The Mirror and the Light part 3

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I am now just into Part 5 of The Mirror and the Light, and I should warn, this contains spoilers.  I have read hundreds of pages since my last review, and at one point I certainly said to myself, ‘If it’s a choice between reading and writing a review, I’d much rather continue to read.’  This has to be a compliment to Mantel’s superb prose.

It’s only this novel, recently, and Atwood’s Testament, that in hardback has furnished this reader with a thread marker; this has become enormously useful due to the size of this volume.  It’s now unwieldy to hold and read at p.655, with a mere 230 pages to go.  Too much to read in one day, I note (with the rain tumbling outside, its an attractive prospect to entirely immerse myself in Cromwell’s final doom).

I cannot hope to cover in this short review the few hundred pages I have read, but I note that last time I was commenting on Cromwell’s indiscretion with a woman – it would be remiss of me not to note an even bigger mistake, as a conversation with Bess Seymour turns on a mortifying misunderstanding: Cromwell believes he is wooing on behalf of his son, but Bess assumes that he is after her himself.  This dialogue set-piece repays careful re-reading from different perspectives!  Who knows when you might find yourself in a similar delicate position.  This piece of dialogue is Austenesque (is that the word?) recalling Elizabeth Collin’s presence of mind during Darcy’s proposal, and I do think Cromwell’s precipitous failures with women in this volume are a substantial indicator of how the tide will turn against him, try for example this retort:

 ‘In other respects I agree,’ her voice is icy.  ‘I think there has been a misunderstanding. I am offering my person to one Cromwell only, the one I marry.  But which Cromwell is it meant to be?’

His mind flies back to his conversation with Edward.  It lands, light as a fly, and begins to crawl over it: over every meaningful pause, every ellipsis.  Were names spoken?  Perhaps not.  Could Edward have supposed – could Edward have mistaken – yes, he supposes he could. (.481)

Part of the fun here is the confusion present in a conversation we as readers did not witness.  Cromwell is desperate to marry into the King’s family (as Bess is Jane Seymour’s sister) – it is unfortunate shortly after that Jane Seymour dies, leaving his son Gregory not so well-attached as he would have liked.  Mantel captures well throughout the novel the stance that women have to take in being bargaining chips – recently we are given Mary’s words on possibly being married: ‘she says she will do as her father tells her, but that given her choice, she would rather stay in the land of her birth and remain a virgin.  It is a modest answer, which no one can fault.’ (p.646).  This reflects the religious tenor of the time, and Mary’s devout piety – but also the lack of control that women had over their destiny, similar to Bess Seymour.  Her final parting shot at Cromwell as he recovers from the impression that he has been wooing her for himself (and perhaps this would have been preferable – to make his last years happier?):

‘He is all together better than me – ‘  I, he thinks, who am so soiled in life’s battle, so seamed and scarred, so numb, so unwanted, so cold.

‘Stop,’ she says.  ‘First, too few words. Now, too many.’

‘But you will?  You will wed Gregory?’

‘Tell me when and where, and I will come in my bridal finery and marry whichever Cromwell presents himself.  I am an obliging woman,’ she says.  ‘Though not so obliging as you thought.’

She walks away on the grassy path, but she does not hurry.

Just to pause and appreciate the asperity and dignity of Bess’s dialogue here, conversing with a powerful man (and having expressed moments before the desire to have Thomas Cromwell’s children) – her irony that Cromwell had failed to supply enough words to make it clear that Gregory was the Cromwell being offered (yes, younger and fresher – and highly satisfactory as it quickly transpires, but coming with no titles, unlike Cromwell who is a Lord, a Baron and soon to be Knight of the Garter).  In seven words she judges Cromwell, and I wonder if this might stand as an epitaph for him: First, too few words.  Now too many.’  Mantel certainly gives the reputation that Cromwell cannot be read, cannot be second-guessed.  He appears currently (which is around 1539, so not long before his execution) to prefer to supply Henry with pregnant pauses, rather than supply enough rope to hang himself with (although we guess that’s coming, and wonder which of his bad-tempered judgments will indict him).  But what a superb final position-statement that Bess gives: ‘when and where’.  The sarcasm over ‘bridal finery’ is not lost.  It would be humorous, almost farcical, if the damage had not already been done between her and Gregory.  When Gregory lets slip shortly after that Bess has informed him about the misunderstanding, Cromwell seems crestfallen as if he hoped she would keep it quiet.

For me, one of the great pleasures of the novel is the rapport between Cromwell and his cronies, his proteges – both his son Gregory, Rafe Sadler, and in this novel Call-Me.  It is part of my interest in the final section as to how those relationships will settle at last.  This set piece appears to put Cromwell at odds with his only son, who has to insist that Cromwell does NOT write to Bess, and leaves her for himself alone.

