Archive for the ‘images of God’ Tag

Ash Wednesday 2014   Leave a comment

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and I went to the traditional administering of ashes service at my church.  During the marking of a cross on everyone’s forehead the choir sang one of my favorite pieces of sacred music: “God so loved the world” from Stainer’s Crusifixion.

For this first blog post of my Lent 2014 Reflections I just refer you to a recording of it by the St Paul’s choir on YouTube:

Below is the artwork I stood in front of while it was being sung, you can read about it here: 



Lent 2014 Reflections – Introduction   Leave a comment

Today is the Sunday before Lent, which then starts with Ash Wednesday this week. I propose to try and do a blog post each day through Lent this year reflecting on what I read and think that day. This blog post is an introduction to that series.

Parish Mass Today

I went to the 10:15 Parish Mass today at my church: St. Matthew’s Northampton. The Anglican Lectionary set two readings about mountain top experiences; one from the Old and one from the New Testament – the giving of the Law and the Transfiguration.  The Vicar said in his introduction that we all know mountain top experiences but then have to come down to face everyday life again.

In Exodus we read the following:

Exodus 24:12-18

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

12 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.’

13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his assistant, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, ‘Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.’

15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

I smiled at that reading because I had not remembered that Joshua accompanied Moses up the mountain in this story. A dear spiritual friend, Brother Nicholas of Alton Abbey, always used to call me Joshua because he thought I faced life bravely.

Then from the Gospel of St. Matthew we heard the following:

Matthew 17:1-9

New International Version – UK (NIVUK)

The transfiguration

17 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.

4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’

5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

There was not a formal sermon but a question and answer session between Fr. Peter (retired priest) and the children and teens about the below icon.


It is an Egyptian ancient icon rediscovered in the C19th see: The key lesson for me from this icon was that Jesus puts his arm around us but gives us space.

So that summarises my preparation for Lent. I have a lot of reading lined up and if you wish you would be welcome to follow me on this blog as I journey through Lent towards Holy Week and Easter.

Thursday 22 December 2011 – “Turning the world upside down”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were 1 Samuel 1: 24-28; Luke 1: 46-56.

We are back with pregnancy and the huge potentiality of every new birth. Any child may be used to “turn the world upside down.” Today in Samuel we read of Hannah’s dedication of the young Samuel, who she had prayed for so long, to the Lord and bringing him to Eli to be brought up in the house of the Lord. Then in Luke we have the Magnificat, Mary’s beautiful song of praise uttered while she was pregnant with Jesus and when staying with her older cousin Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist. That is 3 babies that went on to change their worlds and in different ways many later and geographically spread parts of the world.

I have always loved the story of Samuel since I was a child. I wanted to be able to hear that voice of God and respond ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ [1 Samuel 3: 10]. In my 20s I had the opportunity to learn yachting and longed to have a small yacht of my own. It was a period when I still made such prayer requests to God and I prayed for one, resolving to call it Samuel if I ever got one. Samuel went on to be a wise Judge of the people of Israel. There is a story in I Samuel 6 that provoked an insight that is important to me on my faith journey – but I’ll save the telling of that for another blog post. 

It was Samuel who anoints the first kings of Israel (Saul and David). The beginning of this story in 1 Samuel 8 for me is one of those points in history that to my view things would have gone better for God’s work on earth if different decisions were taken. Samuel counsels against having a king but in the end he (and apparently God) relents because of the people’s demands. From what I can tell at this historical distance and the biblical accounts the wise Judges and the tribal elders seems a lot more wholesome form of Government than an autocratic king. I also think that the subsequent images of God based on kingship give a distorted image of Him/Her that was particularly negative in influence through the medieval period of church history. 

There are two instances of Church history in particular that I wish had gone a different way. Firstly, when Constantine adopted Christianity as a state religion of the Roman empire (c. 313). This embroiled the church  in political power games that were to show many unChristlike attributes down the subsequent centuries. Christianity became Christendom. More nationalistically I am saddened that at the Synod of Whitby in 664 the indigenous Celtic church put itself under Roman authority. We would have had a very different national spirituality if that had not been the case. However here we are back at the point of Monday’s reflection. God takes risks with the unfolding of history by entrusting much of it to the decisions of His/Her conscious  creation.

How are we influencing the world in which we live?

4th Sunday of Advent – “Expectation and preparation”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages set for today were: 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14, 16; Romans 16: 25-27; and Luke 1: 26-38.

