The font at the front
Entering Iona Abbey one is met by the massive font constructed of sandstone from Mull and marble from Iona’s small quarry. This marble is special – shades of pinks and whites combine with an intricate pattern of hairline cracks to give it a unique quality. We saw the stones at the quarry on our pilgrimage. There it was pointed out that this effect was the result of impurities being present in the stone. We were invited to take a small piece and hold it whilst recognising that we ourselves were full of impurities and yet seen by God as precious and beautiful, each in our unique way.
How appropriate then that the font should be constructed of this stone? For here is celebrated the welcome of God for his beloved children who, though full of impurities are nevertheless immersed into the life of the Holy Trinity. Christian Baptism has at its heart the proclamation of God’s unconditional love where infants and ancients alike are held and embraced, washed clean and made part of God’s Family.
It was later in New Zealand that I was to discover that the purest waters in the world have passed through vast underground chambers of marble!
Pupu Springs in New Zealand, where 40 bathfulls of the finest water wells up to the surface every second.
When Jesus asked to be baptised by his cousin John in the Jordan River it was not because he needed to repent but in order to identify fully with humanity. The gospel writers record that at that moment a dove descended on Jesus and a voice from heaven was heard saying; “this is my beloved son, in whom my soul delights”.(Mark 1; 11)
God looks upon Jesus in his full humanness and declares his joy filled love for him and by implication for all human kind. Henri Nouwen in his deeply personal writings, returns to this theme time and time again. ‘The most intimate truth about all human beings is found in the words: “You are my Beloved”.’ He believes that the most universal problem we have is not taking those words seriously, or rather we hear other voices – “you are not quite good enough are you, you haven’t made it, you really are a bit of a failure, and you will always be unless you can demonstrate the opposite. Life is then spent trying everything to prove those voices wrong. But of course we never can, completely. Nouwen writes: ‘Over the years I have come to realise that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection.’ The voice of self-rejection shouts and often drowns the voice of the One calling us the Beloved. It has a seductive power. ‘This strangely attractive voice takes all uncertainties away and puts an end to the struggle. It speaks unambiguously for the darkness and offers a clear-cut negative identity.’ The voice of the Father on the other hand is less clear and more complex. ‘It is not easy to let the voice of God’s mercy speak to us because it is a voice asking for an always open relationship, one in which sins are acknowledged, forgiveness received, and love renewed. It does not offer us a solution, but a friendship.’
If we accept God’s invitation into a friendship nurtured by love we are not going to find neatly sewn up answers but we shall be engaged in a journey of discovery where the nature of God’s love in its infinite variety of forms can be experienced year by year.
Nowhere is this more powerfully portrayed than in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15; 11 – 32) where the actions of the Father as well as his words confirm the status of both his sons as ‘beloved’, but his love for them is portrayed in many different ways – giving freedom to go, feeling the pain of rejection, watching and waiting in hope, running to embrace and kiss, holding without words, honouring with the best gifts, partying, pleading and assuring both sons of his constant commitment to them.
The strong words on the lips of the Father to his older son are a reminder of the radically transforming potential of this love: “This brother of yours was lost but now is found, was dead and is alive again.” (Luke 15; 32)
For me, the challenge of seeking to hear the voice that calls me The Beloved is the most significant of all. It lies at the heart of being and becoming a child of God. Therefore, the practices I am suggesting are those I hope we will be committed to doing in order that they might become habits of a lifetime, and deepen that relationship with God, which will last an eternity.
- Ensure that things that remind you that you are loved (by whoever loves you) are around you as much as possible. eg. Photos of family or a friend, a thank you card that meant a lot, a picture your child/grandchild did for you. Pause, each day, after your first cup of tea and remember how that person feels about you.
- Memorise the following words from Isaiah 43; 4:
‘You are precious and honoured in my sight, and I love you.’
These are the words of the Lord to his people Israel, but they can apply also to people today. As you lie on your bed at the end of the day, imagine the Lord saying them to you, over and over again. Do not pray for anything, but just rest in God’s love. Try to do this every night.
- It is often said that God loves us as we are but loves us too much to leave us as we are. When necessary, his love will take the form of convicting us of something that is getting in the way of our relationship and preventing our friendship with him deepening. Follow the following 6 steps that move us into confession and forgiveness.
- Preparation – get settled. Consider body posture eg kneeling or sitting in an upright chair (Lounging back cross-legged is not recommended!) Thank God for his love and ask for the Spirit to guide your thoughts
- Prayer of identification – be specific and clear about the wrong choice (focus on one only) you have made. Take responsibility for it. Don’t blame anyone else!
- Perception – ask two questions:
- Why did I do that? – motives, pressures, weaknesses etc
- What was the result of my sin – on others, on relationships, on myself?
- Pain – feel the effects of your action/thought on heart of God (maybe while looking at a cross or imagining Jesus there), and try to imagine how the person you have offended may feel. Let God’s grace make this a deepening of your experience of life rather than a time when you feel under condemnation.
- Promise – to change. Being sorry is one thing, and is only part of the process. The kind of repentance that leads to healing and new life includes a resolve to not travel that way again. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help to strengthen you to keep any promise you make about the future. Write it down, and if you are really meaning business, share it with a trusted friend to whom you can be accountable.
- Praise – for God’s promise to forgive all who truly repent. (1 John 1; 9)
Maybe sing in your head or aloud the hymn that is based on verses from Psalm 103:
Praise, my soul, the King of heaven;
To his feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven;
Who like thee his praise should sing?
Praise him, praise him, praise him, praise him;
Praise the everlasting King.
Receive God’s life. Drink from the well of salvation!