had to believe that if they did the next right thing, if they stepped into the Sabbath to worship and rest, that Yahweh would deliver them out of this grief, through their tears and into new life. The life he had promised them. The life where they would no longer hunger or thirst.

Of course, this is the turning point in the song, where Anna’s voice strengthens and she starts to make a move. She becomes resolute in what she has to do next. If this were a musical about Jesus’ death and resurrection, one of the women would sing this. At this moment, though, they’d have been mourning and resting in the darkness of their own home for 2 nights and a day. They’d be getting ready to make a move out of Sabbath and into the next right thing: returning to the tomb to continue mourning.

And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing.

That first Holy Saturday wasn’t just about darkness and isolation, grief and loss. It was also about Sabbath: rest and worship. Worship that no doubt included loud cries and wailing. Rest that no doubt included both silence and noise. Today, as sit in our own social isolation, I wonder if we have lessons to learn about how we rest and worship this Easter.

It was that line which made me first thing of the crucifixion story: “What comes then? When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again.” I instantly imagined Mary and the other women yearning for yesterday, mourning not just the loss of their beloved friend, but also the loss of life as they knew it. Life as they’d hoped it would be. Yet, they made a choice: to rest into their grief and loss. They made a choice: to wait and return to the tomb after a day of Sabbath. They made a choice, to hear God’s voice. To do the next right thing.

Worship

What does worship mean to you?

When I was confirmed in the Church of England, back in 2001, aged 13, the then Bishop of Carlisle Graham Dow prayed over me. He prayed over each of us, as he laid hands on us, and later wrote the words that had come to mind in a book for each newly confirmed person. I remember that everyone else got a written out piece of scripture, or a couple of sentences, but I received just 1 word.

Worship.

But what did that mean? What does it mean for me and my life?

When we look at the dictionary, worship is an act of reverence and devotion towards a deity. It’s interesting then, isn’t it, that we (members of society) worship football players, reality television stars, pop stars and other celebrities. We elevate ordinary people, who are skilled in some cases yet seemingly unskilled for the most part, to the status of god, and for what purpose? Why do we worship other humans? In their frailty and fault, surely humans are the least deserving of our adoration? Recent studies talk about the damaging effects of our celebrity culture, especially the filtered lives portrayed on social media. So why do we do it to ourselves?

We can appreciate the joy a well-acted film brings to our lives, or the range of emotions we can feel as we cheer for our favoured football team to win. But do we really need to worship them? Have they really done anything for us in our life that is worthy of Godly worship? Are they truly worthy of elevation?

God, on the other hand, has done everything for me. Recently we celebrated Easter and that moment of resurrection, that eternal moment of Jesus’ victory over sin and death, that wonderful, life giving, earth shattering moment. It makes sense to me, then, that I revere God, and I am devoted to him. My whole life is devoted to him and so, therefore, my whole life should be worship.

Sometimes I’m a good worshiper. Sometimes I’m terrible. A lot of the time it’s because I place things in the place of God, and inadvertently worship them. Chasing a higher mark in an essay; staying up to watch a film instead of reading my bible; thinking I’m responsible for any success. I guess we all do it, but it’s about recognising it and trying again every day. Until our whole lives are offered up as worship to God.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12: 1-2)

 

More Than A Mother

Since her birth I have taken time to ponder over the fact that I am more than this little one’s mother.

  
You see, I love her so very much, just like most mothers (and fathers) love their own children. But there is more to my identity. I wonder, what is my identity? Who am I?

It is something I long struggled with, as I battled demons in the shape of anxiety, depression and paranoia. My identity then was not good enough. I struggled to believe that anyone could like me, all that I was, and so I changed it. Slowly though, God brought me back to him. I met some wonderful people at my mum’s church who welcomed me in. And because I was living with my parents, who I knew loved me regardless, I began to let myself shine through once more.

