Tag Archives: Resurrection

Resurrecting me

Like so many of Jon Foreman’s songs, Resurrect Me has played a huge part in my story.
I stayed up till 3:30am last night watching (amongst other things in the beautiful, honest, hope-filled evening that was TWLOHA’s Heavy and Light concert) Jon singing this song. In a whole evening dedicated to being real, opening up about when life hurts, and affirming that hope is real, it struck me again that this song was what first inspired me to seek help for my own pain about a year ago.
I’d been back and forth between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ for some time, and keeping an eye on myself, aware I needed to take my mental health seriously but not sure at what point to reach out.
And then one day last spring I found myself listening to this song. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times, but that day one line jumped out at me: ‘I tried to drown the pain with a friend of mine, it didn’t seem to help, ah she’s got a pretty face with her wedding lace but I’m still waking up with myself
Suddenly it was obvious; if I’m not ok now, without a job, what makes me think I will be ok when I get one? Isn’t the problem right here, in me? A line in a book I was reading that same week confirmed it: Wherever we go, ‘We take ourselves with us’. I had to find a way to be ok with that!
Here is the truth. I was ‘ok’, but I was carrying pain that previous jobs had not fixed. Neither had my marriage, my relocation or my home. Maybe it was ok for that ‘ok’ to not be enough, and to seek help.
I can testify that it was absolutely worth it! There is help and support out there, none of us are alone in our pain, and as TWLOHA will tell you, hope is real, help is real and recovery is possible. I’m now on that road; I hope that I am learning to ‘take myself with me’ now, to be able to keep my eyes on the honest reality of the state of my soul and listen to both my ‘light’ and my ‘heavy’.
I don’t know where you are at. But if you find yourself waiting for something to complete you, I’d love to encourage you to find help to discover that you can be whole already, without that thing yet in place. If you’re not ok with yourself now, you will not be ok when that job, relationship, family, move, marriage, money, or home arrives. That pain is there, in you. And that’s ok. And you can be helped to find yourself whole, now.
Resurrection is real.

You can watch the whole of Heavy and Light here, I recommend the whole thing, a really affirming and honest event.

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10 Jon Foreman songs that shape my world

Last year I picked out a selection of Switchfoot songs that together map out how significant this band has been to me over the years in a whole range of ways.

But I tend to call myself a Jon Foreman fan, since my fandom extends beyond what he does with this one, amazing band, and into his solo work, his second band, his writing, art, and life example. He and his music fire my own creativity, give me the fight I need inside to keep pushing for a better world, have been one of the main influences on my faith journey (along with an eclectic mix of others!), and are developing me as a person.

Since I wrote about Switchfoot, he has released a second set of solo EPs, collectively titled The Wonderlands; 25(!) songs for 24 hours of the day, exploring the contrasts of light and dark in life and time. When he introduced the concept, speaking of creating a world, a planet, composed entirely out of these songs, it made sense to me; his music has built my inner world, been a place of adventure and discovery, shaped the person I am, and is, musically at the very least, where I find home. I am a Wonderlands native!

Now I’ve had time to live with the new songs and let them work on me I want to celebrate them by sharing a selection of his solo work here. I could pick pretty much any song of Jon’s and tell you stories of how it’s shaped me, but here’s a glimpse; one song per solo EP, plus two bonuses, taken from his compilation Limbs And Branches and from his second band Fiction Family*. You can listen to each track as you read; click on the title and it will open in a new tab:

1. The Cure For Pain (Fall)

We can’t shut ourselves off from pain: Prayer, and action, and change, and growth, and faith, all come through making ourselves vulnerable to it, wrestling through it. There’s no greater motivator or more authentic way to follow Jesus. I know I’ve come to this song so many times aching over the state of my life or the pain of the world, and it has led me through, allowed me both to hurt, and to admit that I do sometimes want to run, to shut the pain out, but to help me see through to recognise that Christ is found in the pain itself, and I need sometimes to walk the painful way to follow Him. To open myself up to feel the groan of creation, take it to heart, bring it to God and let God in turn move me to action.

2. Behind Your Eyes (Winter)

This sweet song is what’s driving this project. As I let this song work on me it became a real challenge to me: Breaking down the barriers that keep me from others, the things I hide, that stop people seeing who I really am inside, and becoming vulnerable, is deeply scary. But it’s what builds intimacy, and is what inspires others to become more fully themselves too. I admire open, vulnerable people who are honest about their struggles and who share the depths of their souls, and I want to become like that. I don’t want to shut people out with a false front on my life. I want to let you in.

