Limitless love

It’s often hard to accept that Love is the centre and motivating force of the universe. But this is the amazing assertion of the collection of writings that we have come to know as the Bible.

And the presence of love assumes that relationship is also at the heart of things. It seems, though, that humans – while desiring meaningful loving relationships – are at the same time spectacularly careless about them.

One of Jesus’s close followers wrote that “God is love”. He wrote that because he felt he had glimpsed in Jesus the embodiment of God – on Earth, vulnerable, and ready to bear the pain of the world. It was for him unfathomable, but the meaning of it inescapable.

Cosmic creator of a universe that scientists struggle to describe, and man executed on a cross. No-one ever attempted to bring such extremes together into one idea: that God loves the world so much that he could empty himself of God-ness to connect with us.

You can receive limitless love, it’s God’s unconditional gift for one and all. Allow this love to empower your own love. Allow this love to break down the limits to love that we have set for ourselves and for others – and for all the world.

Jesus wants us to follow in his footsteps of self-emptying love, and promises us the power of God to make it possible.

So keep loving, but remember you are not on your own!

From desolation to empowerment

Have you ever felt that everything you’d hoped for has been lost, stolen or destroyed? When everything seems hopeless it’s very hard to turn to thinking positively unless there’s some change – encouragement from a friend, an improvement in the circumstances, or a new resource to deal with the situation.

Last Sunday (31 May) was Pentecost Sunday. It used to be marked by the festival of Whitsun, and it had a bank holiday, now renamed Spring Bank Holiday. It’s a very important festival, because it marks a moment in the history of the world when some uneducated people in an unfashionable corner of the Roman Empire were empowered to tell a new story, a story which changed things for ever.

But this was unexpected – even by them – because they had been disciples of Jesus who not long before had been arrested and executed. Leaderless and with hopes destroyed, they had no alternative but to drift back to their old lives. However, according to their writings a series of events, culminating in an experience of God’s power, changed these people from failed revolutionaries into messengers of a new way of understanding of what it means to be human, and what a society of humans should look like. And this was very different to how people generally thought about things in the first century Roman Empire.

They announced that God was forming a new society, one in which love, kindness and mutual respect would be foundational. And against all the assumptions of their age, these disciples of Jesus asserted that everyone was loved by God, whether slave or free, of whatever race , and whether male or female. Even more outrageously, they claimed that Jesus’s death and resurrection were both evidence of God’s intense love for humans, and the key to his victory over evil and death.

However, they didn’t dodge the issue of human iniquity and responsibility and exhorted everyone to change their selfish, greedy, violent agendas and invite God to be the centre of their lives. Lastly, they didn’t leave people with the idea that such radical change could be made by personal effort or positive thinking. They asserted that God was on people’s side and that his power was available to bring personal and societal transformation.

That was and is the core message of Pentecost. Jesus, the embodied ‘Word’ of God, told his friends that he would have to go away, but that they would not be left alone because he would send them his Spirit, which would come in power. How do you feel this might apply to you as you face the difficulties and disappointments of this time? Spend a little time considering the possibility that Jesus is for you, that he has a ‘calling’ for you, and that he’s ready to pour out his Spirit on you.

Recover your life

In a very different time and context to ours, Jesus said this: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

But the underlying truth is the same: when ordinary people find the pressures of life heavy and life-draining, Jesus points to an alternative and life-giving source. And that is himself. It was a truly amazing claim then, ridiculed by the ruling classes, but good news for all the rest.

And it’s Good News too for everyone now — including those who struggle to make sense of it. Jesus was revealing the truth that human power and control (including religious power and control) dehumanise the people it is supposed to help, and those who wield it. His alternative was to propose a change in the human agenda: to humbly seek the way Jesus followed — of love and service. And it came with his promise that his Spirit would be with and in anyone who tried this, even if they did so tentatively or falteringly.

People down the ages have found this simple challenge from Jesus a gateway to a new lightness of being. One that is fed by a new relationship with the creator and sustainer of all things. You can talk to Jesus about this anytime or place. You can also read more about what he said here.

In our Armchair Retreats, we attempt to be mindful about where our own agendas lie, and also about how the agendas of the world can worry and oppress us. In this mindful space, we give room to Jesus and his call to “recover our lives”. Like to know more? Our Armchair Retreats currently happen online via Zoom. More info here.

Armchair Retreat: becoming mindful of our bodies

In our Western industrialised culture, the mind is highly valued, because the mind – rather than the body – is what serves it best. Endless tech innovation drives the economy, and science can win wars. As a result, our public education system values only academic subjects, valuing the brain while ignoring the body.  

Sir Ken Robinson, in the most-watched TED talk ever, quips that university professors merely “…look upon their body as a form of transport for their heads – it’s a way of getting their heads to meetings”.

At the same time, there’s another side to Western culture, and that’s the cult of the perfect body, perfect looks, and the desire to look forever young. Like all cults it ignores or tries to suppress awkward realities – such as the reality of complex human feelings, sickness or death.

But these two obsessions, developed separately, scarcely consider that mind and body may actually be intricate, co-dependent parts of the same person. The result is that we have minds that are out of contact with our bodies, and vice-versa.

We are not alone in this, as many cultures have elevated the mind over the body and, of course, the spiritual over the material. But not all: the ancient Hebrew culture has a very robust appreciation of a created, physical/spiritual universe that is interconnected and was created “good” — including the bodies! It’s our view that this tradition is spectacularly (and for some scandalously) developed by the claim that God “became flesh”, as Jesus, as described in the Gospel of John.

The implication of all this is that we cannot, and must not, separate our bodies from our minds, or our spirits, or we will lose a grip on what it means to be truly human.      

Mindfulness – despite its name(!) – is a way to help explore and address what has been torn apart. Doctors will acknowledge that the most medicine can do is to allow the inherent regenerative properties of the body to work unimpeded. And as we look mindfully to become aware of ourselves, we can be confident that we have the inherent love and power of the creating and saving God to help heal the break of body and mind – and spirit.

Armchair Retreat illustration

If you’d like to know more about our Armchair Retreats, and explore a mindful approach to being who God made us to be, do get in contact. Currently we’re making this happen online with the Zoom app, every Wednesday at 20:00.