Embrace the cities and towns

York Minster  (Photo: Irene Bom)

Here’s a thoughtful meditation by Ann Bell Worley, based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles headed for the city of Babylon.

The meditation is taken from the Cities and Towns issue in a series of publications on faith and ethics produced by Baylor University (and available for free download).

Meditation: “Babylon”

Not simply an evil territory
     or a dirty word,
     as we are prone to believe.
But a place where God’s people were sent
     in exile
     on purpose
     on mission
         to offer their culture
     to the culture there
     in love.
For God so loved the world.

Like Israel in exile, still we hope
     for our homecoming in the city of God,
     where there will be no more tears.
Let us hope not
     in closed communion
     in isolated sanctuaries
     apart from the Babylon-world.
Rather let us hope
     in the fullness of God’s love
     in the life of the cities and towns
         where we work
         and love
         and worship
         and play.
And remember
     that God so loved not only us,
         but the world.

Let us hope for Babylon
     as we hope for ourselves.
Let us embrace
     its people
     its buildings
     its streets
     and fill them with the beauty
         of God’s temple.
Let us hope
         with doors wide open,
     welcome the city in
     and pour ourselves out.
For God so loved the world.

~ written by Ann Bell Worley, copyright © 2006 The Center for Christian Ethics. Posted on the Baylor University website.

… more on Cities and Towns

Other subjects included in the Cities and Towns issue:

  • Dysfunctional Cities: Where Did We Go Wrong?
  • Citizens of Another City
  • The New Urbanism
  • Saint Benedict in the City
  • Crate and Castle
  • Cities and Towns in Art
  • Salt in the City

… and loads more on Faith and Ethics …

Check out the Baylor University’s Christian Reflection Project for materials on other areas of life where faith and ethics intersect – to inform your thoughts and your prayers. Also a great resource for group discussions.

Note: Besides articles, there are also study guides provided, for example this one on Consumerism.

From the blog

Prayer prompts
Sola gratia – Deo gratias
Sabbath rest


In the school of prayer with Ignatius of Loyola

Signs used in the 2018 Good Friday service in Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

I recently wrote this little song inspired by a good day in Zacchaeus’ life, as recounted in Luke 19:1-10:

You see me in all my shame and glory
I hear you speak my name
What joy! my Lord and Saviour
to meet you face to face
I am changed from the inside out
by your gift of grace.

The Examen

One spiritual practice that helps us reframe our experience – both the shame and the glory – is called the Examen, a contemplative prayer developed by Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), founder of the Jesuits.

The basic format

  1. Become aware of God’s presence.
  2. Review the day with gratitude.
  3. Pay attention to your emotions.
  4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
  5. Look toward tomorrow. Ask God to give you light for tomorrow’s challenges.

(Source: www.ignatianspirituality.com)
Visit the website for a more detailed outline.

Consolations and desolations

Here are some practical guidelines, taken from Gary Neal Hansen’s chapter on Ignatius in his book, Kneeling with giants: Learning to pray with History’s Best Teachers.

“In … the examen, we focus on the task of discernment by examining what Ignatius calls the ‘motions of the soul’ – the inner nudges that draw us toward God or away from God. He calls these tuggings ‘consolations’ and ‘desolations’, things that give a sense of the gracious presence of God or the seeming absence of grace, the absence of God.

The process is quite simple: we give thanks to God and quiet our hearts to reflect on the past day or week. In God’s presence, we bring to mind both the consolations and the desolations, in prayerful silence or writing them in a journal. We ponder their significance. We close with a prayer thanking God for being present in our experiences, offering ourselves to God anew. … the examen can be done individually or as a gentle, conversational way to pray with a friend or in a group. It can be especially helpful for married couples who want to pray together … It is also a delightful way to deepen prayer with children.” (p. 104)

More practical guidelines, this time from Chris Heuertz’ book, The Sacred Enneagram:

