Extravagance at Cana

Bible Reading: John 2:1-11

Everyone plans well for a party, especially making sure there’s enough food and drink for everyone. Throughout history people have celebrated together by feasting, and this is something we all really missed during the coronavirus pandemic because these gatherings were banned.

Events associated with feasting make good memories for the future, and even a funeral reception or wake can be a place of joy, nurtured by food and drink.

Of course, waste is a concern for everyone, but running short of food or drink is always a failure of hospitality. When we come to that beautiful account of the wedding at Cana, all those themes and more are woven into the fabric of John’s story telling.

On the surface, there is the embarrassing awfulness of a wedding that runs out of wine. At a deeper level, we see the extravagance of God’s love and grace. Here is an overabundance of giving made real in Jesus for those who were present with him then, and with all who celebrate his presence now. It also points ahead to the great feast when the Lord will bring his promises to their ultimate fulfilment.

I invite to dig deeper into this wonderful story for yourselves, to discover its depths of meaning that reveal the extravagance of God and his love for us.

God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
With thy Spirit recreate me
Pure and strong and true.
Like thy springs and running waters,
Make me crystal pure;
Like thy rocks of towering grandeur,
Make me strong and sure.

Like thy dancing waves in sunlight,
Make me glad and free;
Like the straightness of the pine trees
Let me upright be.
Like the arching of the heavens,
Lift my thoughts above;
Turn my dreams to noble action,
Ministries of love.

Like the birds that soar while singing,
Give my heart a song;
May the music of thanksgiving
Echo clear and strong.
God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
Keep me ever by thy Spirit
Pure and strong and true.

Salvation Army Song Book 320 (TB 303/Whitechapel)

The Baptism of Christ

Today in the Christian calendar we celebrate The Baptism of Christ, here depicted in the wonderful painting by Piero della Francesca in the National Gallery, London.

You can read the story in the Bible here: Luke 3:15-22

I’m reading Dave Grohl‘s book The Storyteller that Naomi bought me for Christmas. In it, he describes when his eight-year-old daughter Harper asked him to teach her to play the drums. His response was one of fatherly pride and humility, the latter because he was self-taught and didn’t have a clue where to start.

In the story of Jesus’ baptism, we are told that God was well pleased with his Son. By implication, God is pleased with us when we walk and live in the footsteps of Jesus. May we live like that in the coming days, not judging people but coming alongside them and loving them with the parental love of God.

Piero was the first artist to write a treatise on perspective – that is, creating an illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface. Here, he has painted objects in proportion, so that they appear as we see them in real life. This emphasises the depth of the landscape, but also the harmony of the figures and natural features within it. Christ stands in a shallow, winding stream as John the Baptist pours a small bowl of water over his head. Three angels in colourful robes witness the event. At this very moment, the voice of God was heard – ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:16) – and the Holy Ghost, shown here as a dove flying over Christ’s head and towards us, descended upon him. This painting was made for the small chapel dedicated to Saint John the Baptist in the Camaldolese abbey of Piero’s hometown, Borgo Sansepolcro. Source

Saying ‘NO’

It’s not always easy to say no, but often it’s essential to retain the balance of our everyday mental health. People will make demands of us, asking for this or that. They’ll ask nicely and this makes it difficult to refuse their reasonable requests, because we all want to be liked. Often people’s requests for your time or expertise can flatter, and this also makes it difficult to say no.

But we can’t say yes to everything or everyone without losing our own equilibrium. We can only help others when we look after ourselves. I want to be there for my family and friends, but to do that I have to be there for myself. An empty vessel has nothing to give. It’s not selfish, it’s inherent to human life.

One danger is when you say yes to those with the loudest requests and feel bad afterwards. Then you’re not able to spend time with those who you want spend time with, or with those who might benefit more but are less inclined to ask. Learn when to say no and when to say yes. Saying no to loud people gives you the resources to say yes to important opportunities.

Also beware of ‘distant elephants’ – saying yes to something next year that you wouldn’t say yes to if it was next week. It’s still an elephant when the time arrives, even if it appears small now!

Remember, you can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone else who might say yes. Saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you or others.

The Gifts of the Wise Men

Bible Readings: Matthew 2:1-12 & 2 Corinthians 9:6-11

Christmas celebrates the coming of God’s gift, the birth of Jesus as Saviour of the World. Epiphany celebrates our giving to God, symbolised by the wise men bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus. It’s traditionally celebrated on the twelfth day after Christmas (January 6).

We know very little about them, and only assume there were three because there were three gifts. Those three gifts represent three distinct aspects of our lives that we need to present to Jesus.

Gold represents everything of material value; our money, our property, our belongings. It’s good to recognise that everything comes from God, and as Christians we offer it to Jesus. We may not have much, but let’s make sure give our symbolic gold to Jesus, for God to use.

Frankincense represents something less tangible than gold. It symbolises our inner treasure of thought and influence; our education, our talents, and our personalities. By offering these to Jesus we have a reference point for our actions and behaviour, recognising something greater than ourselves.

Myrrh, partly because of its use in embalming, has been identified with sorrow and suffering. We can bring the challenging times in life to Jesus, and experience God’s comfort.

Myrrh is mine; it’s bitter perfume.
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing. sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in a stone-cold tomb.

