Primary Wonder


Days pass when I forget the mystery.
Problems insoluble and problems offering
their own ignored solutions
jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber
along with a host of diversions, my courtiers, wearing
their colored clothes; cap and bells.
And then
once more the quiet mystery
is present to me, the throng’s clamor
recedes: the mystery
that there is anything, anything at all,
let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything,
rather than void: and that, O Lord,
Creator, Hallowed One, You still,
hour by hour sustain it.

Denise Levertov (1923–1997)

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‘To this wisp of smoke…’

Commenting on 1 Peter 1:3-5, Paul Blackham writes the following:

Life in this passing age is so fragile and fleeting. As the Scriptures say, our life is like smoke that quickly disappears. Whatever we achieve is soon forgotten. Who remembers their great grandparents? Who knows what they did, how they felt, what they said? The years race by with ever increasing pace and we cannot pause this headlong flight for even one moment. Our looks decay away; our flimsy reputation is forgotten; the next generation replaces us and even scorns us; our achievements and possessions end up in their hands. All our attempts to grasp into immortality our permanence only make matters worse.

Yet, to this wisp of smoke, the Living God offered His own life- an eternal life, a life of the ages, a life that stretches away into an everlasting future. If this mercy and grace doesn’t make us praise with every fibre of our being, then nothing ever will!

You can read more by getting hold of the excellent Book by Book study guides – available from the Biblical Frameworks website.

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This is magnificent.

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Saying Goodbye

LasIMG_7220t night at my church small group, we began talking about returning home and reverse culture shock. Many in the group will, in the next few months, uproot themselves from the lives they’ve built here in Norwich and move – either back home, or to somewhere else that’s new and full of challenges. We wanted to give time and space to reflect on what that experience may be like, and to thank God for the good things He’s given that will soon be left behind.

It has made me think about saying goodbye, and the impact that the end of things has on us. That might not be moving to a different country. Along with the more obvious finality of bereavement, ‘smaller’ events like changing jobs, starting a new relationship – all of these things entail an ending of sorts, a type of goodbye. How do we deal with that well? What framework do we set these experiences in?

Just this morning I came across the following thought:

“Every loss, every goodbye, every fright, every moment of shame, is, to a degree, a traumatic experience in contrast to what we were meant to experience in Eden.”

from ‘The Spectrum of Trauma‘ by Dan Allender

Something to think over in the coming weeks…

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And for my next musical plug…

…You really should listen to The Oh Hellos. No, really – I’m telling you, they’re brilliant!

Check out songs like this…

Hello My Old Heart
Like the Dawn

With lyrics like this…

No, I am not afraid to die
It’s every breath that comes before
Heartache, I’ve heard, is part of life
And I have broken more and more

But I can hope how this will end
With every line a comedy
That we could learn to love without demand
But unreserved honesty

This Will End – Dear Wormwood

They’re well worth investing some time in!

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Děkuji – Karel Kryl

Karel Kryl was born in German-occupied Czechoslovakia in 1944 and spent much of his life living under communism. He became a vocal critic of the state, using his songs to decry the oppression and violence of the regime – which led to his first album being banned and removed from sale within the first year of its release.

Kryl eventually left his home country for the West, but continued to produce Czech music which, despite being banned, still found it’s way into the hands of many behind the Iron Curtain.

The song above, titled ‘Thank You’ (Děkuji in Czech) is a poetic and beautiful piece which defiantly thanks God for the compassion and love that unjust pain and suffering can create. Kryl’s rich and smooth voice makes the song ask the more moving. Even if you don’t understand a word, it’s worth a listen.

Lyrics in Czech:

Stvořil Bůh, stvořil Bůh ratolest,
bych mohl věnce vázat,
děkuji, děkuji za bolest,
jež učí mne se tázat.
Děkuji, děkuji za nezdar,
jenž naučí mne píli,
bych mohl, bych mohl přinést dar,
byť nezbývalo síly.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

Děkuji, děkuji za slabost,
jež pokoře mne učí,
pokoře, pokoře pro radost,
pokoře bez područí.
Děkuji, za slzy děkuji,
ty naučí mne citu,
k živým, již, k živým, již žalují
a křičí po soucitu.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

Pro touhu, pro touhu po kráse
děkuji za ošklivost,
za to, že, za to, že utká se
láska a nevraživost.
Pro sladkost, pro sladkost usnutí
děkuji za únavu,
děkuji, za ohně vzplanutí
i za šumění splavu.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji,

Děkuji, děkuji za žízeň,
jež slabost prozradila,
děkuji, děkuji za trýzeň,
jež zdokonalí díla.
Za to, že, za to, že miluji,
byť strach mi srdce svíral,
beránku, děkuji,
marně jsi neumíral.
Děkuji, děkuji, děkuji, děkuji, děkuji.