“The heart of the examen uses memory to explore the day searching for a ‘consolation’ – a moment, memory, or experience in which we felt God moving toward us or in us. Our consolation can be something as mundane as our first cup of hot coffee in the morning, something as sweet as an interaction with a child we love, or something as profound as a personal eruption of grace (such as receiving forgiveness from a friend, noticing growth in our faith journey, or realizing in a deep way that we are loved). Whatever the consolation is, once it is discerned we allow ourselves to be held by it, listening to what God may be trying to say to us through it. This step of the prayer also invites us to find the courage to search for a ‘desolation’ – a moment, attitude, or experience in our day in which we found ourselves moving away from God’s love and presence. Perhaps it’s those voices in our head – shame, guilt, doubt, regret, disappointment, or fear – that we mistake for the voice of Love. The person who hurt us isn’t the desolation, but rather the resentment we might feel toward that person; the family member who constantly annoys us isn’t the desolation, but rather our impatience with them; the painful memory we’ve tried so hard to forget isn’t the desolation, but rather our inability to receive healing for it. Whatever the desolation is, we acknowledge it as an invitation to grace so as not to be overcome or overwhelmed by it.” (p. 230)



Go to the Index for more posts in this series, as well as other series.

Summer-friendly spiritual practices

‘Strangers you meet on the street can turn into good neighbours’  (Photo: Irene Bom)


Have you considered activities like meeting people, gardening, swimming and journaling as a spiritual practice?


Incidentally, this is the 150th Prayer Matters blog post. Thank you for sharing in the spiritual practice that is this blog.


Gretchen Champoux … on gardening

Gardening connects us to life’s natural rhythms, the gifts of each season, the wonder of creation and the natural world. For me, gardening and gratitude go hand in hand … I can’t help but experience the garden. When I do, I am pulled to the present moment so much so that I can paradoxically lose sense of time — especially if I’m digging away!


Sharon Salzberg … on swimming

I thought of meditation when Willow described her experience (swimming laps). When she slowed down and focused only on the movement and the effects it had on her body, she was able to let go of the doubts, fears, and comparisons in order to experience what the body presented to her at that moment. The experience of being buoyed along in the water, of her muscles moving through it, was a pure sensation of being alive, once she got her comparing mind out of the way.


Austin Kleon … on journaling

When I write in my diary, I often try to start with Nicholson Baker’s advice:

If you ask yourself, ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about. If you ask yourself, ‘What happened today?’ it’s very likely that you’re going to remember the worst thing, because you’ve had to deal with it – you’ve had to rush somewhere or somebody said something mean to you – that’s what you’re going to remember. But if you ask what the best thing is, it’s going to be some particular slant of light, or some wonderful expression somebody had, or some particularly delicious salad. I mean, you never know …


From the blog
Up to us – on the joys of a walking holiday

Full of air


I’ve had Gunilla Norris’s book, Becoming Bread, on my bookshelf for years. Paging through it – the first time in years – I found this meditation inspired by the rising process where the yeast “breathes out” carbon dioxide that is trapped in the dough, expanding and so transforming it.


“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and hid in a large tub of flour until it made all the dough rise.” (Matt 13:33b, NCV)


Here in the bowl
is warmth and time to rest.
The dough is set apart and covered.

Here in the bowl
the rising starts
and creeps up the sides

reaching into time,
into space … into possibility.
Dreams are like this,

full of air,
going ahead of us,
want to take us

beyond the rim
of our horizon,
wanting to lift us out

of where we are.
Dreams are like this … unfolding
a moment at a time,

expanding us, breathing us,
demanding something new,
wanting to take shape.

This is also dangerous
for there are dark dreams, terrible
dreams. And the ones where

love asks the impossible from us.
Can this be the restlessness
of God? Are we being dreamed?

from Becoming Bread by Gunilla Norris, p. 45-46

2017: Advent Joy #7

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)


Romans 8:31-35  (The Voice)

31 So what should we say about all of this? If God is on our side, then tell me: whom should we fear? 32 If He did not spare His own Son, but handed Him over on our account, then don’t you think that He will graciously give us all things with Him? 33 Can anyone be so bold as to level a charge against God’s chosen? Especially since God’s “not guilty” verdict is already declared. 34 Who has the authority to condemn? Jesus the Anointed who died, but more importantly, conquered death when He was raised to sit at the right hand of God where He pleads on our behalf. 35 So who can separate us? What can come between us and the love of God’s Anointed? Can troubles, hardships, persecution, hunger, poverty, danger, or even death? The answer is, absolutely nothing.


