He gives His beloved sleep

I’m back in India for another visit, and this time instead of keeping a daily blog I’m going to try to write a poem, if not every day then at least most days, inspired by the things I’ve seen and experienced.

Psalm 127.2: He gives His beloved sleep

I have always wondered
How You slept through that storm.
It wasn’t just the motion of the boat
throwing you from side to side
as you lay below,
but the crashing of waves against the hull,
the sudden shuddering of timbers
from prow to aft,
the whip-crack of halyards on the mast
and the cries of men afraid for their lives.

But last night,
as the traffic’s incessant honking
vied angrily with the howling, barking dogs,
all overshadowed by the roar of aircraft
screeching for the skies above my roof,
You shared Your secret with me,
and as Your peace descended
You stole my soul away
into some tranquil retreat
where the sleep You gave proved to me
I am indeed Your beloved.


Christmas offer

It’s December, so I can now allow myself to use the C word!  So here is a special Christmas offer.  Buy any two of these titles for £10 or all four for £20 and the postage and packing is free to any UK address.  To take advantage of this offer, send me a message to rosbayes@gmail.com and I’ll tell you how to make the payment and take your address for posting.  And may the light of God grow in your heart as Advent unfolds.


Praying from a place of peace

Somehow, my blog has been overtaken by life in the last few months.  I’ve had time for writing, and I’ve had mental energy for writing, but apart from my paid writing job the two have never coincided!  But yesterday I had some thoughts, which had a real practical effect, which I thought worth recording.

Generally I’m a fairly laid-back person.  I have learned in life not to sweat the small stuff, but there has been quite a lot of big stuff along the way, and I haven’t always handled that with the same sang-froid.  Much of the last few months has involved things that come into the “big stuff” category.

Yesterday I was praying about some things that are definitely big stuff, and I was aware that there was an underlying anxiety in the tone of my prayers.  I prayed because I was worried.  When you have worries, praying is a good thing to do, but that’s not the same as praying from a position of anxiety.

When I realised this, my thoughts turned to Jesus’ prayer life.  He had a lot of things in His life that constituted big stuff.  People with disabling and life-threatening conditions; far too many of them for one man to reach them all.  How to discern which ones God was directing Him to?  Religious leaders out to trick Him, trip Him up in His words and discredit Him; ultimately, out to kill Him.  The spiritual development of twelve men resting on His shoulders.  The hostility He faced from His own brothers, and His awareness of the pain this must have caused His mother.  So many reasons to pray worried prayers, born out of anxiety.

And yet He didn’t.  He prayed from a place of peace.  It would be too simplistic to say this came from having faith in His Father’s ability to take care of these situations, even though that is true.  But if that’s all it was, what happens when my faith isn’t enough to lead me to that place of peace, when the mountains seem so huge that it’s hard to hold on to the truth that God is in control?  I think that the main source of His peace came from His relationship with His Father.  He was secure in the love they had for each other, and living in closeness to His Father’s heart filled Him with an effortless peace.

As I realised that, I found myself almost involuntarily drawing closer to God, and the anxiety underlying my prayers was replaced by peace.  The change was not of my doing, and it was very profound. It was just as well, too, because I had a car accident on the way home from work, and as I sat alone by the roadside waiting for the breakdown vehicle to arrive, that sense of peace surrounded and enveloped me.  From now on I’m going to try to be aware when my prayers are underpinned by anxiety, and to move instead into that place of closeness to God.

Next morning

It was the dullest of mornings,
the flat nothing of a dawn
after the world’s end.
A watery sun
rising to the plangent cries of kites
circling aimlessly
above a colourless landscape
where nothing breathed that mattered any more.

The rocks beneath my feet were no less dead
than the stone in my chest,
the hills of Judah no heavier
than the load on my shoulders,
the waters of Galilee no more turbulent
than the raw nausea in my throat.

I thought of the boulder
sequestering Him from all tenderness,
from my tenderness;
and wondered how to breach its intransigence.
Yet when I found it gone
and myself facing
a black chasm, infinitely deep,
vanishing into the rock,
nothing seemed more natural.

What did I think to find,
on this morning
after the world’s end,
but a bottomless abyss?