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I must mention one other episode (I won’t dwell on Hans’ painting of Henry, although that occasioned several wonderful scenes) – and this is the burning of Father Forrest, who does not appear to recant his Popery.  It is ironic that I have just read of another burning (described in much less detail, just hinted at) of Lambert – this time a Reformation man – and Cromwell is unable to stand and defend him.  This appears to me very much the beginning of the end for him.  But Mantel’s description of Forrest’s burning is transfixing, almost as dramatic as Anne Boleyn’s beheading in ‘Bring up the Bodies’ – I will give a snippet:

When the heat reaches him Forrest draws up his blistered bare feet.  He contorts himself, screaming, but is obliged to let his legs down into the fire…this stage seems to last a long time, the flames reaching upward, and the man’s efforts to escape them ever more feeble, until at last he hangs and does not resist, and his upper body begins to burn.  The friar raises his arms, which have been left free, as if he is clawing towards HEAVEN…at a signal, the executioners step forward and with long iron poles reach into the flames, hook the roasting torso from its chain, and pitch it into the fire below.  It goes with a scream from the spectators, a rush and spurt of flame; then we hear no more from Father Forrest.

Cromwell appears increasingly obsessed with executions, not only his childhood memory of seeing Joan Boughton burned, but also what he anticipates will be his end.  Currently he is suffering from a fever, as I read, and it is getting so bad that he has been asked who he would like as his final confessor. I was moved a couple of pages ago as Henry asked him could they pray together, and enquired how Cromwell proceeds in his prayers.  Feeling as if I am inside Cromwell’s head, I know that Cromwell does not pray too well – perhaps has little headspace for it – and sadly I can relate to that at times!  Perhaps he has already got to the point where he doesn’t hope for mercy any more.

However Mantel tries to play it, or tries to hide it, we are following the documented fortunes of a monster – at least, someone who became a monster through his rise, and ultimately became obsessed with something intangible, something other than simply modernizing England, but also about his own posterity.  She is starting to paint his life in large tragic brushstrokes now – the chimera of greatness hanging around and off him since the start of the novel – a greatness that never really materialised for him.  This is more akin to modern tragedy than to Shakespearean – more like a Krapp from Beckett (‘I wouldn’t go back, not with the fire in me now’) or even a Dame Blanche from ‘Streetcar Named Desire’ who had the pathetic desire to die in innocence.

Let’s keep reading!

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The Mirror and the Light part two

I have just reached past the end of Part Two in the novel, up to p.306, so don’t read this is you’re not that far yet! The purpose is to reflect on what I am reading and largely to appreciate the reading experience.

I am mindful as I read that Cromwell (or Crumb as Henry calls him) is heading for an untimely death, but we really are seeing this tireless worker, this haunted crusader, at the peak of his powers. In one extraordinary outburst, Henry has more or less announced Cromwell in full council as his successor. If that isn’t enough to stir and provoke Cromwell’s enemies into getting him to the a Tower, I don’t know what is.

Mantel bequeaths Cromwell a feminine sensitivity. I was filled with a pang when Wolseys daughter turns her nose up at special gifts from Cromwell, particularly an embroidered handkerchief by Rafe’s wife. According to Mantel, Cromwell uses his appreciation of what were then the feminine arts to inveigle especially with women of power. Cromwell has yet to arrange, it seems, various political marriage alliances with more of these superb conversations.

Most electrifying just now was the dialogue with Wolsey’s daughter where Cromwell is horrified to find himself proposing to her. This is so NOT the Cromwell that Mantel has presented so far. He appears to be losing his self-control:

‘Or if you would consider me, I could, I myself-‘. He stops. Appalled. That is not at all what he meant to say.

She is staring at him. You cannot take back such a word….

Mantel uses this indiscreet offer of matrimony, to a nun, (perhaps emerging out of his present need to find a wife, to dispel the gossip that he was wooing Mary, Henry’s daughter, with a view to taking the throne), to reveal that Dorothea genuinely believes Cromwell to be the villain who betrayed her father and brought him down. We know, even in the pseudo-first person present tense style, that Cromwell is weeping with rage and mortification after this interview, as Richard Riche frequently urges him to be consoled. It is very unusual for Cromwell to be visibly moved.

In fact, I wonder if this is Mantel deliberately starting to unravel his smooth facade. It would be easy enough to show Cromwell’s guilt, fear, regret, ambition, through his interior life as she has done all along so adroitly. Part of the magnetism of the writing is that every encounter that Cromwell has is significant, people’s reputations and future are at stake. But now, everywhere in the texture of the novel, there are premonitions of Cromwell’s demise, from Chapuys laugh which is like a rusty key in the lock, to the aforementioned overreaching on Cromwell’s part voiced by Henry himself (just after a member of the council notes Cromwell rarely kneels now before the king):

“If I say Cromwell is a Lord, he is a lord. And if I say Cromwell’s heirs are to follow me and rule England, by God they will do it, or I shall come out of my grave and want to know why.”