The story in Samuel is one of the numerous stories in the Old Testament where the people of Israel have to be persuaded to repent of worshipping false gods and to turn again the The Lord. Then after God gives them victory in battle over the Philistines (always something that challenges my view of God’s interaction with history); it ends with an image that was much repeated throughout my youth and one I can gladly own for myself.  They set up a stone and called it Ebenezer – “Hitherto the Lord has helped us”.  I have always loved the reference to this in my favourite hymn, the one I have said since my teens I want at my funeral, “A sovereign protector I have” by Au­gus­tus M. Top­la­dy. To my view this must be sung to the wonderful Welsh tune Trew­en (both my Grandfathers were Welsh and Welsh spirituality touches me easily). I was going to just quote the last verse that refers to the Ebenezer but the hymn is such a complete summary of things that are important in my own faith I quote the whole:

A sovereign protector I have,
Unseen, yet forever at hand,
Unchangeably faithful to save,
Almighty to rule and command.
He smiles, and my comforts abound;
His grace as the dew shall descend;
And walls of salvation surround
The soul He delights to defend.

Inspirer and hearer of prayer,
Thou shepherd and guardian of Thine,
My all to Thy covenant care
I sleeping and waking resign.
If Thou art my shield and my sun,
The night is no darkness to me;
And fast as my moments roll on,
They bring me but nearer to Thee.

Kind author, and ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee, for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast helped me till now.
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defense Thou hast proved;
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally loved!

[Augustus Toplady, December 1774]

I had a few other thoughts coming out of today’s readings but compared to those well crafted and deeply felt words by Rev. Toplady which I claim for myself they are just noise, so I will leave today’s reflections there.

Friday 16 December 2011 – “Tasting the fruit”   Leave a comment

The Bible passages for today were Isaiah 56: 1-3, 6-8 and John 5: 33-36.

God is no Nationalist

The notes point out that Isaiah was writing at a time of political tension for the Kingdom of Judah (when has that not been the case in that part of the world?), a time when Nationalistic feelings would probably have been rife.   However he points out the inclusiveness of faith in one God.

Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.
[Isaiah 56: 3 NIV]

I remember a practising Jew sharing with me once his perspective on being “God’s chosen people”.  It was not that they were better than other people, or special, but that they had had laid on them the burden of revealing to the rest of humanity God as one universal God.  The historians of religion point to several separate origins of the idea of monotheism but it’s development in Judaism has certainly had great global influence with that religion’s direct influence on Christianity and Islam.

As for me and my faith, I can not believe in one God who is partial to one Nation over another.  That is analogous to the, to me, nonsense idea of one a football fan praying to God for success for his side over another.  A universal God must be making himself known to all Peoples and loving all Peoples.

Thursday 15 December – “Expecting Renewal”   Leave a comment

[Note I am devoting less time to these reflections today than has been my habit – perhaps I am in need of renewal!]

The Bible passages for today are Isaiah 54: 1-10 and Luke 7: 24-30.

The passage from Isaiah uses an analogy of God the husband and his people the wife.  Some of it challenges my own images of God, e.g.:

In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you, says the LORD your Redeemer.
[Isaiah 54:8 NIV]

I can see myself turning my back on God, although it is not thankfully a prevalent tendency; I have known Him being hard to find, but I can not see Him as deliberately hiding from me.  Again this is my image of God’s love dominating over any image of his sense of justice, which Isaiah states in the second part of that verse.

Then final verse of today’s selection reasserts the dominance of his love:

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed, says the LORD, who has compassion on you.
[Isaiah 54:10 NIV]


In the reading from Luke Jesus describes John the Baptists’ role, quoting from the Old Testament as the ” one who will prepare your way before you”. Restating the Advent theme of preparing for God.

Tuesday 6 December 2011 – “The one and the many”   Leave a comment

Images of sheep

The Old Testament reading today, Isaiah 40: 1-11, includes and extends the reading from Sunday. So, again I have its setting from Handel’s Messiah running through my head.  The New Testament reading is from Matthew 18: 12-14.  The last part of the passage from Isaiah and the Matthew passage both contain images of sheep.  To me they both speak of the tender kindness of God.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:
He gathers the lambs in his arms
and carries them close to his heart;
he gently leads those that have young.
[Isaiah 40:11 NIV]

Then the story from Matthew is the one of the lost sheep, and the shepherd leaving the other 99 to search for the lost one; and rejoicing when he finds it.

This has brought to mind a part of the liturgy I know so well from monastic retreat.  I expect it is said or sang as part of morning prayer in monasteries (of many different orders) and churches all over the world.

Canticle:  “The Song of Zechariah”   Benedictus Dominus Deus    Luke 1: 68-79

“In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

That phrase “the tender compassion of our God” always stands out for me.  It is that tender compassion that is pictured in the Isaiah passage: “…  he gently leads those that have young” and is encapsulated in the looking for the lost sheep described in Matthew.

  • May we all know God’s compassion and through it find the way of peace, Amen

[Apologies  for only a short post today. I was up very early working. However perhaps it is a case of more said with fewer words.]

Posted December 6, 2011 by Martyn Cooper in Advent 2011 Reflections

Tagged with , ,