Turning away, afraid to fall
Into the infinite fissure,
the insipid world a grey-brown smudge
through the blur seeping across my vision,
I idly wondered why I cared.

But when I heard my name,
spoken in that particular way,
there dawned the first of all mornings
where the very breath of God
breathed into the planet
and it became a living soul.

Something wholly new
yet well-remembered
lived in that one word,
Something never before seen
and deeply familiar
came to birth.

A new universe,
founded on an ancient, timeless love.

The King is in the house…. or not?

It’s been quite a while since my last post.  I haven’t given up on writing, nor have I abandoned my Wesley journey.  But all my available time has gone on writing my next book, which I hope to finish (at least the first draft) by the end of next month.  In the meantime, here is something I wrote for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) which is reproduced here by kind permission.

It was 1986.  My daughter was two and a half, but she looked more like a baby of 10-12 months – very tiny and not yet moving around or even sitting up.  She had started life at 2lbs 4 ½ ozs and had gone down to 1 lb 10 ozs before slowly clawing her way back to her birth weight over the next two months, and she was still chronically underweight.  At fifteen months old she had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy and an unknown degree of learning disability.  During the thirty months since her arrival I don’t think I’d ever had more than two consecutive hours’ sleep, and I was exhausted, scared and vulnerable.

And at that moment, a doctor pointed at my daughter and said to me, “You don’t have to be doing this, you know.  There are places these people can go.”  Even in my fragile state I was shocked and appalled.  The doctor had come to assess my daughter for disability benefits (Attendance and Mobility Allowance in those days) but after that remark I couldn’t get him out of the front door fast enough.

And here’s the problem we still have.  If you don’t know and love someone with a learning disability, or with profound and multiple disabilities, the message the world gives could be hard to resist. They are “these people”, a category, rather than unique individuals.  This is why we have a system that still sends young people with learning disabilities to Assessment and Treatment Units, sometimes hundreds of miles away from everyone they know and love.  Because “these people” are not like us, are they?  “They” don’t feel things the way we would feel them.  “These people” are not conscious of ill-treatment the way we would be, and they don’t miss happiness and love as we would.

This is how we have arrived at a situation where intellectually disabled people, most of whom don’t have life-shortening conditions, die on average 16 years younger than the rest of the population, because their healthcare needs are not taken seriously.  This is something of which, as a mother, I’m very aware, having batted my head against a brick wall for a long time in the effort to get appropriate medical treatment for my daughter, which I know very well that her non-disabled sisters would receive as a matter of course if they had her symptoms.

But if you know and love someone with a learning disability, you know they can’t be consigned to some homogenous category any more than, say, the freckled or the brown-eyed.  My daughter, now 33 years old, is a cheeky, humorous individual with a deep sense of justice, a fierce loyalty towards those she loves and an astonishing musical ability. She cannot be dismissed as one of “these people”.  As a MENCAP poster from the 1970s proclaimed, “We may not think as quickly, but we feel as deeply”.

Jesus never treated disabled people as a faceless, emotionless category.  Each one to Him was an exceptional individual commanding His full attention.  Study his interactions with the many disabled people to whom He ministered.  You will find He didn’t treat them all alike.  He tailored His approach to the unique needs of the unique individual before him.  He even told a story to demonstrate that without the presence of disabled people seated alongside everyone else at the table, His house is not full.  (Find it in Luke 14. 16-23)

Why did He say that?  I think the answer is found in Matthew 25. 31-46 and in Luke 9.48.  In the first of these passages Jesus lists all kinds of disadvantaged people – hungry, thirsty, estranged, unclothed, imprisoned.  And he says that how we treat them is how we are treating Him.  In Luke 9 He takes it a stage further – whoever welcomes even one little child in His name is welcoming not only Him but the One who sent Him, for the one who appears least among us is actually the one who is great.

So here is why, when people with physical and learning disabilities are absent from among us, the house is not full: because in excluding them, we are excluding Christ Himself.  He is the Head, the reigning King as described in Matthew 25, and yet He is not in the house.  When we hear scandalous stories of the appalling treatment of people with complex disabilities in Assessment and Treatment Units, the world has conditioned us to think, even subconsciously, that “these people” don’t feel or understand what is happening to them to the same degree that we would.  And yet Jesus affirms that what is being done to them is being done to Him.  It is felt as keenly as if He were the victim.

