A guided prayer meditation reflecting on hands, by Sarah Shelton, Families Worker at Felpham Methodist Church, first used at Zoom PrayerSpace in April 2020.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
We’ve been enjoying the start of the growing season the last couple weeks, radishes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries are just beginning to ripen too…
The story of Ruth starts very differently, Ruth 1 opens with a famine. A loss of fruitfulness of the land in Bethlehem. So to survive Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion to another country Moab.
While in Moab, Elimelech dies, and Mahlon and Chilion marry women from Moab – Orpah and Ruth. Mahlon and Chilion also died, which leads Naomi as a foreigner in Moab, with two daughters in law, and no men to look after them in their patriarchal society. The security of family and hope was no longer stable.
The land lost its productivity, women lose their husbands, their well-being, their independence.
Naomi must have been at a low, struggling for hope, residing in a foreign land, amidst the layers of loss she’s experienced. Struggling to find hope.
Reflect: I wonder if you can relate to Naomi’s struggle?
Living in a coronavirus world, we’ve experienced loss in new and intensified ways. Loss of life, physical contact with others, freedom to spend time with friends and family, perhaps lost the ability to work or go to school. We’ve lost independence and certainty. It can be hard to hold onto hope.
What does Naomi do? Well, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t resign herself to be beaten. She doesn’t settle for the idea that she has to simply live with loss without a hope for the future. In struggle with loss, life can go on.
Naomi hears there’s food in Bethlehem, so she sets out for home. Ruth and Orpah are set to go with her, committed to their mother-in-law.
Naomi says to them, ‘go back to your mother, may God look after you there’. Initially they say no, we’ll stay with you, but Naomi insists, and in the end Orpah with weeping and heartache says farewell and heads on her way.
But Ruth holds onto her Mother-in-law:
“do not make me leave you,Ruth 1:16
where you go I will go,
where you stay I will stay,
your people will be my people,
your God will be my God.”
Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi says no more.
We know little about the story of Ruth or Orpah up to this point, but just as Naomi experienced loss and was vulnerable, so were they.
Both lost their husbands, both would have had anxieties about their future security, stability and survival. Both make sacrifices on their journey for survival.
Orpah’s sacrifice is to let go of her new family and go back to her past.
Ruth’s sacrifice is to hold on, to not go back to her past family, to travel with Naomi and become a foreigner herself, just as Naomi had been.
I wonder if in Naomi, Ruth saw in Naomi’s Israelite faith a glimmer of hope, hope that things could be different for her, by risking vulnerability to make that hope her own.
For all 3 widows, living in loss meant taking action, making choices and sacrifices, living in a way that helped them see possibilities of hope.
Today, we can have faith in God, who is stable and certain to be with us, love us and forgive us. The hope we have in God turns the uncertainties of our present into possibility for the future.
Opportunties for new, deeper, stronger relationships to bloom and grow. Opportunities to learn, be changed, challenged, transformed.
Despite our struggle in the chaos of uncertainty – the opening of this story shows us that in the midst of vulnerability and loss, hope always has the last word. God has the last word.
Despite our living in loss, life can go on, grow and flourish.
And as we unpack the story further we’ll discover more about how hope is kindled, finding hope and home in the midst of vulnerability and loss.
I pray you know the hope of God in your living today.
Join the Conversation
How does Ruth 1 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?
You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Listen and Understand.
A message for a lockdown Pentecost
At Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate, some of us have been reading the book of Acts throughout May and today we reach the last chapter.
Today is also Pentecost, the day we remember that the disciples were filled with God’s Spirit and were able to speak in many languages so that everyone could understand their message.
In this week’s Sunday Reflections, I think about Acts 28, Pentecost, how much God wants us all to know him, and the invitation we have to respond.
Many of us have been travelling through the book of Acts this May, and today we reach the final chapter Acts 28. In the last few chapters Paul has been arrested and put on trial for telling people how much he loves Jesus, and encouraging others to know him to, and now he’s been put on a ship to sail to Rome. Except the ship gets caught in a storm and they go adrift, landing on an unknown island, they later learn is called Malta.
After being on trial for some time, and travelling on the ship through dangerous storms, Paul must have been pretty glad to be safely on dry land. But he was in a new land, a land that wasn’t familiar.
Today is a special day when as Christians we celebrate the festival Pentecost. This festival takes us back to the start of Acts, when Jesus disciples were experiencing their own unfamiliar time.
Jesus death, resurrection and returning to his father was definitely not what they expected. They felt alone, living in a way that was unfamiliar to them.
I think there’s some similarities here to living I lockdown. The way we live, work, shop, learn, travel, interact with family, friends & neighbours has all changed. Even 10 weeks on, I still feel like I’m in a very unfamiliar land, and the uncertainty about the future doesn’t help either.