Fanny Crosby’s hymn, Blessed Assurance, Jesus is mine, is well-loved. Our congregation sings its uplifting melody and inspiring words with gusto. What is it to have the assurance of our faith? Assurance in Christ is a work of the Holy Spirit in someone’s life which gives the believer confidence in the truths of the gospel.

Someone who has assurance in Christ may not have led an easy Christian life. They are likely to have wrestled with Christ’s gospel, asked hard questions of the scriptures and faced challenging times and seasons in life. Assurance is a sign of Christian maturity that gives the believer the level of respectful assertiveness needed to share the gospel in words and action.

In his letter to the Christians in Rome, Paul writes about assurance in the Christian life, commenting on his confidence in God’s sovereign work and how it impacts the life of the believer: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).  Paul then confidently reminds them that nothing – absolutely nothing – can separate them from the love of God.

What will such confidence in a Sovereign God and perfect Saviour do for us? As you ponder this, let God fill you with deep peace and joy.

Praying the psalms

6 Often at night I lie in bed and remember You,
meditating on Your greatness
till morning smiles through my window.
7 You have been my constant helper;
therefore, I sing for joy under the protection of Your wings.
8 My soul clings to You;
Your right hand reaches down and holds me up.

Psalm 63:6-8 (The Voice)


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer


TIP … from the blog
In a joyful vein:
The Gift #8 : Adoption

2017: Advent Joy #6

Treacle – Lindy and Laurence’s dog – source of much joy and exercise
(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)


Philippians 4:4-7  (The Voice)

4 Most of all, friends, always rejoice in the Lord! I never tire of saying it: Rejoice! 5 Keep your gentle nature so that all people will know what it looks like to walk in His footsteps. The Lord is ever present with us. 6 Don’t be anxious about things; instead, pray. Pray about everything. He longs to hear your requests, so talk to God about your needs and be thankful for what has come. 7 And know that the peace of God (a peace that is beyond any and all of our human understanding) will stand watch over your hearts and minds in Jesus, the Anointed One.


My favourite letter of the Apostle Paul is to the Christians in Philippi. It is an incredibly upbeat epistle, considering that Paul is under house arrest. The underlying theme of the letter is ‘rejoicing’ and ‘joy’. Paul doesn’t seem in any way intimidated by his situation or restrictions on his movements.

The fact that the gospel is being preached by others as a result of Paul’s imprisonment brings him joy, regardless of the motivation behind it (1:12-18). Paul rejoices in the life and ministry of Jesus the Christ, reminding the believers in Philippi that their attitude towards one another should be the same as that of Christ (2:5). Also, the friendships that he shares with Timothy and Epaphroditus bring him joy (2:19-30). Lastly, Paul is filled with deep joy at the ‘the peace that passes all understanding’ resulting from his prayer life, and he encourages the Philippian Christians to experience this for themselves.

Advent is a time of preparation. We fill our time with too much busyness; present-buying, meeting up with friends, tidying the house for visitors coming to stay. Yet, it is not that sort of preparation that I am thinking of. In all of the ‘stuff’ that we do, let us take time to reflect on the Nativity story and ponder afresh on what God has done for us in giving us his incarnate Son. There we will discover deep joy, just as the Apostle Paul did.

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)

Praying the psalms

9 This is a good life—my heart is glad, my soul is full of joy,
and my body is at rest.
Who could want for more?
10 You will not abandon me to experience death and the grave
or leave me to rot alone.
11 Instead, You direct me on the path that leads to a beautiful life.
As I walk with You, the pleasures are never-ending,
and I know true joy and contentment.