There is a silence.

A silence indeed, who would dare to speak after that? Stunning writing. I must read on!

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A Royal Odyssey

A while ago a Bible teacher in our church said, if you want to do some serious study of the Old Testament, take a look at the succession of kings in …

A Royal Odyssey
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Trouble with the Hebrew Kings?

https://247prayerbognor.wordpress.com/2020/05/17/a-royal-odyssey/

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The mirror and the light part one

So I am in the closing years of the imagined Cromwell’s life. What a treat, to be in the hands of Mantel! How many other privileged eyes are lingering over these fantastic pages? Warning, I will post as I read and there will be spoilers. I am up to p.225 in the hardback currently. If you haven’t read it yet, why not bookmark this blog for when you have to compare notes?

I bought the novel from Sainsbury’s at the start of lockdown. It’s very rare for me, understand, to shell out £12 on a brand new novel. Perhaps it was the prospect of the impending rigours of lockdown, mayhap it was the experience, I believe only at Christmas, of encountering Bring up the Bodies. What new ground can there be tread in this tome?

I am a little confused historically as I have been since perusing Tracy Borman’s biography of Thomas Cromwell, composed since the triumphs of Mantel’s first two novels in the sequence, unprecedented (there’s that timely word) in that they both garnered a Booker Prize. Events are occurring in the novel that seem to me to already have happened (e.g. the whole Ann Of Cleves saga I know about but it has yet to transpire, seems to me to have already happened, but Henry’s displeasure with Cromwell is still focused on Anne’s death and the rumours that fly around the streets about Henry’s manhood).

For any who have not read the first two in the sequence, can I assure you, that this is an extraordinary work of fiction. I’m not widely read, I’ll admit, in modern fiction, although I enjoy reading anything that is acclaimed or admired by those I take note of. Much of my reading is spent in other categories nowadays. But read Mantel’s trilogy NOT to find out the historical details. There are historical accounts and other fiction enough for that, I think. Read Mantel for the prose. Read Mantel for the insights into mortality, into fear, into the sensuous detail of the life that she paints. For the escapism into a more luxuriant England, a coarser England, an England redolent with religion, with ghosts, with an even greater obsession for great ones and the problems they bring.

I mean to give a little commentary on portions I have read so far.

I sat down to read the book knowing that at the end of it Cromwell’s head will roll, because that is history. Cromwell has long been portrayed as a rotter in historical accounts, especially for helping to do away with Thomas More. It’s very hard when reading Mantel to see him as villainous because we are inside his head all the time. I always view him sympathetically in this world since the sudden loss of his wife and daughters whom he seemed to love, in Wolf Hall I think that was.

All through the book there are presentiments of his fate. Spoiler one: Cromwell has narrowly escaped handing a ring as gift to Mary, Henry’s daughter. No hint in Cromwell’s mind that he meant it as a troth, which would have been treason to him. Henry has said HE would gift it to his daughter instead.

But more interesting than the raw events, is Mantel’s recent riff on his being accompanied by the men he sent to the axe at the end of the last volume (or the start of this). It is quite believable that a man such a Cromwell has become, as a child getting another boy whipped for his misdemeanours, as a man is capable of engineering other men’s’ deaths for his own ends. Mantel juxtaposes it with Henry on his knees in prayer, an almost Shakespearean touch, shades of Claudius or perhaps Richard II. Perhaps we no longer are convicted of our guilt in this time because our sins are so diffused and it is harder to point a finger and to say what we did? All our sins today appear corporate, collective, enshrined in law, proclaimed as holy by the media and the atheists, even by the faithful. But not so in Mantel’s world.

Cromwell’s sins have become epic as crossing the Thames becomes crossing the Styx accompanied by the ghosts of the men he has sent to their deaths. And he has sweaty foreshadowing of his own incarceration in the Tower. The architect of that system of execution, who even keeps clerks and property at the Tower, is shortly to end up there himself (well we have a matter of a few hundred pages before that happens).

The Mirror and the Light is a pleasing hardback volume, the pages are substantial and the ribbon that comes with it is very elegant. Better than forcing a receipt or a leaflet between the pages to mark where I’m up to. I’m glad I’m not reading it on a Kindle. The luxury of the prose would be eviscerated on my small Kindle’s dull screen. When I pick it up to read I swim through a number of pages, the long chapters fall away, the shorter sections absorbing in every conversation, Cromwell indicting himself further, it seems, with every decision he takes. I don’t want this incredible narrative to end.