3. Baptize My Mind (Spring)

This has to be a contender for one of the most musically lovely things he’s ever recorded 🙂 But it runs deep. I find his words, paraphrasing Jesus, playing over and over in my mind: ‘for these seeds to give birth to life, first they must die…’ It’s true in Jesus’ context, that His death has brought multitudes to life, but it’s true beyond that. So much is planted in us, the potential to transform the world and bring in God’s kingdom of restored relationships. But how much still has to die in us to allow that to happen? It’s certainly true in my own life; I’m so addicted to normality, comfort and convenience that most of the time, I feel I remain a seed. The times I let that die, die to my selfishness, are the times I find real life springing up in and around me.

4. Resurrect Me (Summer)

There’s a lot going on in this song, and I’ve found it’s taken on different meanings for me at different times over the years, but just recently it’s been resonating with me in a new way – ‘… but I’m still waking up with myself…’ A change of circumstances alone will not fix me, because I take myself with me. If the fundamental problem is not my circumstances but myself, no new job is going to fix that. Getting married didn’t fix me, neither did any of my previous jobs, moving to a new town, getting a house or anything else, so the answer will be no different this time round. I need a deeper heart change of the kind only God can bring about. The world’s resurrection begins within us.

5. Over The River (Limbs and Branches)

This is an eerie song; but at the same time it is overflowing with hope. Hope. Strong, firm hope, though it’s found only in Jesus and, so far, unseen. I attended a difficult funeral a couple of years ago, that raised so many questions and doubts for me. But I found this song stuck in my head the whole day, and the more I let the words sink in, the more I realised that all is uncertain beyond this life, even in this life, except one thing, my hope in Jesus. I don’t know what exactly happens after death, or what will happen to anyone else, but I do know that for me there is now, and always will be, Jesus. The only thing I can take with me, the only place I can hope, but the strongest hope possible; the very source of all our longings for life, and love, and a sense of home and belonging. I’ve never glimpsed it as clearly as I did that day.

6. Terminal (Sunlight)

I’ve heard so often that when someone is told they only have a short time left to live that it sharpens their focus and determination to make the most of the time they have left, to think about what they want to achieve before they die. This song is that kind of perspective shift for me– after all, I too am mortal; why should I wait till my final diagnosis to recognise this, wake up and think about how to make the most of this short time I’m given? To say we’re terminal is true from the day we’re born whether we have days or decades left. Time is counting down as our bodies slowly age, even whilst we remain healthy. One day all of us must die, and what matters is whether or not we learn to live before that day comes, or just let it slip by. I want to learn to live well whilst I have time! I find this incredibly energising when I let it sink in; it makes me want to make the most of every moment and give more of myself to the things that really matter. The other aspect of the song that’s made a difference to my outlook is its emphasis on being patient with others, recognising that we’re all the same, and all so finite. Why shouldn’t I try and help others live well and enjoy each precious moment they’re given too?

7. My Coffin / Fake Your Own Death (Shadows)

I have to group these two together as they are two halves of the same thought process for me, considering the interplay between fear, and the process of death and resurrection, both in the here-and-now and ultimately. Can I let go of myself, let what I have been die for bigger things? Am I afraid? What if I wasn’t – what would I do then? Can I let the fear die, so I can step out in faith more and more into the life maybe I was made for? Am I trying too hard to be a ‘somebody’, and missing the goal as a result? I’m finding it’s the small, daily deaths to self I am afraid of, much more so than actually giving my life for something. But continually having these songs ask me the uncomfortable questions is already moving me out of my comfort zone and raising my ambition for following Christ more self-sacrificially.

8. Inner Peace (Darkness)

I seek peace; shalom peace, relationships restored between God, and us, and the earth, and ourselves. I ache for it. But I am so mired in the mess of my soul and this world it’s hard to even begin to set the relationship right within myself, let alone work for that greater Peace. This is a song that expresses that ache, that I come back to again and again to vent the hurt, but that as with so many of Jon’s other songs leads me through to a bigger perspective: I am never going to be able to find ‘inner peace’ in my broken self; I need to be remade by the One who made me. And as with Resurrect Me, I can’t blame my insecurities on external circumstances; I will only find myself secure in my God. Only He can release that shalom peace in and through us. So; I get on with working towards what I can change, and seek to depend more and more on God for wholeness.