For Paul, for the disciples, and for all of us, the Spirit of God comes to us. The presence and power of God that supports us, encourages us, affirms us and say’s no matter how you feel, I am with you.
For Paul the presence of God with him was so strong that the natives of Malta thought he was a God. For the disciples the Spirit of God enabled them to speak in every language. For Peter he stood up and delivered a stonker of a sermon and convinced about 3000 people to join the Way – which is the early name for the people now known as Christians.
In Acts 28 Paul says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,Acts 28:26
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.”
Paul challenges the people that are listening to him. Will you seek to understand, will you seek to see, or will you just look and listen and then carry on as if what you’ve heard makes no difference?
I encourage you today to listen. To listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you. Yes you. Just as God’s Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in every language, God’s Spirit speaks the language of your heart and mind.
God understand your worries.
God knows your strains and anxieties.
God knows this unfamiliar way of life, with all its uncertainties is tough at times.
Whether you’ve never had a care in the world about God until today,
or you’ve been a Christian all your life,
or you used to go, but you’ve not been much recently,
It really doesn’t matter.
What matters is if you’ll seek to see and understand today.
God is waiting for you, and I believe God’s Spirit is already with you, and in you, just waiting for you to see, whether for the first, 10th or 100th time.
If you want to know more about God and the difference God makes to the lives of many, including you, do get in touch with us or find a church near you can connect with.
Join the Conversation
How is God’s Spirit speaking to you this Pentecost?
If you’ve been reading through Acts this May, how has God spoken to you through it? What has been the standout verse or story for you? Please share in the comments below.
Downloadable Text Version
This week I reflect on Acts 21, and ask how Paul’s delay in visiting Jerusalem and the resulting encounter with Agabus might help us as we continue in coronavirus lockdown and the uncertainties of the future.
Many of us are travelling through the book of Acts this May, and today we reach Acts 21.
Acts 21 starts with Paul – who is on way to Jerusalem, and wanting to go to Jerusalem – we know that from Acts 20 where he seems to be desperately wanting to go. But we read that God’s Spirit tells Paul not to go. After being so desperate, that must have been painful for Paul.
So instead of going to Jerusalem, Paul goes to a number of other places, and while in Judea, meets a prophet called Agabus. Now Agabus comes and takes Paul’s belt, then ties his own hands a feet together and says – this is what the Spirit says will happen to the owner of this belt in Jerusalem.
I wonder how paul felt in that moment… anxious, worried, sacred?
A short while later, we read Paul and his team got ready and started headed towards Jerusalem. And, time for a trailer – God does great things through Paul in Jerusalem.
Reflecting on those snippets of this part of Paul’s story… I wonder if there’s something for us as we live in lockdown.
I wonder if, through pausing, and then encountering Agabus, Paul was more prepared for his destination, more ready for what would happen in Jerusalem, and therefore more able to deal with it. I wonder whether, after his encounter with Agabus, Paul saw his destination differently?
There’s been a lot of things happen we were not prepared for at the start of 2020. Lots of things are on pause, but it doesn’t mean things won’t happen. But as the world keeps saying, things will be different – to what extent we don’t know, but we’re being told to expect a new normal.
But just like for Paul who readied himself and carried on, I wonder if we too need to be open to readying ourselves for the new normal that is to come. Opening ourselves for the Spirit’s prompting.
To see lockdown as a space to listen to God’s Spirit as we pause, and allow God’s Spirit to make us ready for what is to come? To be ready for the great things of God that are to come.
As the uncertainties of lockdown continue,
help me to make space to pause and listen for your Spirit,
ready me for the future,
and fill me with excitement for the great things to come.
Join the conversation
Have you paused to listen to God recently?
Have you know God’s Spirit strengthen and preparing
Could you share the story of your encounter with us you?
Comment below – I’d love to hear from you.
A guest contribution to revdanbalsdon.com from Mel Leech, member at Felpham Methodist Church, West Sussex.
After the cancellation of the London Marathon people began doing 26 things…26 circuits of their gardens, 26 press ups… Mel was thinking that the alphabet has 26 letters and came up with 26 things that we could pray for or give thanks for during lock-down. (In fact Mel ended up with more than 26!)
The Ambulance Service will not be over-whelmed.
Bus Drivers will be protected and the Bereaved will be comforted.
Carers working in Care-homes will be recognised for all that they do.
Doctors and Delivery drivers – both so important, and needing our prayers
The Elderly will not be forgotten and have the care they need.
Friends and Family: show them in any way we can how much they are appreciated
Give thanks for our Gardens and pray for those who don’t have one.
Grandparents missing their Grandchildren
Health visitors as they continue to visit the vulnerable.
Intensive Care Units and the patients being treated and the staff caring for them.
Newly qualified Junior doctors and nurses who have been ‘thrown in the deep-end’.
