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Posts Tagged ‘the Gospels’

Jo 17A few weeks ago, we enjoyed a restful break away. I had plenty of opportunities to walk on the nearby beach and to explore further afield. But I also had time to indulge myself in a feast of reading. In the process, I discovered all over again how amazing it is to become so absorbed in a novel that the real world recedes and time seems to stand still.

First, I re-read a Maeve Binchy novel, Circle of Friends, and was soon immersed in the lives of Benny and Eve and those other interesting Irish characters from Knockglen, relishing their successes and grieving for them in their failures and disappointments. From there, I gravitated to another favourite author, Kate Morton. I had not read The Distant Hours and was delighted to find it in a second hand store for all of four dollars! This story transported me far away from my beachside surroundings and deep into the English countryside, leaving me to wander around creepy Milderhurst Castle, on edge as to what scary event would happen next.

It was a relief to leave this dark, foreboding environment and return to Ireland via another Maeve Binchy novel, Firefly Summer. I wandered beside that brook near Ryan’s pub, as the young people gathered to swim and jump off the bridge and grow up. I felt Kate’s pain and fear for her family and loathed the cad Kerry. It was another great read, although I was a tad annoyed to be left wondering what happened to some of those characters after the story ended. And it was a long time before I was able to return fully to the real world again.

In the midst of all this holiday reading, however, I did not forget the best book of all. I continued my current project of journeying through parts of the Gospels. What a privilege to sit and reflect on these events, as I gazed out at God’s creation of ocean and sky and clouds and listened to those waves crashing on the nearby beach! I was well and truly grounded in reality as I read. Yet I was also far away again, this time watching as Jesus walked on water, talked with Moses and Elijah, raised the dead, rode into Jerusalem and celebrated the Passover with his disciples.

How moving to stand in the midst of two large crowds converging on the road into Nain and hear Jesus say gently to the grieving widow, ‘Don’t cry!’—then to see her son sit up (Luke 7:11-17). How heartbreaking to hear another crowd shout ‘Hosanna!’ and to see them spreading cloaks and palm branches on the road as they welcomed Jesus (Matthew 21:1-11), yet to know they would shout ‘Crucify!’ not long after. How humbling to be at that Passover meal, to hear Judas ask, ‘Surely not I?’ and to witness Jesus, in return, talk of giving his body and blood for him—and for us all (Matthew 26:17-30).

Our imaginations are a wonderful, God-given gift, don’t you think? I love using mine not only to create stories of my own but also to enter into and fully appreciate those worlds others write about—especially the world of the Gospels. After all, that’s where I meet Jesus all over again, face to face.

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Jo 17Last week, I received a rather agonised email from a writer friend. She told me how, having decided to self-publish her latest book, she checked it through many times and enlisted others to help as well. However, after all that painstaking editing, she managed to send the wrong version off to the printer! By the time she realised her mistake, it was too late. That first print run was complete.

I did not have to try too hard to put myself in her shoes and empathise. I have never self-published, but I know what it feels like to have a publisher print one of my books, having added extra mistakes of his or her own, after I had signed off on the final version and agreed everything was just as I wanted it! I felt my friend’s pain and embarrassment. She was not looking forward to being judged as ignorant or less than thorough, particularly by her writing peers.

In recent weeks, however, I have found myself challenged in an even deeper way to walk in someone else’s shoes. At a friend’s suggestion, I decided to tackle a book of daily spiritual exercises entitled The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien. Part of this adventure involves reading the Gospels with all my senses and imagination at work and contemplating the life of Jesus in a fresh, up close and personal way. It involves letting the events of Jesus’ life be present to me right now, as best I can. And it involves allowing the Holy Spirit to touch my heart in the process, rather than merely gaining head knowledge about Jesus.

So far, I have contemplated the birth of Jesus as one of those bystanders in the stable. I have put myself in the shoes of Anna and Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the temple and wondered what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with their son. I have sensed their confusion when Jesus, as a young man, chooses to stay behind in the temple, asking the teachers questions. I have put myself in those scenes where Jesus calls his first disciples. I have tried to imagine how Jesus must have felt on hearing that affirming voice from heaven as he is baptised in the Jordan River and have asked my loving Father to speak those words into my own spirit. I have been deeply challenged, being with Jesus in that desert as he faces being tempted. I have listened with anger as he experiences rejection in his own home town. I put all my senses to work to picture the scene where a paralytic is lowered through the roof so Jesus can heal him. I heard the criticisms—but I also joined with others who praised God, saying ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mark 2:12)

I’m up to the Sermon on the Mount now—and I can’t wait. I’m so much looking forward to journeying on with Jesus and listening to what the Spirit wants to say to me. I want my relationship with Jesus to be authentic, to be current, to be up close and personal. After all, it’s the best way to become more like him, don’t you think?

