Grains of Sand

Grains of Sand is a rebrand. I originally called this blog The Jog. That has run its course. The blog was The Jog but now it’s just Grains of Sand. Why?

  1. Grains ain’t heavy and take themselves lightly
  2. I like my questions blowing’ in the wind
  3. I like the sound of sand sifting in the sea
  4. There are too many to count
  5. Jesus did all his best writing in sand

There’s rocks and then there is sand. Or is it the other way round? Time managers insist on getting to the rocks first but that suggests we don’t have to make time for the grains of sand. I get concerned that the blogosphere will be taken over by experts with their weighty opinions. Am I wrong in thinking that posts are getting longer and look more like journal articles? It’s as if they’re uttering the last word. I’m wanting space for the first words of consciousness and wonder.

They’re too many count. Nobody in their right mind would ever dream of counting grains of sand (although it might be a better way of getting sleep than counting sheep). In the Bible grains of sand stand for plenty. They stand for the extent of his love and the extent of his amazing grace. When we say “how much?”, we hear “so much, you can’t even begin to count”. His love and his mercy is measured in grains of sand.

How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand (Psalm 139:17f)

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham from heaven and said “… I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” (Genesis 12:17)

The sins I have committed against you
are more in number than the sands of the sea. (Manasseh 1:9)

Jesus did his best writing in the sand. I say that because there’s no evidence that he did any writing other than the writing he did in the sand (John 8:1-12). In this passage Jesus subverts the judgments of his community.His opponents framed a woman – they said “caught in adultery”. They want Jesus to confirm the judgement that she should be stoned to death but Jesus refuses. He writes in the sand. He says the first stone should be cast by the one without sin – at which her (and his) accusers put their stones down and leave. Jesus, as the one without sin, should have been the one to cast the first stone. Instead he says, “I don’t condemn you”.

We don’t know what Jesus wrote in the sand. Instead we read into his writing his merciful love and his despair at those who don’t realise the damage they are doing when they judge others. There is one  fanciful suggestion (Derrett) that what Jesus did write was two verses from scripture. He was sitting down when he wrote – the theory is he would have been able to reach as far as being able to write only 16 Hebrew characters, which might have been:

“Do not follow the crowd in doing wrong… do not pervert justice by siding with the crowd.”(Exodus 23:2) and
“Have nothing to do with a false charge.” (Exodus 23:7)

We just don’t know what he wrote. But if the suggestion is true, or if he wrote something similar, it is clear that it was the malice of the chargers that bothered Jesus, not the alleged wrong of the woman. I would say that this is beautiful writing, calligraphy that spares the ones the world accuses (rightly or wrongly) – writing for salvation.

That is the way to write, with the grain of that sand. So Grains of Sand it is. Just a few grains, a tiny part of a large harvest. Just grains, secreted and buried in the blogosphere. It’s not for me to know what happens next. Thanks for reading and thanks to all fellow sifters.

Professionally speaking

Sir Alex Ferguson: the consummate professional?
Sir Alex Ferguson: the consummate professional?

Professionally speaking: is that speaking well, or is that being paid for speaking?

Speaking well: is that speaking without hesitation, notes or blasphemy, or is it speaking truthfully?

In what sense has Sir Alex Ferguson been a professional football manager?

There is a sense of professionalism which comes from a realisation which is personally transformative and attitudinal. This is the sense which is behind the religious profession through which a person gives themselves utterly because of that realisation and profession. Here’s my starter for eight about such a professional life. Can anyone help me to make it a starter for ten?

  1. Professionals are driven by values that go to the core of their being. Their motivation comes from this inner sense of values.
  2. Professionals profess those values in their practice.
  3. Professionals enjoy their busyness when they can profess their faith, but become anxious when they lose sight of these guiding principles in their busyness – when practice prevents profession.
  4. Professionals are preoccupied by their profession at all times. They occasionally switch off when fully engaged by something else.
  5. Professionals choose an enabling lifestyle.
  6. Professionals develop disciplines to make themselves resourceful and effective.
  7. Professionals don’t count working hours or kill time. They are intrigued by opportunities. Kairos beats Chronos every time.
  8. Professionals cultivate their values as best friends. Continuing professional development is not an option but a natural course of action.

Extra time and the end of BST

This is a sermon prepared for some of the good people of Guilden Sutton and Plemstall for the end of British Summer Time.

SS Simon and Jude – Sermon for October 28th 2012.

Well done for remembering to change your clocks!

The question we ask when the clocks change is “Do we gain an hour, or do we lose it?”

Well, this time, we “gain” an hour. We have an extra hour.

What have you done with it?

