Clenched Fists to Open Hands

Hello – I have been musing about the church festival celebrated today which I love. Today is the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, often know as Candlemas and it ends the Christmas and Epiphany season, and you can read all about it in Luke 2 22-40.

One reason why I love this festival, is that it’s a wonderful excuse again to go over the top with candles, to fill the church with candle light as we celebrate the one who is the light of the nations. It is good and proper to go over the top!

The encounter of the holy family with Simeon and Anna is deeply moving and the long wait for them to see the Messiah is at last fulfilled. Simeon, in the Orthodox Church, is referred to as St Symeon the God-Receiver, as the Greek text indicates that he receives Christ into his arms. It is a beautiful and vulnerable encounter. Simeon in the fraility of his old age receives in his arms the vulnerable, totally dependent Christ child. Simeon’s arms are open to receive Jesus, there is a willingness to receive, to hold close, the “consolation of Israel.”

When thinking about Simeon’s encounter as the God-Receiver it led me to consider my prayers and my willingness to be open to Jesus, to hold me and receive him. I’m not sure I’m that good at it. Henri Nouwen in his book “with open hands”, says that prayer is no easy matter, and that the first challenge we face is to open our hands which are often clenched (metaphorically and literally). It is difficult, if not impossible, to receive when our fists are clenched. So why do we have clenched hands? Well for all sort of reasons, we could be holding tightly to jealousies, resentments, anger, our ambitions, failures, perhaps our need to be in control. Whatever we are holding tightly, seem indispensable and they begin to shape our lives.

When we dare to open our hands we are making ourselves vulnerable, as we begin that long journey of trust that all Jesus has for us is unconditional love, for as he gives himself in this love it is vulnerable, generous, self-giving and transformative.

I pray that you and I might be like Simeon, a God Receiver, hands and arms open to receive all that God has for us – I think we will be joyfully surprised! And as we are to able receive we will begin to shine his love to those around us, yes perhaps like a flickering candle, vulnerable and inviting.

candle lit in the hands

Called to bless, called to give life

This week Phil Stone gives us a challenge to bless, to say good things..

We have just finished our Palm Sunday service here in the Chapel at Scargill. Many a sermon has been given on this significant day in Jesus’ life. What struck me afresh is the adulation that welcomed Jesus from the crowd as he entered Jerusalem, and then in a few days time the same crowd will be shouting insults and wanting him dead. The crowd move from blessing to cursing with unnerving ease. Henri Nouwen says that to bless is to simply says good things about another. How crucial this is as we live in a world that gives out curses so liberally. If we bless one another our understanding of who we are in God grows and deepens. Curses destroy, blessings give life.

How important it is to bless, never more so than in Community which is full of relational challenges! There is nothing like living and working together to realise the need to bless when at times there is a deep desire to curse. Our community promises speak about building community for which we will need to be ‘consistently, transparently, constructively, unsentimentally loving’. People making their promises say, “We can learn and improve in our efforts to strengthen the bonds of love in this community. Sometimes we will get very cross with people and find it difficult to love them. Sometimes they will feel the same about us. We will not say anything about others that we would not say to them directly if love and wisdom required it. With God’s help, and with encouragement and guidance from the brothers and sisters who share this pathway, we promise to try our very best to follow the example of Jesus.”

As we begin to understand that we are called ‘beloved’, what a joy it is to enable others to find that truth for themselves. Henri Nouwen goes on to say that there are many ways that we can bless people:

“Therefore we have to be reminded of our belovedness and remind others of theirs. Whether the blessing is given in words or with gestures, in a solemn or an informal way, our lives need to be blessed lives.”

So may Jesus Christ richly bless you as you journey with him this Holy Week.