When we see churches that are oblivious to the number of people in their communities who have these complex or multiple disabilities, and who are making no attempt to reach out to them or include them, the King is not present in the house.  But how can we evangelise “these people”?  “They” wouldn’t understand the Gospel, would they?  Some of them are too restricted in their understanding to know what sin is, let alone to see their need of a Saviour.  And so we exclude “these people” and in so doing the house is not full, and the King is not in the house.

But the Gospel is still the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes.  The word translated “everyone who believes” is the Greek word pisteuonti.  It does not carry the sense we have come to ascribe to the word believe, of an intellectual assent to a set of propositions.  Rather it means to have confidence in and entrust oneself to something or someone.  And this is a matter not of the head but of the heart, and therefore it is as possible for someone who is severely intellectually challenged as it is for any of us.  I think of the lady who shares the same care home as my daughter.  She has no speech and communicates everything by a mixture of happy squeals, anguished screams and facial expression.  It is hard to tell how much she understands of anything beyond her daily routines.  And yet the peace and happiness she displays when she goes to church speaks volumes about both the welcome she receives there and the reality of her encounter with Christ.

So why are our churches not reaching out to the individual families and the care homes in our communities where precious individuals with severe intellectual disabilities live?  Why are we not training ourselves in ways of communicating with this audience?  Why are we not hammering on the doors of these dreadful Assessment and Treatment Units and offering chaplaincy services, off-site activities and a regular welcome in church to their residents?  Why are we not building up trustful relationships in which these individuals can tell us, or we can begin to discern, if they are suffering ill-treatment?  Is the King languishing outside His house, unnoticed by those within?


Step 1 of the pilgrimage

On 6th January I set out on the 9.34 train to Waterloo and made my way from there by tube to Old Street. On the tube train I found a purse that someone had left behind, so I handed it in at Old Street station and then tweeted the name on the debit card it contained, in the hope of reuniting it with its owner.  It felt good to be doing a small act of kindness on the way to the chapel of one of the kindest men this nation has known.
The day was cold and I was chilled through when I arrived, so I sat in a pew next to a radiator and looked up at the pulpit from which, according to information I later found in the museum, Wesley himself had preached.  The building itself is very beautiful with marble pillars, ornate carvings, stunning stained glass windows and elaborate gold decorations on the white walls and ceiling.  The Methodist chapels I visited in childhood, such as the one where my grandfather was the minister, were marked by their plain simplicity, and I was not expecting quite such a contrast.
As I sat facing the pulpit and taking in the sight and atmosphere, male voices  suddenly broke into a rendition of Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Come, Thou long-expected Jesus, born to set Thy people free”.  They were in the balcony above and behind me, out of my sight, and it felt as if an angel choir had gathered to remind me of my purpose in being here – the pursuit of Jesus and establishing a deeper walk with Him.

There was plenty to see and do, but I felt like a worshipper, not a tourist and I just wanted to sit for a while and soak up the atmosphere, worship God, and bring my prayers to Him.  I told Him I was here because I wanted to put a stop to the gradual drift away from Him that had been going on for some time now, and for 2017 to be a year of drawing near again. It was lovely to have a leisurely day when I could take all the time I needed to be in His presence and be present to Him.

I walked around the perimeter of the chapel, looking at the detail of each stained glass window and reading all the In Memoriam inscriptions.   I was surprised to find a window sponsored by Methodist Freemasons, having always believed Christianity and Freemasonry to be incompatible.  But how sad that, by the end of the day I had found seventy-eight memorial plaques and windows, but only seven of these mentioned women, and three of those only as a footnote to their husbands’ inscriptions.  Considering how much the advancement of the kingdom of God in this country owes to many generations of the women of the Methodist movement, women like my grandmother, a Methodist minister’s wife who devoted her life to prayer, ministry, hymn writing and acts of kindness, I wondered if their contribution is really as little esteemed as this might suggest.