Be Kind to each-other (no need to say more)
Lord ‘what are we to Learn from all this?’
People’s Mental Health – and those who find Isolation particularly difficult.
Contact with Neighbours and seeing they are in need of anything we can help them with and of course continue to pray and give thanks for our NHS.
Give thanks that One Day this will come to an end.
Paramedics as they work on the front-line bringing help as fast as they can.
Remember the Prime Minister as he continues to fully recover and copes with the responsibilities of his job.
Pray Quarantine measures will continue to work.
Pray for the Queen and that her faith will inspire and encourage the nation.
There is a sufficient supply of Respirators.
Supermarket shop-workers and those who are ‘shielding’ because of health issues.
Give thanks for the Telephone to keep in contact with each-other. Teachers as they try to continue to give lessons ‘on-line’.
Let’s show ‘Understanding’
Give thanks for those ‘Volunteers’ doing all they can to help the NHS, Farmers and Delivering necessary food parcels and medical supplies etc.
Thanks for daily Walks
Pray a ‘Vaccination’ will soon be found.
Young people – including children, at this, what must be, a very strange time for them.
Give thanks for ZOOM.
Download a copy of A-Z Prayer
What would you add?
Comment below – what would you add to this prayer A-Z?
In this week’s reflections (available in audio and text), I think about a time I felt vulnerable and our own being faced with vulnerability as Covid-19 continues to present such a real threat to humanity.
Around this time of year 14 years ago, aged 14 I got gastroenteritis and stayed of school for a week. it was the first time in my life I’d missed school for so long, and it happened that it meant I missed the long awaited auditions for the School’s next show.
In November 2006, the school was to perform Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. Having not been in any previous shows, I was hoping I might get a part, and was disappointed I was too ill to audition. The next week, I went back to school and had settled that I’d miss out but to my surprise, despite missing auditions, the drama teachers allowed me to audition late, and by the end of the week I had not only got a part… I’d got the main part. I was going to play Joseph. My friends joked saying it was because I was the only year 10 who could still hit high notes.
We began rehearsals, had the summer holidays and then got back to it as term recommenced in September, and so did costume making. I’d not given costume any thought until suddenly I was presented with a gold belt and a white piece of fabric, about a foot deep and 4 feet long and told here’s your costume.
To this now just turned 15 year old, who had only just hit puberty, wasn’t the fittest, wasn’t the most attractive, and was a regular target for bullying – this was not just some costume. This was going to be brutal. I was being asked to stand on stage in front of my classmates (and those at the time I definitely wouldn’t call mates), in the equivalent of a white mini-skirt with a golden belt, and nothing else on.
Alas, I didn’t get as much bullying as I’d expected I might, but stepping out on stage the first time I felt incredibly vulnerable, conscious I was stood wearing, what felt like almost nothing, in front of my peers and teachers, and aware that I would have 6 performances to go, including performing in front of Sir Tim Rice when he came to open the school’s new music block that month.
As performance week loomed I then discovered not only did I need to come to terms with such a scantily clad costume, I also needed to be caked in makeup from head to waist. Each evening as we prepared for the show, some of my friends had the honourable responsibility of helping me ‘orange-up’ ready for performances.
Vulnerability was somewhat thrust upon me. Part of it was rational, perhaps part not. Some of it was through the behaviour of others, some was through my own fear. Some was simply part of being human. Some was my struggle with my own self-image.
My biggest regret of that time is that I don’t have a recording of the show. I never had a chance to watch myself back, and years later would love to be able to watch and remind myself of what I achieved as I embraced the vulnerability required of my 14 and 15yr old self.
In Acts 9, for Saul as he travels on the road, free and powerful, on a mission to ‘take down’ the followers of The Way, he is blinded and can go on no longer without the help of others. Suddenly, Saul’s life changes as he has to suddenly come to terms with his new found vulnerability.
I know from many conversations that in the last 2 months, in different and varied ways, many of us have needed to come to terms with our vulnerability. Whether or not our age or health increases our vulnerability, all humanity is vulnerable right now. We have all had to face that vulnerability, changing the way we live, asking others to help us, to care for ourselves and our communities.
This is not easy. Much like Saul, we live in relative freedom, used to being able to do and go where we want when. Ongoing suffering, grief and struggle is part of the vulnerable reality this pandemic forces humanity as a whole to hold and bear.
But to become vulnerable does not mean all is lost. In the midst of our vulnerability, it can be hard to see how we can get out, but just as I look back and reflect on what I achieved, as we read on in Acts we’ll discover how much Saul achieves through his own vulnerability. I pray now that we, as individuals, communities and humanity, will allow ourselves to become vulnerable, and make space for God’s power and grace to transform us and all the world.
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.
The photographic evidence!
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, performed November 2006 at Brannel School, Cornwall