9. Mercy’s War (Dawn)

This song was released the day before I celebrated being alive for half my life, the sixteenth anniversary of my very first encounter with the grace of God. And the juxtaposition of these powerful words with those intense memories levelled me to the floor, left me completely undone, and put me back together again a little better than before. In so many ways this really is my story; I felt like I was at the end, felt like giving up on life, I went looking for ways out… and You showed me the Way in. Every move I’ve made against God has been met with a counter move of undeserved kindness that disarms my rebelliousness, allowing me to do my worst to Him and His ‘revenge’ is simply to bleed forgiveness. Instead of punishing me, responding with unimaginable, proactive love. Then, when I accept it and expect an easy life, He reminds me we have a battle to fight to put this world right. And every time I get it wrong, or fall away, there is that same great Love seeking me out to pull me back again. Amazing grace.

10. God Badge (Fiction Family Reunion)

There’s a story I hope to tell on this blog some day when I’ve processed it through a little more (and figured out how to tell it concisely!) involving my discovery of this song shortly after taking part in a protest that turned into an insult-flinging match, and reading about how Jon himself handled a crowd protesting one of Switchfoot’s shows. This isn’t the time for the full story. But the combination of events was a real learning experience for me as an activist. ‘There is no us or them, there’s only folks that you do or you don’t understand…’ The words, and Jon’s example, hit home, and since then I’ve been determined to work hard to make sure I begin with the common ground and work for dialogue and understanding, even when protesting something. It’s too easy to jump in with the blame, and start hurling insults, and before long both sides have shouted each other into pigeon holes that neither fit. I want to do something different, own the blame myself, but challenge both parties to work to bring change. I don’t think I’ve arrived there yet, but this is wisdom to build on.

If you like the music and want to explore some more (it’s worth it!), you can buy it and find out more here – he’s definitely an artist worth supporting! 🙂


*I imagine I may come to regret this: On the whole, though I love their music as much as anything else Jon has done, due to their different approach to lyrics, more often telling stories than soul-baring, there are many fewer Fiction Family songs that have a real, strong resonance for me personally, so I don’t, yet, see myself writing them a similar article, hence sneaking this song in here. That said… there are still a lot of important songs, and I certainly wouldn’t put it past them to make more! 🙂

2015 – An intense year

DSCN73852015 was a crazy year for me; I’ve never known a year so packed or so intense in my life! There’s been some bad-intense moments, but overwhelmingly more good-intense experiences. I’m left feeling pretty humbled by it all.

Life in general

It began particularly intense for my husband; 3 major deadlines in the first 3 weeks of the year (requiring a lot of all-nighters to finish it all), and culminating in a two week trip away from home to the USA for a conference and visit to his relatives, and a first experience of properly cold temperatures and American snow. And so the year continued from there!

We’ve been away a lot; my work has taken me away from home more than ever before, with 10 trips to London alone for meetings and climate rallies, plus visits to Bradford and Sheffield to lead workshops, a training weekend in Derbyshire, and several festivals. We went to three weddings, and our band managed to meet up eight times for performances and recording sessions, we attended a very geeky reunion weekend for our old university, and visited family in different parts of the country a few times too, during which we were introduced to three new ‘fur baby’ relatives.

And then there were the two holidays of a lifetime; the second, a trip to the incredibly beautiful Isles of Scilly with my family, and the first, following Switchfoot’s European tour and taking time during our travels to visit friends and family in London, Edinburgh, and Freiburg as well as some quality time exploring European cities together. Both adventures have left us with the most precious memories of happy times together. And we’ve seen some incredible wildlife too; cranes, storks, black woodpeckers, sunfish, dolphins, starfish, sea urchins, sea anemones, seals… amazing.

We’ve had a lot of visitors when we have been home; now we live in a nice part of the country a lot more of our friends and family have been keen to visit, and we’ve been busy giving tours of the local sights. There have been a fair few daytrips just as a household too, including some long cycle rides, hikes on the moors, a fossil hunting expedition (in which M actually found a dinosaur bone), a pirate festival, and trips to the beach. I’ve done a lot more sea swimming than usual; it usually takes a lot to get me in the sea but one day in the autumn the sea was so lovely I spent over an hour swimming!

The little time we have had at home, to ourselves, we’ve spent trying to redecorate our whole house, which has obviously not got all that far given how little time we’ve been able to give to the DIY project! But we’ve learnt to put up wallpaper, and crammed in time for a little housewarming party too once we got the worst of the DIY out the way.

So that’s what my life was like on the whole last year; this is how things panned out with my faith, politics, poetry and fandom:

Faith

Two recurring themes of this year in my relationship with God have been grace, and death as part of the resurrection process. This was a really significant year for me as it was the year I could finally celebrate having been ‘alive for half my life’. I’d been thinking about it a lot as the anniversary approached, and these lessons God has been teaching me seemed really fitting; a time to refocus on all I have been given, both in having my life saved in the first place, half my life ago, and all that I have been given since, and then to question what happens next in this process of being reborn, recreated and resurrected.