Psalm 16:9-11 The Voice


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer


TIP … from the blog
3 Prayers for Wayfarers
For when you’re travelling, to help you tune in to God’s presence

2017: Advent Joy #5

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)


John 16:20  (The Voice)

20 I tell you the truth, a time is approaching when you will weep and mourn while the world is celebrating. You will grieve, but that grief will give birth to great joy.


The gospel of John gives us a detailed account of the conversations that Jesus had with his apostles in the upper room. There are some tense moments as the scene plays out, when Jesus confronts Judas, who will betray him, before he departs into the night. Jesus is explicit about his own death and he knows that he will face it very soon. Yet, despite all the gloom about the crucifixion to come, Jesus promises that the apostles’ grief will turn to joy.

Who was it that grieved the Lord’s death? We know of Judas, the betrayer, whose despair at his own actions so overwhelmed him that he took his own life. Then there’s Peter, the rock on which Christ would build his Church, who denied his Lord three times in the courtyard. When Christ is led out, he looks at Peter from across the courtyard, and Peter runs off sobbing. How many tears of grief Peter cried we will never know.

Yet the grief of Christ’s death turns into the joy of the resurrection on Easter morning. After breakfast the risen Christ invites Peter for a walk along the shore of the lake. The conversation begins ‘Peter, do you love me?’ and concludes with Peter’s joyful restoration.

Praying the psalms

You did it: You turned my deepest pains into joyful dancing;
You stripped off my dark clothing
and covered me with joyful light.
12 You have restored my honor.
My heart is ready to explode, erupt in new songs!
It’s impossible to keep quiet!
Eternal One, my God, my Life-Giver, I will thank You forever.

Psalm 30:11-12 (The Voice)


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer


2017: Advent Joy #4

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)

Celebrations and jubilations! This is the 100th post since starting the blog on 7 March 2017.



Luke 1:46-55  (The Voice)

46 Mary: My soul lifts up the Lord!
47 My spirit celebrates God, my Liberator!
48 For though I’m God’s humble servant,
God has noticed me.
Now and forever,
I will be considered blessed by all generations.
49 For the Mighty One has done great things for me;
holy is God’s name!
50 From generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures
for those who revere Him.

51 God’s arm has accomplished mighty deeds.
The proud in mind and heart,
God has sent away in disarray.
52 The rulers from their high positions of power,
God has brought down low.
And those who were humble and lowly,
God has elevated with dignity.
53 The hungry—God has filled with fine food.
The rich—God has dismissed with nothing in their hands.
54 To Israel, God’s servant,
God has given help,
55 As promised to our ancestors,
remembering Abraham and his descendants in mercy forever.


Mary, betrothed to Joseph the carpenter, could have been as young as 14. To get pregnant outside of marriage in the ancient world of the 1st century was a huge scandal. Mary would have been the talk of the town. Whose baby is it? Was it Joseph’s baby or was she pregnant by another man? Despite everything – her reputation in tatters, her fiancé threatening to break off the engagement (who could blame him?) – still, Mary responds positively.

She sings a song of joy that we call the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), selected as today’s reading. Her positive spirit is astonishing and her faith inspiring. She is so filled with the joy of the news of the angel’s revelation to her that her soul bursts forth into song. Mary’s focus is not on the potentially difficult circumstances she finds herself in, but on the amazing privilege that God in Heaven has bestowed upon her. Mary’s spiritual maturity and depth of faith is astonishing for such a young woman.

Timothy Dudley-Smith’s Advent hymn, Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord, based on Mary’s song, is a firm favourite in our congregation.

(Tell out my soul: Songs of Praise, St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast)

Praying the psalms

6 We confess — there is nothing greater than You, God,
nothing mightier than Your awesome works.
I will tell of Your greatness as long as I have breath.
7 The news of Your rich goodness is no secret —
Your people love to recall it
and sing songs of joy to celebrate Your righteousness.

Psalm 145:6-7 (The Voice)


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer


2017: Advent Joy #3

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)


Luke 2:8-12  (The Voice)

8 Nearby, in the fields outside of Bethlehem, a group of shepherds were guarding their flocks from predators in the darkness of night. 9 Suddenly a messenger of the Lord stood in front of them, and the darkness was replaced by a glorious light — the shining light of God’s glory. They were terrified!