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Psalm 90:12
So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.

This might change the way I think about birthdays!

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The Bard’s Birthday [Belated!]



“And this our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything. I would not change it.”

William Shakespeare, As You Like It

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On Depression

The 18th – 24th April has been named Depression Awareness Week. I’ve read a few articles that have made me think – one of which was ‘What does depression feel like? Trust me – you really don’t want to know’ by Tim Lott. Published in The Guardian, 19th April 2016.

I have a suspicion that society, in its heart of hearts, despises depressives because it knows they have a point: the recognition that life is finite and sad and frightening – as well as those more sanctioned outlooks, joyful and exciting and complex and satisfying. There is a secret feeling most people enjoy that everything, at a fundamental level, is basically OK. Depressives suffer the withdrawal of that feeling, and it is frightening not only to experience but to witness.

You can read the full article here.

Do you think Tim Lott is right? Are we kidding ourselves that the world is OK and life is basically as it should be? Is there hope and reason to be joyful, or are we essentially  delusional?

As a Christian, I know that I’m basically not OK. Every day I encounter some new (or old) example of how the world I live in is broken – from far-off conflict to close-to-home tragedy, there’s too much suffering to pretend that all is well. But even if I were to shut out the rest of the world, I can’t escape. Daily I experience a growing awareness that I am not as I should be. Whatever I possess – object, attribute or experience, good though it may be – I find that it is not enough to solve, not enough to satisfy, not enough to cure the absence within. David Foster Wallace writes about this from the experience of luxury on a cruise:

For this — the promise to sate the part of me that always and only WANTS — is the central fantasy the brochure is selling. The thing to notice is that the real fantasy here isn’t that this promise will be kept but that such a promise is keepable at all. This is a big one, this lie. And of course I want to believe it; I want to believe that maybe this ultimate fantasy vacation will be enough pampering, that this time the luxury and pleasure will be so completely and faultlessly administered that my infantile part will be sated at last. But the infantile part of me is, by its very nature and essence, insatiable. In fact, its whole raison consists of its insatiability. In response to any environment of extraordinary gratification and pampering, the insatiable-infant part of me will simply adjust its desires upward until it once again levels out at its homeostasis of terrible dissatisfaction.

(From his essay Shipping Out: On the (nearly lethal) comforts of a luxury cruise).

The brokenness of my world – both external and internal – is, I believe, inescapable. In this respect, I think Tim Lott is right – our culture has perhaps too quickly bought into the notion that the gloss of prosperity, happiness and luxury can cover up the wreck beneath. Perhaps people who experience depression do see the world with the false, shiny coating stripped back – which understandably leads to all the feelings and thoughts that Lott so powerfully describes. What I’m not ready to conclude, however, is that this is all there is to be known and uncovered.

This is not the only way we’ve deceived ourselves. In our attempt to shut out the horror and fear and sadness, we’ve plastered over our hope and our way out. Jesus said he knew what was locked away in the human heart. He said that malice, envy, murderous thoughts, destructive lust and greed, self-loathing, hatred and pride all stem from inside us. It’s worse than we know. He died a tortured, brutal death at the hands of regular, ordinary human beings. He sank to the very lowest pit of shame and despair and his death looked like pointless defeat. But Jesus rose.

Death is swallowed up in victory.
“O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”

1 Corinthians 15 – The Bible

What’s different about Jesus from all the other glossy, think-the-world-happy philosophies out there? With what confidence can I claim him as a solution or source of hope? With Jesus there’s no pretence – he’s not duped by over cover-ups or cheery spin. He’s pushed through the worst the human heart can contain and he’s through to the other side – a whole new way of living. And he’s willing to take us with him.

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Luke 5:1-11


From Matthew Henry’s Commentary on Luke 5:1-11

Note, Even the best men are sinful men, and should be ready upon all occasions to own it, and especially to own it to Jesus Christ; for to whom else, but to him who came into the world to save sinners, should sinful men apply themselves? [2.] His inference from it was what might have been just, though really it was not so. If I be a sinful man, as indeed I am, I ought to say, “Come to me, O Lord, or let me come to thee, or I am undone, for ever undone.” But, considering what reason sinful men have to tremble before the holy Lord God and to dread his wrath, Peter may well be excused, if, in a sense of his own sinfulness and vileness, he cried out on a sudden, Depart from me. Note, Those whom Christ designs to admit to the most intimate acquaintance with him he first makes sensible that they deserve to be set at the greatest distance from him. We must all own ourselves sinful men, and that therefore Jesus Christ might justly depart from us; but we must therefore fall down at his knees, to pray him that he would not depart; for woe unto us if he leave us, if the Saviour depart from the sinful man.

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