How much sweat and tears did Mantel take over this effortless prose? Mistress of sensual detail, and ventriloquist of believable dialogue, as well as indelible phrases: Beware, my Lord, of gratitude. Already this is a triumph.

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CoVid19 and God

I haven’t got any wise words on this subject – I am just muddling along like the rest of us.  There are some things that draw us to prayer, and some things that draw us to the Bible (or to our source of wisdom if not the Bible – what’s yours?) and also to our most constant sources of pleasure.

Reading is a source of pleasure that, for some reason, I have not had the leisure really to avail myself of over the last couple of weeks.  But I have occasionally been dipping into a book by Don Carson, ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’, and I am both challenged and struck by his even-handed call to prayer.  It is full of wise and sensible comments such as:’All of us would be wiser if we would resolve never to put people down, except on our prayer lists.’  I know some people are a little cynical about prayer lists, and say that they’ve moved on.  Whenever I come BACK to prayer, writing a prayer list is one of the first things I do.

While I would not say the book is for a beginner in the faith (if you’re looking for a great book on prayer for beginners, I imagine that Pete Grieg’s ‘How to Pray’ would be a great starting point), he does make basic observations that are helpful to everyone:

When you are converted, you want to do what you didn’t want to do before, and you don’t want to do what you wanted to do before. There’s a change in the heart; there’s a cleaning up, a change in orientation, and holiness becomes attractive, instead of something you have to put up with to figure out what you can get away with. As long as young people are asking, ‘Can I get away with this?’ or ‘Can I get away with that?’ I wonder if they’re regenerate. If they’re asking, instead, ‘How can I grow in holiness?’ then I suspect they’ve begun to understand.

He explores the prayers of Paul in the epistles to look at how we can pray better and more like Jesus. It is reasonable – it’s not a guilt-trip.  But at the same time, there is nothing more useful both for themselves and for the world, that a Christian can do, than to be close to their Lord, and able to put in a word or two for others.

The book is a delight to read – I had certainly read these words before but not realised where they came from:

If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.

The best prayer is the prayer we pray with no self-interest.  And the most intimate prayer is when we express our love for God, without wanting something back.  It’s the cry of joy to the Father, that just thanks Him for life, for Himself.  We are to love the giver, rather than the gift.  We are to take our eyes totally off ourselves, and to adore the Lily of the Valley.

A while ago, I was reading in an occasional way through Samuel Rutherford’s Letters.  Through some means or other (perhaps Spurgeon) attention had been drawn to these.  They are notable not so much for who he writes to, but for the richness of his intimacy with Jesus, and the powerful and unremitting way he expresses his love.  I highly recommend them to give you a richer glimpse of what love for the Saviour looks like.  He is the one, as J. John says.

So without wanting to keep you too long, I just wanted to put a marker in the sand, as it were, and say something about corona.  For me, as a believer, the challenge before God is the same as it ever was.  To love Him the most, as the only one, and to pray for and love the world as well. How can I step up a gear in my spiritual life, as I know that Jesus is calling me to at this time?  What does that look like, during corona lockdown?  Am I deliberately carving out time to be with him, to put down the phone and go to the throne (to misquote someone in our church!)?  What does online fellowship look like?  And how can I not only fellowship online with other believers, but share the good news?  To bring hope, to bring joy, to bring truths that do not fade?  When all around is being shaken, what things do I know will remain?  God’s goodness, the offer of eternal life through Jesus, for anyone who believes.  Jesus died on the cross for ALL who will believe.

If you will reach out, God will reach out to you.  If you feel a prompting within you now, then respond to the Holy Spirit with everything you have.

A prayer to close: Thank you Jesus for a new day, a new start even in the middle of a global pandemic.  Give me the grace, the humility, the selflessness, to love you Jesus today, and to set my eyes on heaven, even if everything around me starts to get stripped away.  Set my joy on You Lord, not on material things, not on my role, not on my relationships.  Amen.

You have ravished my heart,
My sister, my spouse;
You have ravished my heart
With one look of your eyes,
With one link of your necklace. (Song of Solomon, 4:9)

ravished

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Ghost and the Afterlife

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I re-watched the 1990 film ‘Ghost’ with my wife around Valentine’s Day, noticing that it was now available on a popular streaming service I subscribe to.   Warning: I am going to give some spoilers in this post, so watch the film first if you’ve never seen it!

