PANDEMIC AWAKENINGS – WEEK 5
These reflections are from sharings kindly submitted by Fr. Jim Cogley
Day 1 – Lights in the Darkness
Extracts from Fr Jim’s Open Letter – A Call to Pray in Faith
On Saturday 19th of April, I heard what seemed like a whisper of Spirit that took me by surprise. What I sensed being said was: When are you going to say enough, and start exercising the power of faith that I have given you to overcome this virus in your midst; when are you going to stop being the victim, seeing yourself powerless against this unseen enemy? Let your faith be nourished by prayer and use that faith to overcome this challenge and prove victorious. Now is the time to unite in prayer and exercise your faith in a very real way.
The words of Jesus confirm the ‘message’: Whatever you ask for in faith, believe that you have already received, and it will be granted you. This captures the essence of praying in faith and not just with some vague hope that it might happen.
In practical terms this may mean helping to mobilise a large body of people to pray, not just in hope that this virus will be overcome, but with the kind of faith that knows that it already has been conquered. In Hebrews 11 Faith is defined as; the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not yet seen. While it believes in what is not yet, its reward is to see that which has been believed. Faith is like the bird that sings while it is still dark because it has the assurance of the dawn.
I invite you to reflect and see if this finds a resonance in your heart. Give it prayerful consideration and if you wish to share with me the fruit of your prayer please let me know by email on: firstname.lastname@example.org
Praying in Hope or Faith?
In yesterday’s posting an open letter was offered and your comments were requested to discern what might be the next steps, if any that may be required. As stated in the letter the message came as a genuine surprise and was not something that I dreamed up myself or came from my own thinking. Throughout the Corona outbreak I felt so overwhelmed by the enormity of what was happening to the extent that, while I knew I should be praying, I honestly didn’t know how to pray. So I resorted to offering prayers and spending time in quiet. I suspect that in that I was not alone and so many felt the same way. Looking back I was looking more to the enormity of the problem than to the greatness of the God I was praying to. So my prayer was more based on hope rather than faith that we would get through this crisis; that Covid 19 would disappear and that we would learn some important lessons along the way. The revelation I received, should you wish to call it that, was not to pray in hope that something might happen, but in the faith of what we pray for being already an accomplished fact. For me this was the first glimmer of insight as to how we might pray at this present time.
Discerning the Word
Remaining with the open letter. When we receive what we believe to be a message or word from the Lord what tests can we use to discern if it is genuine or simply a product of our imagination. The first is to believe that the Lord can speak to any of us irrespective of age, background or education. Should that word be genuine, it comes with the assurance that it will not return empty, but will accomplish what it was sent to do. It is like the tiny acorn that carries within itself the potential to become not just a mighty oak tree but a forest of oak trees. A few guidelines I have found helpful over the years are these:
Has it come in response to a genuine need or request for guidance?
Does it come with a felt sense of being right and carry a quiver of excitement?
When shared with other people of prayer does it sit right with them?
Is it in accordance with the already revealed truth in Scripture?
Is it possible to see a way forward for the message to reach a wider audience?
Having applied all those questions the message still carries the sense of being the right word for the right time.
Responding to the Word
Yesterday we focused on looking at traditional ways of discerning whether a message or word from the Lord is genuine or not. Ultimately its only when we look back over several years of having acted upon the word that we can see clearly from its fruits just how genuine it really was. Here allow me to offer an example. As most of you are aware I work a lot with creating symbols in wood that I use in preaching, giving seminars and also as illustrations in the Wood You Believe Series of books. It was during my late forties, while preaching a Christmas sermon that I heard a whisper of spirit that said; go to the wood. It carried a sense of authority and remained with me so I began to act on it in the only way I could think of. I cleaned out a garage and bought myself a lathe and began to turn wood with surprising results. Initially the word didn’t make sense; I had no background in wood; had never been to a woodwork class and had never seen anybody use a lathe. Yet from the moment I began it was as if an explosion of creativity erupted within me and it felt as if I had been doing this work all my life. How that work has unfolded will be continued tomorrow.
The Unfolding of the Word
Continuing from yesterday, my facility to work with the lathe and to create very complex pieces of work took me completely by surprise. After six months I had an exhibition and sold the pieces which raised nearly five thousand euro for children that had been orphaned through Aids in Uganda. For several years later the local community continued to fundraise and raise a similar amount for the same charity. This was administered by a medical missionary sister who was working on the ground. I was engaged in secondary school teaching at the time and very quickly began to notice the improved level of interest in class when I would bring in a piece as a teaching aid. At the end of the year when asked what pupils remembered most it would invariably be some of the symbols used. From this I could see the possibility of creating a huge range of symbols that could be used as visual aids in preaching and teaching. Now nearly twenty years later I have hundreds of symbols that are suitable for use in a myriad of ways and with all sorts of topics. Particularly while giving a seminar I bring quite a large display and they add richness to the work that makes each presentation quite unique.
The Road to Emmaus
The Emmaus story is probably my favourite passage in the NT and it has lots to say to us about where we find ourselves just now. It is really about two disciples trying to make sense of their lives that seem to have been set spiraling in the wrong direction. Much like ourselves, where our world is reeling from the effects of this Corona virus, we may feel as if we are journeying away from Jerusalem, the place of our hopes dreams and expectations.
At least there were two of them and they were talking. That is a big thing because when something happens we tend to go into isolation where we just talk to ourselves but can’t make sense of anything. The stranger joins them and they tell him their story of disappointment and shattered hopes. Two things they can’t hold together, the death of Jesus and their hope in him. His death has cancelled out their hope. They are hopeless and helpless.
Like so many they have heard of the Resurrection, some women have reported their experience at the empty tomb, but it has not yet become real for them. They fail to recognize the stranger who walks by their side as the Christ. Why? I would think for the very good reason that they are still living Good Friday and not Easter Sunday. Like so many, what had happened in the past had robbed them of hope for the future, and they had no eyes to see life in the present.
What does Christ do? He invites them to tell the story of what has happened and how it has affected them, even though he knows it all too well. In the telling of their story he was also helping them to get in touch with their emotions which is essential for healing to take place. Then he proceeds to place their small story within a much bigger context. Was it not ordained that the Christ would suffer in order to enter into his glory. In so doing he helps them to find meaning in what has taken place. Finding their place in the bigger picture had the effect of setting their hearts on fire.
The Fruit of the Word
With the benefit being able to look back on twenty years of working with wood, all coming from that surprising whisper, Go to the wood, it was the beginning of one of my life’s greatest adventures. Particularly during this time of lockdown it is an interest that sustains and keeps me afloat. While first using the symbols at a seminar in St Peters College, it was suggested that I commit the material to paper using the pieces as illustrations. This was how the Wood You Believe series of books began and so the Word began to expand exponentially. There are currently nine in the series and I am currently working on the tenth book. These have sold in their thousands and are now in every corner of the globe. Christ spoke of the Word being like a tiny mustard seed that when fully grown has the potential to become a tree so large that the birds of the air come and shelter in its branches. In relation to that simple word, Go to the wood, from so many years ago, this has happened literally. It has been possible to direct proceeds from these books towards housing people in need and today there are so many who have a roof over their heads directly as a consequence of that Word. The ultimate test of the Word is its long-term fruitfulness and for me this is wood that still bears a lot of fruit as it takes on a life of its own.