It was only when I moved to Lancaster, though, that I really learned to love myself. I was living with beautiful girls, really and truly, the most beautiful girls you could meet. They were kind, honest, funny, hard-working, prayerful and so much more. I got stuck in at our local church, throwing myself into living a life of serving others in our community. I eagerly took notes during sermons, and my own bible study came to life. 

This weekend I travelled to York for a friend’s hen party. What a night! Aside from my keycard not working at midnight, and having to change rooms, leaving all of my belongings locked in the original room, it was a fabulous do. There was food, cocktails, bubbles, laughter, dancing and even a hot chicken slice. We had brunch the following day, and again much laughter and chatter. It felt wonderful to get dressed up in something that didn’t have a main function of being comfortable and accessible for breast feeding. It felt wonderful to talk about things like the EU referendum and inequality with someone other than my husband. It felt wonderful to let my hair down and be responsible only for myself and no one else. It felt wonderful to be me!

Then, on Sunday, we enjoyed time as a family at a friend’s BBQ, before I went to the evening service at our church. I was reminded once more of God’s goodness to us, and how he made each one of us special and unique. Before my daughter was born, the 7pm service was the one my husband and I went to; the service where I sang in the worship team; and the service which most of our immediate network attend. Obviously things have changed a lot, as we can no longer both go to this service, and we have to make more of an effort to catch up with friends at other points in the week. One of the things I have missed most is worshipping in the worship team at this evening service. I love to sing in worship to God, and love being in fellowship with the others in the team. Last night I got to join in, and I felt like myself again. I felt reenergised.

So, whilst I feel awful that my darling little one refused the bottle whilst I was away, I feel normal. I feel like me. Today has been easier – it’s far too hot, and she is teething – because I have had some time doing things I enjoy. It is surely an important lesson of the first time mum: do something for you, even if it’s small. It will make all the difference to your sanity and temperament.

You are more than a mother. And that’s ok.

I Am Not Alone

Soul Food for Mums bible study action was to write a psalm. So here it is. My very own psalm. Maybe you’d like to write one too!

Alone in the dark,

Broken and weeping.

Where are you?

 

Show me yourself.

Show me your beauty.

Bring me your comfort.

 

Your fierce whisper

Says I am here.

Your crushing presence

Draws me near.

And my soul cries out…

 

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

You will stand beside me.

You will never leave me.

I am not alone.

You are here with me.

And even when I’m broken,

You will carry me.
I am not alone.

When Does an Ordinary Act Become a Holy One?

Whilst at church this morning, my daughter needed to feed. We are still exclusively breastfeeding at this time, and so out came the boobs. Discreetly, obviously! But then, our vicar announced it was time to sing our next hymn. When it comes to my faith, music has always been the thing that speaks clearly to me; the thing which helps me to connect with God and plug into his Spirit. When I have a cold, or a sore throat, I feel spiritually pained, as I love to use my voice to praise God, and really hate being unable to do that.

So, this morning I remained seated whilst everyone else sang this song:  

It occurred to me, whilst I was sitting there and nursing my wonderful daughter, that what I was doing was very ordinary to me and the world… And yet extraordinary to God. 

‘Ordinary things have an extraordinary value in the eyes of God, especially when done as acts of love, love of God and love of the family. But their special value comes from the fact that God became man, lived a family life in Nazareth with Mary and Joseph, and thereby sanctified the the ordinary and gave it meaning.’ (Basil Hume OSB, Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, To Be a Pilgrim: A Spiritual Notebook)

There we have it then. Breathe on me, breath of God, till I am wholly thine, until this earthly part of me glows with thy fire divine. What have I always seen as a holy act of worship? Singing! I had felt I’d be missing out on a holy act of worship if feeding during a hymn or song, but that just isn’t true. As I thought about these words, whilst feeding my little one, I felt as connected to God as I ever have. All of these little earthly acts, they are important, when they’re done with love.

What small and ordinary acts do you carry out each day? How can you do them with such abundant love that they become extraordinary, Holy acts?