I was reminded of the 80s power-dressing, of shoulderpads, of how boyish Demi Moore looks in the lead female role playing Molly Jenson, and of how computers have moved on.

ghostcomputer

But also I was reminded of what an excellently-paced film it is, with superb writing.  When you start watching it, with three masked figures banging down walls with hammers, and then suited up cracking jokes in elevators, you could be forgiven for wondering what genre of film you are actually watching.  But no particular mood of the scene lasts for long; it switches very quickly (but smoothly) and moves from episode to episode with extraordinary variety and logic for a 2 hour film.  Tiny vignettes such as the ghost who was ‘pushed’ from a subway have searing power in their performance (played by Vincent Shiavelli).  Similarly, in a faux seance setup that has suddenly become real since Sam has activated Oda-Mae’s awareness of the after-life, we see a cameo of a scratchy husband-wife relationship where the wife is determined to find out where the insurance certificate is from her dead husband.  Great detail writing.

Perhaps the best example of the sweetness of the timing is that (spoiler alert!) Sam, the lead played by Patrick Swayze never says to his girlfriend ‘I love you’ – he always says ‘ditto’ in response to her offer.  And he is cruelly snatched away from her even as they are discussing marriage.  However, at the very end of the film, in a ‘ghost-like’ state, suddenly after not being able to see or hear the ghost of her boyfriend, she can hear him again, just before he departs for the hereafter.  And there he says: ‘I love you Molly.  I have always loved you.’  A killer moment.  It stands alongside the ‘penny’ where Molly finally realises Sam is actually there…

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I think that for many people when they first watched ‘Ghost’, the film did new things to you.  It’s a thriller, a romance, a comedy (Whoopee Goldberg, not to mention Sam’s attempts to move things and Patrick Swayze’s perhaps OTT acting as a frustrated ghost at times), and also a moving treatment of grief and loss.  It also holds that sinister question about what exactly IS waiting for people the other side of death: will you be called upwards in a shaft of light, or will you be dragged away by snickering, horrifying shadowy creatures?  The lines are drawn pretty clearly in the film, and the tone of voice as Sam says: ‘Oh Karl’ at the end shows the sympathy.  Some quite easy life lessons to draw from that, I would say.  Don’t defraud your company of millions of dollars, and don’t get your best friend murdered, or try to get with his girl after you’ve done it.

A slightly less morally easy case to deal with Sam’s role as a ghost in revenge: the ‘actions’ he is able to effect, especially with Willy Lopez, which lead to his death, and yet don’t seem to impact him being called upwards at the end.  And with Karl, where his gruesome end seems more of a mishap than Sam’s intention, who is protecting Molly and Oda May, after all.  And all good moral guides will tell you that it’s the choices we make IN the body that matter, rather than the ones after it.

I’m reminded of the verse in Hebrews 9:27 ‘Man is destined to die once and after that to face judgement.’  I had forgotten a brief scene early on where Sam and Molly watch a plane crash and Sam winces at ‘how quickly’ life can be snatched away.  A powerful foreshadowing for those in the know.

How is it that everyone seems to have forgotten that nowadays?  That we only have one life to live, and that every day is a gift?  They even seem to have forgotten that if it’s a long shot, that God doesn’t exist, that it might be a better idea to believe just in case (otherwise known as Pascal’s Wager – which you can read about in satisfying / confusing detail here).  A cheery nod to the importance of the divine occurs near the end with a large sum of money and some rather nonplussed nuns – was that where the idea for Sister Act came from?

The film leaves you both with the lingering refrain of ‘Unchained Melody’ and the sense of completion and a good goodbye.  With a sense of a pure life, if cut off early, at least with the ends tied up.  It leaves life as a mystery and yet with a convincing sense that there is a force for Good that vies and fights with the evil that threatens to overwhelm everything we do.  Agreed, it’s a long way from there to understanding the importance of the Cross, and what Jesus did for us.  We have to take Sam’s essential goodness on trust, and it is almost a relief to be able to do that, considering the TV drama and characters we are served up with nowadays (think Killing Eve or Breaking Bad – both of course artistically far superior to ‘Ghost’).

‘Ghost’ is a light film and yet it raises disturbing questions and reminds us of what is most important in life.  One observation Rubin, the screenwriter, made after the film played in cinemas, was that men held their wives’ hands differently afterwards.  For more information about the impact of the movie see Why Ghost forever changed summer blockbusters 

It’s worth a re-watch, if you’re looking for something easy but still moving.

 

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Day 19 of 40 days

So this is NOT the 19th post on this – don’t go hunting for the others!  And this is NOT a 40 day fast.  God hasn’t called me to that yet.  Or if he has, my flesh is resisting too much.

I have learnt something about fasting during this time, however.  My last post – Preamble – 40 Days

I laid out what I thought I would be doing with regards to fasting.  But since then I listened to Roger Price’s talk on fasting, and God showed me that while the marathon I completed last year was very helpful for my personal discipline, the same rules don’t apply to fasting.  It’s not about how long you fast for.  It’s about your heart.  That’s rather different for running.  At some points, analogies between running, and our walk with Jesus break down!  My wife keeps telling me this….