I was then invited to join a tour of the house where John Wesley lived and died (though in life he was, of course often away from it – he rode a total of a quarter of a million miles on horseback the length and breadth of this nation to preach the Gospel).  I saw his Christening robe, clerical garb and shoes and was surprised at how small he must have been.  There was also a rattle he played with as a baby, and a Wedgwood teapot with two prayers written on it.  But, unknown to Josiah Wedgwood when he made the gift, John Wesley did not approve of tea drinking, and it would probably only have been used for home-made herb teas, made from garden herbs such as sage.

I was fascinated by the writing case he took with him to write his thousands of sermons and hymns while on horseback.  It was quite compact and would fit comfortably in front of him, with a sturdy, level surface on which to write.  His travelling chest was surprisingly small – clearly he travelled very light.
Some of the objects in the house gave a feeling of real connection with the man – the kitchen table and dresser were the ones used here in his time.  There was a leather chamber horse (a replica of his own), to be bounced up and down on for twenty minutes a day when the weather was too inclement to go horse riding out of doors!  At some time in the past many layers of wallpaper had been peeled off the walls until the final layer, Wesley’s own wallpaper, was reached.  Exact replicas were then made for each of the rooms, so they are now decorated exactly as in his time.
This part of my visit felt more touristy – I felt the same frisson whenwesleys-chair I saw his study with its writing table as I feel whenever I visit Jane Austen’s house and see her writing table (the two being very similar in size and shape).

wesleys-prayer-room-2But the spiritual intent of my visit rushed back over me when I stepped into his prayer room and saw the low dresser with a big Bible spread on it and the little kneeler before it – no chair to sit in here; this was a room for knee-work.  The sense of God’s presence was palpable, as if the walls were saturated with the many, many prayers that had gone up from this room.

After leaving the house I visited the original Foundery chapel where I was happy to find the lectern Bible open at the very chapter I had read before leaving home that morning.  I was delighted also to see Charles Wesley’s own pipe organ.

The guide who showed us round the house had told us that Charles Wesley frequently rode on horseback to his brother’s house, and on arrival would often dismount and rush into the house calling for a quill pen to be brought quickly so that he could write down some hymn verses that had come to him on the way, before he forgot them.  That called forth a wave of empathy from me – how often I have done the same sort of thing (not that I put my writing on a par with his!)

The museum filled in some details that the guide had not mentioned.  John Wesley died with friends and family around his bed, and his last words were, “The best of all is, God is with us.” As well as centuries-old documents and artefacts, there were a number of i-pads in the museum to enable an interactive experience.  You could select a hymn to listen to, and I chose the one that caught my eye and seemed to sum up the purpose of my journey.  I listened to it all the way through before continuing round the museum:

O Thou Who camest from above,
The pure celestial fire to impart,
Kindle a flame of sacred love
On the mean altar of my heart.

There let it for Thy glory burn
With inextinguishable blaze,
And trembling to its source return,
In humble prayer and fervent praise.

Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire
To work and speak and think for Thee;
Still let me guard the holy fire,
And still stir up Thy gift in me.

Ready for all Thy perfect will,
My acts of faith and love repeat,
‘Til death Thy endless mercies seal,
And make my sacrifice complete.

But the real treasure which I discovered was the covenant which Methodists say once a year.  I brought home a copy of it, and I intend to make it my prayer every morning for the foreseeable future:
The words made me think of Jesus, who emptied Himself for our fullness, and of Paul’s words about “having nothing, yet possessing all things”.  With much to ponder on and much to aspire to, I returned to the chapel to spend some more time in silent contemplation. As I sat down in the pew, a pianist began to play “It is well with my soul” – which seemed a fitting end to my visit.  I loved how my time in the chapel had begun and ended with hearing worship in song.

My year of Wesley pilgrimage


Origins of the journey

It began on New Year’s Day, the first Sunday of 2017.  We sang a hymn which the Gaither Vocal Band had popularised in the USA, but which had never really caught on in the UK.  You can hear the song here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsq3aDNhZIQ

Our pastor read the words, and at one point, as he explained what they meant he became quite overcome with emotion. We were invited to take the microphone and say what in this song had particularly spoken to us.  As I looked at the words, the line that leapt out at me was “I know how fear builds walls instead of bridges”.  I couldn’t help but think of the very scared little man who is about to assume leadership of the biggest western nation, and his threats to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, as well as his intention to expel all illegal immigrants and ban Muslims from entering the country.