Grace has impacted me in so many ways in the past year, and I’ve encountered it from so many people as well as supremely from Godself. I’ve posted here already about the profound grace experience I encountered through my meetings with Jon Foreman whilst following Switchfoot on tour last spring, and also about a very different grace experience, which came about as the result of what felt, to me at least, a real epic fail, but which opened me up to a fresh sense of God’s love for me and my absolute dependence on that Love for strength, goodness and second chances. But I’ve also experienced a huge amount of grace from others through my failures, struggles with health and work, and my political activity; my husband has met all of this with forgiveness, love, patience and humour, and my friends, family and colleagues have been so amazingly supportive, offering prayer, sympathy and practical support over and over again, regardless of whether or not they’ve agreed with me. I feel deeply humbled by it all.

The intimate connection between death and resurrection has been on my mind a lot over the year. It began, logically enough, at Easter, as I remembered again how in Christ death itself died to bring life to us all through the resurrection. But I am a Jon Foreman fan; this past year he has seeded my thought life with so many new songs exploring life, death and resurrection, as well as the older songs that had accompanied my musings over Easter. As I spent the year looking back to the day one version of myself died and a new me came alive, and forward to the future, a day-to-day process of learning to die little by little to myself and live more fully the life I was made for to play my part in bringing in the Kingdom of God, it has been extremely powerful to share the journey with these songs. There have been some beautiful contemplative moments, experiencing God close by in still moments in festivals and out in nature. And I’ve seen more answers to prayers, big and small, than I can possibly count, everything from miraculous healings of people we’ve prayed for at church to good weather when I’ve needed it for travels and work. God is good.

Politics

Politically, this past year has been a battle, and it has taken me beyond what I’ve been able to handle – which in itself has meant depending more and more on grace, and sacrificing a little more of myself to allow more life in, but it has also stretched me to breaking point. I spend a lot of time campaigning for social justice and environmental protection, both with two of my ‘jobs’, and in my personal life, but this year has been very tough, with the election, the Paris climate summit, and the fall-out of both to deal with. It has felt like we’ve had to push extremely hard just to hold our ground, and at times it’s felt like things are heading in a backwards direction instead as poverty, inequality and xenophobia have risen, and climate change and nature protection measures have been in most cases cut, just when we need to be becoming more internationally cooperative, working more actively for peace, and pushing hard for real cuts to greenhouse gas emissions and a halt to species losses. So we’ve been working hard. And unfortunately I’ve felt extremely isolated in it all, working alone from home most of the time, and not having a good network of activist friends living nearby to rely on for help and solidarity.

For the positives – I’ve had a few different chances to speak and lead workshops this past year, including taking part in my first panel event on faith and the environment, I went on my first ever pride march, had wonderful encouraging visits to other activist groups, particularly with SPEAK, which reminded me I’m not alone and that good things are happening, and went to some really inspiring events, including Friends of the Earth’s Basecamp training weekend/ minifestival. And since it has been so hard to move things in conventional ways, I’ve turned to non-violent direct action; firstly supporting a fairly low-key prayer rally and banner drop in the Church of England synod meeting calling on the Church to disinvest from fossil fuels for the sake of those we should be showing love towards, and secondly, whitewashing and ‘rebranding’ the Department for Energy and Climate Change to expose the deadly policy changes taking place behind all the government’s talk on climate. And both went about as well as we could have hoped, and have received a lot of support. I just hope they lead to meaningful change…

Poetry

I haven’t written a lot of poetry this past year; however, I have managed to write, and actually finish, four songs, which is pretty amazing for me. It was mainly a year for the music; my band worked hard to release a new Christmas album at the end of the year, so we had a lot of band meetups and recording sessions to get it done. We also performed at two small festivals and two weddings, which was nice. In the process I have begun to learn to sing out loud, performing with a microphone, singing a duet with M, and finally recording a lead vocal! And improbably, despite our disorganisation, we did get the album out on time, and it’s quite fun!

Fandom

Wow this really has been a year of change in my life as a music fan. Although I’d largely given in to the inevitability of becoming a megafan years back, even up to the end of 2014 I was still fighting myself over it to some extent, trying to convince myself that it wasn’t an integral part of me. After spending some time fasting from all things Jon Foreman at the end of the year, it became clear to me that trying to detach myself too far from my fandom was actually unhealthy, and that I was fighting against my own self. I decided that whilst an occasional short ‘fast’ could be a good thing to stop me becoming too obsessed or unhealthily dependent, on the whole it was far better for me to give in to it completely, stop fighting myself and just become all that it can make me. And it has been an incredible ride!