So I’ve managed two fasts over three days, slightly different variation each time.  I’d noticed the caffeine headache problem, and come off caffeine quite a lot, which has been really good.  I’ve also realised that I generally snack and eat far too much, and too much of my ‘thought-time’ is preoccupied with anticipating or planning what I’m going to eat.  Sometimes life does literally seem to be moving from one gastronomic pleasure to the next – I hope that I’m not alone in this.  Of course, in some countries and for some people that simply isn’t possible.  How ridiculously blessed but also WRONGLY oriented we are in the West.

Also, I didn’t necessarily (due to time with family, cooking for them etc.) create more time for prayer.  BUT since I’ve done those periods of fasting my prayer life has been quickened a little – I want it quickened more.

The other problem had been the running – as I’m trying to keep in trim for a half-marathon on 9th Feb.  It was both that, and considerations regarding being generally competent enough at work and for the family – driving etc.  So I’ve decided that once the half-marathon is out of the way, I shall do some further periods of longer fasting, but wisely each time.  I will either aim for a 5 day or 7 day fast.  But it’s not about the length.  What I’ve noticed is that once you’re a few days into a fast, the gain is quite substantial in terms of intimacy with God, and power in prayer.  Why JUST get to that point, say three days in, and then break your fast?

What excites me about this personally, is that it’s a new place for me.  I know that fasting is connected with spiritual power.  But spiritual power on the outside looks different on the inside.  On the inside, it’s more brokenness and more yieldedness to God’s will.  But on the outside it reaps more impact in the Kingdom.

As a church, we are having a good time meeting together.  It’s a sacrifice.  But it will become increasingly precious.  We are meeting on Wednesday evenings, and sharing thoughts regarding the verse/s we get each day on our whatsapp group.  I believe that something long-term, some shift in our perspective, in our relationships together, and in our family lives, is going to come from this time.  But we need to keep digging in.  We are JUST on the halfway point really.  I’m looking forward to our Open Meeting on Sunday where we will share communion and come together.  Increasingly, I’m seeing an impact on our Sunday gatherings as we start to become personally renewed.

I would encourage anyone in our church who is reading this, and who perhaps hasn’t been carving out new habits of time with Jesus, that it’s not too late.  Get that green booklet out, get on the whatsapp – perhaps arrange to meet with a friend for an extra time of prayer.  Every day we are called to build with silver and gold in His kingdom.

One thing I always notice about fasting is that urgent, critical prayer requests come my way.  It’s not that they don’t the rest of the time.  It’s that I FEEL the need to pray in my spirit, and find myself connecting with God a lot more often to bring needs before Him.  The other thing I notice is how much more I fall in love with Jesus.  It’s a good place to be, and I’m so glad we committed ourselves as a church to this season of prayer!

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Preamble – 40 days

key is prayer

I thought I’d put a few pointers on here, which would be reminders for me, and perhaps help others too, as in our church we enter an exciting season, at the start of the year, where we focus in on prayer. I’m not promising to blog regularly!

When we are setting aside more time for Jesus, we may feel a bit scared that we won’t know how to fill it.  In reality, we will soon find we need MORE time, to do all the stuff that we suddenly want to do.  Let’s pray that this desire to be with Jesus, to listen to Him, to take a ‘course in Jesus’ as we heard last Sunday about Vision – let’s pray that this spills over and that these two months are only the beginning.

Below I have gathered some thoughts under some headings, which are reflections on me personally and how I am approaching this time.  Don’t feel that you have to do these things – listen to hear what Father is saying for you.

My sister has written a song, which I’ve become more aware of recently, which goes: ‘There are mountains only you can climb, and sunsets just for you’ or something like that.  There ARE some mountains we will climb together as a church.  There are some you may climb as a family, or as a Life Group – or perhaps just with a special friend in the church (or outside).

Why not tell someone else that we are doing a season of prayer?

prayers past generations

FASTING

For me, I have decided to go for three day fasts, building up my capacity for fasting, and then do a ten day fast.  I think that I will still probably be drinking coffee during that time, though I may cut down on caffeine.  Technically, I should be drinking black coffee, as ‘milk’ is food.  I will try on a three day fast to fast the coffee, and see how I get on.  A great tip that someone gave me not that long ago is to drink hot water, rather than cold (to get energy), and also you could go for hot squash.  That still works quite well.

Just to give you the figures, each week I plan to fast Wed to Friday inclusive. I will start from when I wake up, and not break the fast until the Sat morning each week.  After two weeks of three day fasts, I am going to go for a ten day fast, which will start on the Monday, and I will finish on the Wed which is the last Wed of the first month.  I have given myself after that a week’s break, to recover.  I’m mindful that I plan to run a half marathon on the 9th Feb, so I do really need that week just to have some carbs back in my body!  Then I will do one more three day fast, build in another week’s break, and conclude the time of fasting with a five day fast.  I may find, if the first ten day fast went well, that I prefer to do a SECOND ten day fast.