I stood up and tried to explain this to the congregation – how one of Trump’s advisors, Monica Crowley, had tweeted a photograph of herself beside the Berlin Wall with the words, “At the Berlin Wall last week.  Walls work.”  That the trauma of separation caused by the wall, not to mention the oppression that took place behind it and the deaths of those who tried to escape its tyranny, should be seen as evidence that “walls work” should sound a note of the greatest alarm.

And this reminded me of the situation in France during the 18th century, when the increasing wealth and complacence of the rich while callously grinding the faces of the starving poor had spilled over, in 1789, into the French revolution, which not only overturned the establishment and the stranglehold on power of the monarchy and nobility, epitomised in the storming of the Bastille on July 14th, but often at times descended into a chaotic bloodbath, with the introduction of the guillotine.

I noted that social conditions in Britain, especially England, at the time were almost exactly parallel to those in France, and that it has often been said that what saved England from a bloody French-style revolution was the spiritual revival that took place under the Wesleys, George Whitefield and Charles Finney. And it struck me, pondering on the words of this hymn, that a few hundred sermons, preached here and there all over the country as John Wesley rode the length and breadth of the land, could not of themselves have been the bulwark that held back the tide of revolution and averted disaster. (Note: that is what I said in church; I have since learned that John Wesley delivered some 45,000 sermons during his ministry.)  Rather, it must have been the many individual lives, transformed by the power of God, who returned to their communities and lived out the kingdom of God in their small, daily circle, that changed the history of the nation and brought about a peaceable change that, in the coming generations, could give rise to men like William Wilberforce and the eighth Earl of Shaftesbury, and women like Elizabeth Fry and Josephine Butler.

This reminded me of Jesus’ saying that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump”.  All it needed, in the Wesleys’ day, for revival to spread and transform the life of the nation, was for individuals indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to bring the kingdom of God into the homes and streets where they lived.  And the same is true now. We might look at some worrying trends on the political stage here and abroad, and feel helpless to do anything about it.  But that is not the truth.  We are the leaven, scattered throughout the dough of society, which can leaven the whole lump, if we determine to bring the light and love of God’s kingdom to the places where we live and work.

After church, our pastor spoke to me.  He agreed with my analysis of the situation, and said that the parallels were even greater than I realised – that if I read the history of the South Sea Bubble I would see similarities both with quantitative easing and the bank bailouts which had been done at the expense of the poorest in society, and with the recent exposure of tax avoidance in offshore funds by some of the nation’s wealthiest people.  And he told me that it was estimated that twenty-eight thousand people came to faith in Jesus through John Wesley’s preaching – not a great proportion, considering that the population of Great Britain in Wesley’s time was around twelve million.  A little leaven leavens the whole lump.  If 2.3% of the population in Wesley’s time could change the course of the nation, what might we do today?  We have the power in our hands to change the world, if we only realised it and prayed and acted accordingly.

I continued to ponder all this after I got home from church.  I had, like John Wesley, known my heart “strangely warmed” on more than one occasion.  I could recall times when my experience of Jesus echoed Charles Wesley’s lyrics “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth and followed Thee”.  But I knew that in recent years my heart had begun to grow colder, and currently I could identify more with the words of William Cowper,

“Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void
The world can never fill.”

And somehow, as I sat contemplating all this, I felt God calling me to make a journey, both spiritual and physical, this year, in the footsteps of John Wesley.  I spent some time researching places he had been.  Some I already knew quite well – I had long been familiar with some of the sites in Cornwall where Wesley had stayed and preached, and I had often worshipped at Truro Methodist Church.  My own grandfather on my mother’s side had been a Methodist minister, for a long time active in the circuit in East Hull, and pastoring at one of its churches.  But I felt compelled to learn more about the Wesley brothers and their ministry, and in particular the secret of how they kept alive the flame of their relationship with Christ through a lifetime that was certainly not without its privations but which never wavered from devotion to the cause of Christ, the spread of His kingdom, and seeing lives transformed by His love and grace.  Over the course of the year, I hope to chart my progress here.