As well as finding out just how much I can be changed for the better through it, I’ve also been learning what it is to really be a fan; that an artist-fan relationship is not the one-way, purely commercial process that I had previously thought it to be, but that it truly is a two-way relationship, that artists need our support in so many ways, including hearing from us personally.

So. I joined a couple of online fan forums to meet fellow fans. I took the chance to follow Switchfoot on tour around Europe back in the spring. I got tickets for five shows, plus all the buses, trains and hostels that involved to make it all possible. And I made some fan art to take along to show the band, a t-shirt and four banners, plus a couple of letters. And it worked out so incredibly, beautifully well! I made some great new friends, had some wonderful times with M and friends, and finally felt I’d made the connection with Jon and the rest of the band that I’d missed making all these years. I’m still even now getting the happiest flashbacks to it all that make my heart skip a beat or two, it’s hard to get my head around. It even spilled over a little to my relationships with other artists; if I’d been a bad fan to Switchfoot in the past I’d been a worse fan to band #2, Delirious. But last year I also finally got a message of appreciation through to the band’s Stu and Stew too, which helped heal some of those old regrets too.

And the intensity of the last year of fandom did not end when I returned home from that tour either; all last year Jon Foreman was releasing a series of EPs collectively called The Wonderlands (and ended the year by giving us a new Switchfoot song, New Year’s Day) – new music that has had, and continues to have, a lifechanging impact. For someone like me, this is more than ‘just music’; a major release like this becomes a significant life event, new songs become friends, lovers, mentors to me, guiding my walk with God and shaping who I am. I won’t go into details on individual songs here, I’ll leave that for a future post, but these songs truly make me who I am.

I was obviously a huge fan already, but by the end of the year my fan-love really was off the scale; he topped everything by celebrating the final release of The Wonderlands by performing 25 shows in 24 hours in a whole series of different weird and wonderful locations around San Diego, featuring each of the 25 songs from the project played at its appropriate hour, and all done to raise money for local disadvantaged kids. I couldn’t be there in person, but I was more than there in spirit; I stayed up the entire 24 hours, watching social media and periscope to catch as much of the event as I could and sending supportive messages and chatting to fellow fans watching from home too. Oh my heart! I don’t think I can exaggerate how beautiful the whole thing was! I’m not sure what I expected but Jon earnt my admiration hundreds of times over that day, not only keeping going but getting better as it went on, showing a lot of kindness to the fans and fellow musicians there, and having a lot of fun with it all too. There were some absolutely classic moments. It has been filmed, and trust me, if the film gets released you really do want to see it! For now, I collected a playlist of as many fan videos as I’ve been able to find.

Wow wow. Where does it go from here?!

 


 

2015 was also the year I:

  • Got a smart phone
  • Got locked out of facebook over changing my name
  • Discovered I like hazelnut lattes
  • Watched a solar eclipse
  • Tried again to join a samba band…
  • Found out how to chop down the tallest tree in the forest with a herring
  • Had my first eye test for 10 years, and found I have the beginnings of long sight
  • Became a music reviewer
  • Got my first henna tattoos
  • Discovered cheesy chart music
  • Enjoyed a stunningly beautiful autumn
  • Saw my work colleagues in a panto
  • Quit 2 jobs
  • Had a deep conversation with a random guy on a megabus journey
  • Gatecrashed a thanksgiving party

It’s been fun! 😀

Autumn

It’s October; my favourite month of the year. There’s so much I love about this time of year, and I felt it all so clearly today. This was my first day back at my work helping with the maintenance of a local nature reserve, so I had the pleasure of being outside in all autumn’s gloriousness all day. The air was crisp for the first time this year, that I’ve noticed anyway, as I cycled down the canal out to the reserve, and for the first time this season I began to wish I’d brought my gloves. The trees glowed with colour, the birds sang, and the air was sweetly scented by cut grass and fallen fruit. Without a cloud in the sky it became a beautiful sunny day, hot for the time of year, and certainly hot for the physical work we were doing, but in the sunshine and blue sky the hedgerows were radiant with colour. The leaves of most trees are still only just turning but here and there one would already be in red or gold, and the hedgerows were jewelled with blackberries, hawthorn berries, sloes, apples, rosehips and guelder rose berries. I think I spent almost as much time foraging wild fruit today as I did working! I cycled home past all manner of flowers having a last go at blooming before the winter, regardless of their ‘proper’ flowering time – buttercups, vetch, mallows, daisies, hogweed, and even the apple tree in my garden! Then a gentle pink sunset setting the trees in the park across my street glowing as a great flock of rooks and jackdaws assembled in the sky above before dropping down into the trees to roost. Such a beautiful day, and such a precious time of year.