The same question was raised about the Leap Day earlier this year. February 29th. We got an extra “day”. Many people spotted the opportunity and planned extra events – I finished up with three competing commitments that day. One man used the day creatively. He had lost contact with his brother. He hadn’t seen him for over 30 years. He used the Leap Day as a day for the work of reconciliation.

What have you done with the extra hour?

I hope that some of you managed an extra hour of sleep – after all so many of us are suffering from having too much to do and handle. Phrases that we hear of time and time again are “work-life balance” and “time management”. We find it so difficult to manage time. We are stressed by it – I really do hope that some of you managed to get your own back on time by stealing another hour of sleep.

What do we do with time, and what does time do with us? These are questions I want to focus on.

Firstly, what does time do to us?

The short answer is that he terrifies us. Old Father Time, the Grim Reaper, terrifies us. Change and decay in all around I see.

Time is always running away with us and with our loved ones.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

The clock is ticking, and we know that there is a countdown for our last chance, whether on the TV quiz show, or the science fiction that the earth is going to be destroyed, unless the superhero manages to “beat the clock”. Wasn’t there a TV programme called “Beat the Clock”?

Time stresses us out. We race against time. Time robs us of our youth, innocence and health and we are left wondering whether there is any point. Try as we like, we can’t manage time and we are left feeling that time is managing us. We are in his hands, and in his hands many are really anxious. What if, all the time, our lives count for nothing?

So, what do we make of time?

Actually, as Christians, we make a lot of Time.

In the Eucharist, in the end, through our faith, in our practice we trust that the One “who changest not” abides with us, even though it is often only change and decay that we see all around.

Our biblical myths of time confront the despair that grips so many. I have been reading a book written in the year I was born – an old book, by Rabbi Abraham Heschel. His view was that Judaism is a religion of time, aiming at the sanctification of time. That view spans both Testaments.

This holiness of time is expressed in the story of creation. Each day is a day because God says so. There is this present moment because God is present.

The work of creation did not finish after the sixth day. The work of creation goes on. Every moment is an act of creation and a new beginning. Heschel writes: “there are no two hours alike. Every hour is unique and the only one given at the moment, exclusively and endlessly precious”. This is such a contrast to the way in which time is something just to be killed by those who see no quality time, and who are simply bored by the flatline of time.

Our story of time encourages us to see every moment as significant. But our story of time also gives us the means to survive the times of our life when there is evil, violence, suffering, pain and crying. The Bible begins at Day One. It ends with the Last Day, when, in the end, there will be Shalom, and all will cry glory.

I mentioned the six days of creation. There is also the 7th day which God called holy, and which we are commanded to call holy. This is how we are called to tell the time. Observing the Sabbath is a resistance to the powers of the world, the powers that be, our business and the things that rule our lives “Monday to Friday”. It is a breathing space with strict rules for its protection. There is no work to be done (for some even flicking a switch is too much). One rule is “ye shall kindle no fire” – applied by Heschel to also not kindling the fire of righteous indignation. Sabbath observance demands great disciplines which build up through generations.

Heschel writes: “With the Sabbath comes a miracle: the soul is resurrected.” For him “the world’s survival depends on the holiness of the Sabbath”. The task is how to convert time into eternity, how to fill our time with spirit.

As Christians, we have a different story to tell. We see two different hands on the clock. The hands of Christ crucified, the hands of Jesus risen from the dead.

For us the holy day of Sabbath becomes the holy Day of Resurrection. Each week begins with holiday of the new creation by which all our days are numbered.

The discipline of people like yourselves coming together to celebrate resurrection is making something of time and resisting a tide of hopelessness. By celebrating the Day of Resurrection, by remembering all God’s works of redemption, we make something of time for ourselves and alternative calendar for the world, which can only be good news for all those who have grown tired, or bored, or who are oppressed day by day.

The Bible is more concerned with time than space. It pays attention to generations and events. We follow that tradition. Our year is full of grace as we move from one great celebration to another. This week we celebrate all the saints. Today we celebrate Saints Simon and Jude. We don’t know much about them. We know that Jude write one of the epistles, and that he is patron saint of hospitals, hospital workers, desparate situations and forgotten, impossible and lost causes.

There are many who feel desparate in their battle against Time. They feel overwhelmed and exhausted. They fear the end. They worry they are a waste of time, and feel that time has wasted them. All of us, from time to time, have shared the same despair – but we know there is another way of telling time.

That way is made through the resurrection, through faith, hope and love, and through the practice and devotion of local communities of Christians who tell the time differently – who manage time not by months and minutes, but by eternity and a love that never dies.

The last word belongs to the patron saint of desparate situations and forgotten, impossible and lost causes. In his epistle, Jude addresses people like ourselves – inclined to anxiety and desperation in the passage of time. He writes: “Dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”