A fourth wise man called Artaban belongs to the realm of myth and legend, but he is imagined having brought a gift representing the happier things in life. A reminder that Jesus:

…feeleth for our sadness,
And he shareth in our gladness.

The whole of human life can be symbolised in the three (four) gifts, personal gifts of ourselves that we can bring to Jesus.

Father, I place into your hands
The things I cannot do,
Father, I place into your hands
The things that I’ve been through.
Father, I place into your hands
The way that I should go,
For I know I always can trust you.

Father, I place into your hands
My friends and family.
Father, I place into your hands
The things that trouble me.
Father, I place into your hands
The person I would be,
For I know I always can trust you.

Father, we love to see your face,
We love to hear your voice.
Father, we love to sing your praise
And in your name rejoice.
Father, we love to walk with you
And in your presence rest,
For we know we always can trust you.

Father, I want to be with you
And do the things you do.
Father, I want to speak the words
That you are speaking too.
Father, I want to love the ones
That you will draw to you,
For I know that I am one with you.

Don’t make negative resolutions!

A lot of resolutions are framed as negatives. For example, your goal might be to reach a certain weight, but the focus is then on the loss of weight, rather than the gain of health and fitness. Another resolution could be to stop being so late for things, but it might be more effective to think of it as starting to be on time more often. Source

Don’t set yourself up for failure, make positive resolutions.

Another helpful tip is to break long-term goals down into smaller ones. For example, don’t set a resolution to run a marathon if you’ve never run in your life, even though it can be done. Break it down into smaller chunks, think about running 5km first.

Let’s all have a happy and positive new year!

Favourite Albums 2021

My listening to new albums has not been as comprehensive as I would have liked this year, but here are 24 great albums released in 2021 for your aural pleasure. I will write about the ones that are not linked to a post in the early months of 2022.

My standout favourite album of 2021 is Collapsed in Sunbeams (Arlo Parks).

All 24 of my favourite albums are listed below in alphabetical order of artist:

30 (Adele)

Collapsed in Sunbeams (Arlo Parks)

Happier Than Ever (Billie Eilish)

Young Heart (Birdy)

Submerged (Cousin Silas)

The Lockdown Sessions (Elton John)

Flat White Moon (Field Music)

Medicine At Midnight (Foo Fighters)

Senjutsu (Iron Maiden)

Apocalypse: Lifting of the Veil (Jack Hertz)

Flock (Jane Weaver)

Pink Noise (Laura Mvula)

Californian Soil (London Grammar)

Cinema (Ludovico Einaudi)

As The Love Continues (Mogwai)

Idiot Prayer (Nick Cave Alone at Alexandra Palace)

Graz (Nils Frahm)

Immigrants (Nitin Sawhney)

Who Am I? (Pale Waves)

First Farewell (Peggy Seeger)

Bright Magic (Public Service Broadcasting)

More Signals, More Dreams (Puppy Bordiga)

Raise The Roof (Robert Plant & Alison Krauss)

Great Spans of Muddy Time (William Doyle)

This post is a work in progress which will be updated in the early months of 2022.

Albums that missed out in 2021

You can see my favourite albums of 2021 here, these are the ones that just missed out for a variety of reasons. They’re all good, but I had to draw the line somewhere.

Lost (Cousin Silas)

Riding on the Tide of Love (Deacon Blue)

Fear of an Obtuse Earth (Home Brewed Universe)

Consequences (Joan Armatrading)

Home (Rhye)

= (Ed Sheeran)

Surrender of Silence (Steve Hackett)

Under a Mediterranean Sky (Steve Hackett)

The Future Bites (Steven Wilson)

I Don’t Live Here Anymore (The War on Drugs)

Mars Perseverance (Various Artists)

Blue Weekend (Wolf Alice)

This post is a work in progress which will be updated in the early months of 2022.

Books Read in 2021

Particle Physics (Ben Still)

A Response to Grace (Stephen Poxon)

Thesaurus of the Senses (Linda Hart)

Ghost Stories (Henry James)

Lady Chatterley’s Lover (D. H. Lawrence)

The People’s Songs (Stuart Maconie)

15 Days of Prayer with Saint Francis of Assisi (Thaddée Matura)

Love Sonnets of Shakespeare

Arcadia (Tom Stoppard)

Matters of Life and Death (Philip M. Stuckey)

Dark Matter (Blake Crouch)

The Midnight Library (Matt Haig)

The Thirty-Nine Steps (John Buchan)

Lying (Sam Harris)

How to be Right (James O’Brien)

You can find me on Goodreads (click the link) and see all my 2021 books here.

Note: I’ve also read three anthologies and two yearbooks making a total of twenty.

This post is a work in progress which will be updated asap.

Sunday Devotionals 2021

This post is simply an index of my Sunday devotionals published in 2021.

January 3: The Letter of Joy (Introduction)
January 10: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 1)
January 17: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 2)
January 24: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 3)
January 31: The Letter of Joy (Chapter 4)
February 7: Finding Peace in Five Verses
February 14: Living Life in God’s Love (St Valentine’s Day)
February 21: The Woman at the Well (Lent 1)
February 28: Temptation 1 (Lent 2)
March 7: Temptation 2 (Lent 3)
March 14: An instrument of your peace (Lent 4/Mother’s Day)
March 21: For God so loved the world (Lent 5)
March 28: Cross Purposes (Palm Sunday)

This post is a work in progress which will be updated asap.