I love the autumn. It perplexes summer people, who can never understand how I could like it so much when summer is over and cold, dark winter is on its way, but I love it. Everything is changing and it feels exciting. Autumn is exuberant; summer to me seems monotonous and seems to drag. It feels like everything is holding its breath as the birds stop singing, the grass browns and the flowers fade away, waiting for autumn to come and bring the rain and wake everything up again. Then suddenly it happens, and everything breathes again; the birds begin slowly to sing again, the flowers have one last burst, the grass begins to grow again, everything produces fruit, and flocks of migrating birds appear, preparing to leave or newly arrived.

I have so many more memories of autumn than of any other time of year. I think it’s because my senses seem so much more awake and I feel alive in a new way, so I pay more attention. But it’s always been a significant time of year. It begins for me in mid August as the first signs of change appear in nature and the year seems to wake up. I remember getting excited as a child when the leaves on the trees in the garden first began to turn during the summer holidays, and the chestnut tree dropped its first conker of the year. I looked out for it each year so I could go out to thank the tree for it! Then everywhere I went I’d be picking up tree seeds and planting them to see how many tree species I could get to grow. These days, I’m out foraging blackberries and looking for the first migrating birds, trying to record the date I last spot a swift and watching numbers of wading birds on the estuary increase week by week. September is a month of reunions. There was a lot I disliked about going back to school but I did look forward to seeing everyone again – especially since I went through a couple of hopeless crushes both at school and university! And the geek in me looked forward to the new year’s lessons. It’s also often been marked by reunions of SPEAK friends too, as we’ve held a lovely chilled out skill sharing weekend together. The sea is at its warmest in early autumn, and once the schools have restarted the beaches become so much quieter, so M and I always try and make time for beach days. October gained its place in my heart early on as it was the time of year for fairgrounds, family holidays and harvest parties. Growing up in Nottingham, the legendary Goose Fair was a highlight of my year (now I have moved away I still miss it!), one of the biggest funfairs in the country. It occupies a large city park with enormous numbers of silly rides, a famous vintage carousel, and lots of great fairground food, and we used to make an evening of it every year as a family, leaving with bags of doughnuts and brandy snaps and helium balloons as it grew dark and the lights shone brightly. We often went on holiday together at half term, usually finding a cosy cottage with an open fire somewhere wild. And then harvest parties, my family’s answer to Halloween, where me and my friends would get together to play silly fruit and vegetable related party games, eat a ploughman’s meal with homemade hedgehog-shaped bread, and usually end up playing very silly fantasy games and/or dancing to the funniest song we could find in my parents’ music collection! Fun times 🙂 And then November – bonfire night and fireworks, which these days involves me and my husband cooking far too much campfire food in the garden and seeing what fireworks displays we can spot for free from outside! But there was always a really spectacular display at my first university too, which me and my friends loved going to see. M and I have made it a tradition to go on a pilgrimage to find great displays of autumn leaves in November, when the colours reach their best. And thanks to our various transatlantic connections we’ve also imported the tradition of holding Thanksgiving celebrations – even if not on the day itself! Since it’s my favourite season I like to stretch my definition of it as far as possible to capture all its magic – beginning in mid August, as defined by nature, and ending at the winter solstice, as defined astronomically, therefore taking in the very last of the autumn colour, shortening days and sparkling fairy lights before I finally have to accept winter’s arrival.

Perhaps surprisingly autumn means a time for new starts for me. I’ve three times moved to a new town, and each time it’s been in the autumn. The last move two years ago was a major upheaval, leaving my job commuting to London to move for M’s new job, moving away from most of our friends but to a lovely part of the country and a much more relaxed way of life. M and I first met properly and became friends at this time of year – now somehow 10 years ago! It was November 4 years ago I first saw Switchfoot play live, which was a profoundly life-changing experience, not just because it forever confirmed me as a megafan but also because I came away buzzing with poetic inspiration for the first time. I may still be a very imperfect poet, but it has been so freeing to be able to put words around my feelings sometimes, something I was very rarely able to do before. And although October was already my favourite month, it now has a particularly special meaning to me as every October 24th is another anniversary of the day I first met Jesus, and He saved my life, and effectively brought me to life for the first time; it marks another year of life and grace.