Messenger: 10 Don’t be afraid! Listen! I bring good news, news of great joy, news that will affect all people everywhere. 11 Today, in the city of David, a Liberator has been born for you! He is the promised Anointed One, the Supreme Authority! 12 You will know you have found Him when you see a baby, wrapped in a blanket, lying in a feeding trough.


On Christmas Day we often sing the Christmas Hymn, Joy to the world, the Lord has come. What is it that we are celebrating on Christmas morning?

Firstly, we celebrate God’s faithfulness; the Messiah is promised through all of the Old Testament from the book of Genesis to the words of the prophet Malachi. It is a great testament to God’s faithfulness that he fulfilled his long-term promise of sending the Messiah, by giving us his only eternal Son, incarnate in Jesus of Nazareth.

Next we remember God’s perfect thoughtfulness. When you seek out a Christmas gift for someone, it can take a lot of thought and effort to find the appropriate item. God is thoughtful and kind to humanity by choosing the most appropriate gift of all. He chooses his precious Son to be our perfect Saviour, the only one who can forgive our sins and give us the hope of resurrection life. No other being could do that for us; only God the Son Incarnate in Christ was equipped to fulfil this task for us. We rejoice in God’s perfect thoughtfulness.

Next, God is persistent in his love for us. When we reject that love and go our own way or cave into temptation, he seeks us out again and again until we turn towards him and seek the restored relationship with him that deep down we crave.

Lastly, God is generous in his grace for us. So often we think of Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross as the ultimate expression of God’s grace towards us. Yet if God had not given us the gift of his incarnate Son, there would have been no Cross.

Praying the psalms

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter;
our tongues were spilling over into song.
The word went out across the prairies and deserts,
across the hills, over the oceans wide, from nation to nation:
“The Eternal has done remarkable things for them.”

3 We shook our heads. All of us were stunned —
the Eternal has done remarkable things for us.
We were beyond happy, beyond joyful.

4 And now, Eternal One, some are held captive and poor.
Release them, and restore our fortunes
as the dry riverbeds of the South spring to life
when the rains come at last.

Psalm 126:2-4 (The Voice)


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer


2017: Advent Joy #2

(Photo: Lindy Twaddle)


1 Peter 1:8-9  (The Voice)

8 Although you haven’t seen Jesus, you still love Him. Although you don’t yet see Him, you do believe in Him and celebrate with a joy that is glorious and beyond words. 9 You are receiving the salvation of your souls as the result of your faith.


In his book, Surprised by Joy, the Christian writer C.S. Lewis described, in semi-autobiographical terms, his faith journey; firstly the shift from atheism to theism and then his intellectual/spiritual shift from theism to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

What brings you joy in life? I don’t mean superficial happiness, but deep-reaching and life-transforming change that brings gladness to your heart, the same kind of transformational change that C.S. Lewis experienced?

As a teenager interested in the world of science, I distinctly recall my faith journey from atheism to theism. I realised that scientific endeavour, while it found answers to life’s questions, could not answer all the questions. I realised that the ‘world’ of scientific discovery and reason would never fully satisfy my curiosity. A few years later, through the gentle consistent witness of a Christian family in the town where I grew up, I was led from theism to accept Jesus the Christ as my Lord and Saviour.

Like C.S Lewis, I was ‘Surprised by Joy’. Since then Christ has been my companion in life through life’s trials and struggles as well as the moments of triumph and celebration.

Praying the psalms

6 Crowds of disheartened people ask,
“Who can show us what is good?”
Let Your brilliant face shine upon us, O Eternal One,
that we may know the undeniable answer.

7 You have filled me with joy,
and happiness has risen in my heart,
great delight and unrivaled joy,
even more than when bread abounds and wine flows freely.

8 Tonight I will sleep securely on a bed of peace
because I trust You, You alone, O Eternal One,
will keep me safe.

Psalm 4:6-8 (The Voice)


Church of Scotland Advent Calendar
Journey daily with characters in the Nativity through video, reflection and prayer