Why are you telling me this, I hear you ask?  Aren’t we supposed to fast in secret?  Well, yes, we are.  But there is also power in corporate fasting.  Others may be planning to fast as well.  We can pray for each other and support each other in prayer – we’re going to need that.  Remember how Aaron and Hur lifted up Moses’ arms in Exodus 17 so that the battle could be won?  Let’s reach out to each other especially in prayer in this time.  If we listen, we will hear God telling us to pray for certain people, to reach out to them and encourage them.

What I’m excited about here is the opportunity for breakthroughs.  Both in the time freed up from thinking about food, in the times together as church, and when I worship or wait on God, I will find myself seeing my life, my family, my relationships, my work, the church – ALL in a different way.  It helps us to be part of the much bigger picture – the Kingdom of God and what he is doing.  I can state what breakthroughs I want – but God will have different plans, I’m sure – and much more wonderful than mine!

Isn’t it about time we started to say no to the devil?  No to our own evil desires, and no to the world?  We know that He only has our best interests at heart.

ten cent prayer

On a practical level, I was re-reading my journal from 2018, and this time last year, I was embarking on marathon training.  I remembered that God had spoken to me, as I was maybe a month off the Brighton marathon (so in March) and said that if I can run 26.2 miles, I can also manage a 40 day-fast.  Well, I’m not going STRAIGHT into that one, just as you don’t go straight into a marathon.  But these are very exciting early steps.

DEVOTIONS – WHAT TO DO

One thing that we used quite a lot with 24/7 prayer rooms is to break up an hour of prayer into 5 minute segments.  You can EASILY think of what to do with each segment.  WARNING – five minutes is actually quite a lot longer than you think to start with.  Five minutes of speaking aloud in tongues is quite a lot.  In five minutes, with a list in front of you, you can pray for quite a lot of people.

So for example (from Dick Eastman, The Hour that Changes the World).  Notice you start and end with praise.  As a practical tip, I found 12 activities too many, and for a long while I focused in on 5 or 6 of them, and just did them, e.g. PRAISE, CONFESSION, SCRIPTURE PRAYING, WATCHING, INTERCESSION, WAITING.  That’s half an hour rather than an hour.  Or just take two of them at a time.

hour changes the world

Make sure that you give good amounts of time to loving God, to singing to Him, to reading Psalms aloud, to declaring who He is.  Thanking Him for all He has done.  Asking forgiveness for our mistakes, for our omissions, for what we have failed to do.  Asking Him to turn a searchlight on our hearts and show us where our motivations are false, prideful, conceited, selfish.  Sometimes you will find that the whole prayer time is taken up with that.  Other times, you can move on into intercession (praying for others).

Because you know that you will have more time for prayer, be on the alert during the day for things to pray for.  Best to pray for them when you hear of them.  And if Father wants you to pray for them more, He will tell you.

Can you get someone else to pray with you, alongside you?  Ring someone up and pray with them over the phone?  Or agree to meet for a short while, and just to pray together?  Share with them how it’s going.  Where you really got passionate and excited?  Where you got a bit down and felt like giving up?  Then you can encourage each other.

roaring like a lion

OTHER STRATEGIES

However much we want to devote our whole lives to God (and sometimes we do!), real life has a habit of getting in the way.  Without being too ambitious, we can recognise that certain things help or hinder us to be our best for Jesus and for others.  Why not let the start of this year be a time where you’re at your best?  For me, I know that when I get out and run I’m better.  So I’m planning to do some short early morning runs each week.  I didn’t even do this when I was marathon training!

Where I’m NOT at my best is often the evenings, especially after a day at work (you know what I mean!).  My wife and I have agreed that once the boys are in bed, we are going to take some time and look at the 40 days booklet verse for that day, and pray together, and see what we hear God saying.  We will do this a day in advance, so we can revisit the verse during the day and keep in sync with everyone else.  I know that sometimes I won’t feel like doing this, but we will be able to help each other, and prompt each other.

WHAT ARE YOU GETTING?

Before I start the 40 days, I got the word ‘abundance’.  We draw water with joy out of the wells of salvation.  There’s more than just the ‘I am saved, I am free’.  There is MORE every day of our lives.  I also saw a key turning in a lock.  I think there’s more to come on that.  Psalm 77:10 says ‘I will remember the days of the right hand of the Most High.’  This is reminding me of revival, and of what God has commanded.  I believe the time is here for that.

I can do all things

 

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Why get ordained?