Autumn speaks deeply to me too in many ways I haven’t yet really managed to put words around. It’s one of the most powerful demonstrations of grace that I know of, as nature over-provides, even for those of us who spend the rest of the year fighting her; the most abused and neglected patches of land produce flowers, autumn leaves and tonnes of blackberries. The nights draw in, reminding us that the day is finite and we should make the most of it before hurrying home to warmth. Beauty rises as everything falls; imperfection is never more beautiful than in autumn, as death and decay produce the wonderful colours, scents and exquisite leaf skeletons, bare trees, mushrooms, and eventually new life. All is revealed, and it is incredible.

I could go on. What have I missed? Wild fruit and autumn leaves, colours, scents, golden light, long shadows, the constantly changing feel of the air, the light and the weather, migrating birds, frosts, mists, sparkles, sunsets, fires, pumpkins, tree hugging, fireworks, planting seeds, harvesting food, cold birdwatching trips, kicking leaves, getting the winter woollies out for the first time, real outdoor work, storms… Can you feel it?

Romans 8

This was written a couple of years ago for a follow-up blog to a workshop on prayer I ran for the SPEAK Network*, but it’s something I’ve continued to think about to the point at which this passage has become probably my favourite part of the Bible. Some conversations I’ve had with friends recently about this incredible passage have made me feel I need to share my take on it again here; I hope these thoughts on prayer are as helpful to you as they have been to me:

I’ve been struggling a lot with prayer recently. I’ve been finding it easy to get overwhelmed by the mess everything’s in, and the need for prayer, and not known where to start. A friend asked me how my prayer life is, and I told him that, honestly, it hadn’t been in great shape – I’ve been unable to pray and have just been feeling overwhelmed by it all and going ‘oh God!’ silently in God’s vague direction. And he said to me, ‘But isn’t that a form of prayer?’. And it made me think – actually, maybe somewhere in this, I’ve been meeting God. Somewhere, God’s been feeling the pain with me. And then I re-discovered Romans 8.

Romans 8 is a huge chapter full of all sorts of gold and big ideas, and I recommend giving it a good read through, but what jumped out at me on this occasion was that here is the reason that my ‘oh God!’s are a form of prayer, and an important one too. Here is a description of a process that begins in God’s intimate presence, moves us through a painful identification with the brokenness of the world, and then out into becoming part of the solution and salvation of it all.

It all starts when we open ourselves up to God, and becoming close to God. The more we do, the more the Holy Spirit is able to work in us as we become more open to becoming more like Jesus. We develop a closeness with Jesus as we spend time with Him, and we see just how inspiring He is, and He begins to work transformation in us. The Holy Spirit in us begins to help us share His experiences, and we develop a very real sense of how close God is to us.

The trouble is, opening ourselves up to seeing the world and ourselves through Christ’s eyes, and sharing His experiences leaves us open not only to the love and closeness of God, but also opens our eyes and hearts to the brokenness of all we are and are surrounded by. In Jesus we see our own potential and that of the world; but we also see things clearly as they are in their messed up state, and it is heart-breaking. I can look at my own life; I’ve been a Christian for over 15 years now, but I’m still struggling with a lot of the same things I was struggling with 15 years ago, like negativity, grudges, inertia and anger. When I’m close to Jesus I realise that I don’t look 15 years more like Him than I did when I began. And I see more clearly how far everything is from His plans; my family and friends are struggling with their work, health and relationships, and the whole world is failing to deal with poverty, hunger, loss of biodiversity, conflict, and supremely climate change. Even the little things that show that this is not the way things are meant to be stand out so clearly; I notice how much everyone seems to be in a rush, I notice the emptiness of our 9-5 lifestyles, I notice how many areas are run down and dirty, I notice rubbish. I begin to see entropy everywhere and it feels overwhelming. This is the ‘groan’ of the earth – and us tuning in to it. And when we do open ourselves up, tune in and allow the pain to affect us, prayer happens. All we can do in that moment is go ‘oh God..!’. And in that moment, the Holy Spirit in us joins with us in lifting that groan up to God.

But it doesn’t stop there. Romans 8 dives off into the depths of mystery at this point; somehow, through this process of sharing God’s closeness and Christ’s pain, the Spirit in us works our salvation, our transformation. And (this is the really incredible bit) somehow our salvation brings hope to the world, and not just the vague ‘I wish…’ kind of hope we often talk about, but the real, gritty hope that’s backed up by real evidence of change and firm promises. All of that entropy, all that groans, all the brokenness, is somehow being transformed through us! It’s mindblowing. A clue comes in verse 28 in the Good News translation. A lot of versions translate it something like ‘God makes all things work together for good for those who love Him’, but the Good News has it ‘in all things God works for good with those who love Him’. That makes a lot more sense to me in the context of the passage. This is prayer that opens us up to God’s plans for the world, and makes us vulnerable to God’s purposes. We become changed, and driven to bring change. And this is promised to eventually reverse this entropy in the whole of creation!

So, what can we do with this? I’ve been thinking a lot on the following questions to work out where I fit in, since re-reading Romans 8, and I hope they are helpful questions for you as you try to discover your place in it too:

  • What helps you draw close to God? Where/when do you feel a close relationship with God?
  • Where do you feel the groan the clearest? What places/circumstances/practices put you most in touch with the pain of the world?
  • How do we then bring the pain to God? What helps?

Let’s try to open ourselves up more to God’s work in us, and know that ‘in all these things we have complete victory through Him who loved us!’


*Excepting a few minor edits and updates, this was originally published here in 2013

Sacred Hot Cross Buns

I’ve been making these hot cross buns for years, and almost every year since I became a Christian I have tried to make them on Good Friday*, when the process takes on layers of meaning that becomes for me a meditation on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. I find it helpful as a way of focussing me on the amazing message of Easter, as it’s a slow process that gives me plenty of time to think. I hope you find it helpful too! Here’s how it goes:

(Makes 24)

Ingredients:

Buns:

800g white bread flour

1 tablespoon yeast

3 tablespoons ground mixed spice

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

90g sugar

150g currants

100g sultanas

200g candied peel

300ml warm (non-dairy**) milk

200ml warm water

70g vegetable oil

4 tablespoons plain flour

Sugar glaze: 4 tablespoons sugar

The dough tells us a lot about Jesus. First, you put the bread flour in a large mixing bowl. Jesus is the bread of life; His body, broken for us; the grain of wheat that must die in order to grow.

To this, add yeast. The kingdom of God is like a little yeast added to a whole batch of flour to make it rise.

Mix in the vine fruits. Jesus is the vine into which we are to stay rooted; the new agreement with God, sealed with His blood, shed for us.

Add the peel. Fruit and fire of the Holy Spirit.

Mix in the spices. Spices for worship; spices for burial.

Then stir in the sugar. God’s love and mercy to us is an incredible undeserved sweetness.

Mix together the warm water, milk and oil. Jesus is the living water, who washes us clean of all our wrongs, all that separates us from God. Milk is for new life, offered in its place. And oil gives us God’s promised Messiah – the ‘anointed one’.

Stir the liquid thoroughly into the dry ingredients, then knead the dough with your hands by picking it up carefully over the bowl and stretching, folding and twisting it for about 10 minutes. Cover the kneaded dough and set it aside for about an hour to rise. After this, knock the dough back down to its original size. This Jesus, made of all this goodness, was rejected, tortured, abused and beaten.

Divide the dough into 24 equally sized pieces, and shape into rolls by taking each piece in floured hands, holding it in one hand and folding the edges into the middle and pressing them down with the other, all the way around until the roll is a smooth, round shape and feels dense in the centre. Place on greased and floured baking sheets. Leave them to rise again until about twice their original size. Jesus was killed and buried, but He rose again!

Then score crosses onto them with a sharp knife. Heat the oven to a high temperature, 220oC is ideal. Mix the plain flour with just enough water to form a thick but slightly runny paste. Either drizzle this along the scored cross marks using a spoon, or use a piping bag or icing syringe to pipe the crosses on. Jesus was crucified brutally, and stabbed by the officers in charge to ensure he was dead.

Bake the buns in the hot oven until golden brown and sounding hollow when tapped underneath. Meanwhile, make a sugar glaze. Put the sugar in a pan with just enough boiled water to cover it, and heat it gently, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Once the buns have baked, brush them thoroughly with the sugar glaze and put them onto a cooling rack to cool. The cross and the tomb are empty; Jesus was raised to new life from the dead with the promise that all who trust in Him will also overcome death and be made new! This is worth celebrating!

Serve the buns warm from the oven, or toasted, with plenty of margarine. Freeze any you won’t be eating over the next two days to keep them fresh.

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*Yes I know I’m late – I’ve been away, so only got to make my first batch this Easter today! And yes, it’s still Easter for another few weeks 🙂

**I’m vegan, so I tend to make this with soya milk