What are the myths about being ordained?  There is some ignorance and fear about ordination, especially in the Free Church movement – it’s a thing of the past, no one needs to be ordained, it’s not necessary.  It’s a method of control: if you’re ordained somehow your spiritual life is stifled, or you have to compromise with what you really believe to be ordained.  There are many fears and concerned, and those would be associated with particular denominations, e.g. the Anglican communion, or the United Reform.  Some would think you’re coming under something oppressive or even demonic when you ‘agree’ with that denomination.

priests

It’s important to remember Galatians 5:1: ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set you free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of bondage.’  I would argue that ordination is not a snare – it is both less and more than is thought by many in the evangelical church.  It is a technicality but it has some spiritual depth.

Ordination is not a qualification that somehow immediately makes you more spiritual than anyone else.  The purpose is not for status.  I see it as a response to God’s calling.  It is one of many responses that we can make to God’s calling on our lives.  Just because you are not pursuing ordination, it does not mean that God does not have a calling on your life.  But if you are, it is a response to God’s calling.

Secondly, ordination is not somehow a money-making idea, or a professionalising of faith.  One of the problems I have with those individuals who are saying: Look, you don’t need it, it’s not necessary, is that they’re speaking maybe from a place where they’ve never led a church.  People who’ve never carried the burden for something can easily say: this isn’t needed.  But everything looks different when the buck stops with you – everything looks different when you take responsibility.

I’m doing to draw an analogy as a school teacher.  I’ve watched many people run schools.  I’ve admired, I’ve sometimes been critical in my head, I’ve tried to help, I’ve responded to the way that schools have been run by different head teachers, but I’ve never been a headteacher and I’ve no idea what that experience is like, being responsible for everything that goes on in a school, for carrying the responsibility for that, along with the Chair of Governors – to be carrying that responsibility.

I’d put a word of caution out there for those who say: you don’t NEED to be ordained.  For me, there are two things – it’s a calling, and it’s a response to a calling, and it’s also a structured way of responding and to say that I’m committed to that, and I’m going to be obedient to that:  secondly, being ordained is coming into relationship with a network of Christian leaders, a spiritual network, rather than a status or a position, it’s not a rank.  I’ll write in another post what it means being ordained in Elim, but what it means is a live relationship with this network of Christians.  So what it provides, that certainly our church has not had with some years, is a connection and safety net, if you like – a board of reference.  It isn’t a desire to have everything provided for.  This is one of the myths of ordination, that everything’s provided for you on a plate.  You don’t necessarily get a salary, if you’re ordained; there are some provisions within different denominations for those who are ordained, but they’re not extensive, certainly not at a low level.  For myself, working part-time as a teacher, that’s not what I’m doing it for.  When I was working with some responsibility as a teacher, it was reasonably well-remunerated – but this is not, and this isn’t the purpose of it.  Our previous pastor was faithful and awesome in his role, and yet he wasn’t ordained.  He has said it very well, however, that the times have changed, and that one of the reasons of ordination is the expectation that the community still have towards those who are.

Another thing that ordination is not is ‘Look at me, I deserve brownie points, aren’t I fantastic,’ and there is this myth that those who are ordained are more able or competent than those who aren’t ordained.  Standing from nearly at the point (three years away) from getting ordained, I think it’s very much an ‘open book’. You’re ordained – okay.  It doesn’t necessarily mean much on its own.  I see qualified teachers every day, I see them at work in the classroom, if I had the role of appointing teachers, I wouldn’t employ them JUST because they’re qualified – there are qualified teachers and there are qualified teachers.  Everyone brings a story with them, and it’s connecting into that story that is part of the process.  Ordination is an opportunity to connect into more peoples’ stories, and it’s still the role of each individual on the journey to hear from God, and to be obedient, just like any of us!

bride-groom-outdoor-ceremony

Finally, I would suggest that on that level of technicality, of practicality, there is a distinct set of experiences and knowledge that ordination carries with it.  Yes, some of these things can be done in some denominations by those who aren’t ordained; but for the recognised denominations, it’s also an incredible opportunity to be Jesus to others.  Baptism, infant baptism, marriage, funerals, discipleship of children, being there for the bereaved, the suicidal, the sick, those in prison – it’s a way of responding to the ‘sheep and the goats’ parable that Jesus tells in Matthew 25.   All missionaries will do this sort of work, and most church pastors will too.  And that is very exciting.

Ordination is a strong, a life-long calling to be Jesus’ hands and feet, and to visibly represent the King of kings on earth.  We are all called to do this, yes – but those getting ordained are those stepping up to the plate and saying: We want the Body of Christ to be served, to continue, we want to be faithful, we want to be obedient.  As I say, it’s ONE response to God’s calling on your life.

 

 

 

 

 

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