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If it wasn’t so serious, it would be funny how often what I say when speaking at the various groups or churches where I am invited applies first and foremost to me. There I am, merrily encouraging others to take heed of the things God is saying when a gentle voice somewhere inside me pulls me up short and says, ‘So Jo-Anne, where are you on this matter? What are you going to do about this?’

Last week was an almost too perfect example of one such time, to my shame. I had been invited by a particular group of women to share something of how God has guided and encouraged me in my writing journey. As I prepared my input, I kept coming back to a story from the gospels I have often spoken on in the past—the account from Matthew 14 of Peter walking on water. I love so many things about this story. First off, I love Jesus’ words in verse 27, where, as soon as he notes how terrified his disciples are when they see him walking on the water, he says to them, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’ Many times in my writing journey, I have drawn on these words of Jesus in order to keep going.

I love it how Peter then finds the courage to suggest that Jesus actually should invite him to walk on that water too. And as soon as he hears that little word ‘Come’, he takes the risk of stepping out of that boat—and off he trots towards Jesus (29)! But when he notices how the wind is buffeting the waves and begins to sink, Jesus is immediately there, reaching out his hand to rescue him. Yet it is what Jesus says to Peter next that spoke to me the most this past week.

You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt? (31)

You see, I was sharing how, given the fact that I now have five novels published and one non-fiction work, there was no need for me ever to have doubted God’s call to write and the fact that God would bring it about. Likewise, I was urging these women to do all God was calling and had gifted them to do and to trust God in the process. Yet, that very day, I myself had doubted. Not believing I would sell many books at this particular venue, I had brought with me only a small number of my earlier novels in particular. Imagine my surprise then when, before my eyes, every available copy of my first two novels speedily disappeared from my book table—along with a large number of my later books! All up, I sold more than double what I had expected.

It was time to eat my words. I had doubted God big-time. I knew God had given me this speaking engagement—yet that did not translate into having the faith to pack a good number of books in the car to sell afterwards. When it came to showing my trust in a concrete way, I was definitely found wanting on this occasion.

How humbling it was to hear God’s gentle question ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ yet again in my life! Is this a question God often seems to have to ask you too?

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I wonder if you have ever played that game in an airport arrivals area of deciding who is waiting for whom and what the reason is for the traveller’s visit? It’s fun to try to work out such things, isn’t it, from what people look like and how they are reacting?

Or perhaps, like me, you enjoy letting your imagination run riot as you concoct an entire scenario about something you know nothing about. Recently, while my husband and I were out driving, we saw two people scurrying across a main road, laden down with luggage. When my husband wondered aloud where they might be heading, I immediately came up with a long, animated, involved explanation.

‘I get the picture. This could go on forever—no wonder you write novels!’ he eventually yelled.

And it would be hard to forget the eccentric looking, older Asian gentleman we saw standing with his little dog on a small traffic island at a busy intersection on Christmas Day and waving a big sign. On one side of this sign was a wish for peace for all at Christmas—but on the other an angry message maligning some people in authority. You can imagine the fun I had, making up a veritable trilogy about this particular character!

Now I have been taught it is usually unwise to include lots of back story at the beginning of a novel. Readers don’t have to know everything at once. Much better to provide little glimpses of past history or events naturally as the story unfolds—and then only what is needed. In my earlier novels, I couldn’t resist immediately sharing all there was to know about my main characters. After all, I was trained as a teacher to take students from the known to the unknown and to make sure they understood things well, before moving on. These days, I try to let those juicy bits of back story pop out only where necessary. But it’s still a battle. You see, I love my characters and want to make sure my readers understand why they act in a certain way. My characters become like family to me—‘real’ people I have created and hopefully brought to life in my book. And I feel responsible for them.

Often as I reflect on this, however, my mind turns to my own Creator. There is no doubt God knows all about me, including my entire ‘back story’. Psalm 139:1 states simply:

O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.

We see in the Gospels this is also true of Jesus. In calling his first disciples, he didn’t need Philip to tell him anything about Nathaniel (John 2:43-49).  He already knew him and could see what was in his heart. Jesus knew everything about the Samaritan woman he met at the well without her saying a word (John 4). He was also quite aware Judas was the one who would betray him (John 13:21-28). And Jesus knows everything about me too—back story, thoughts, plans, the lot. Yet, just as he did with Peter after the disciple’s drastic denial of his Lord, Jesus forgives me, loves me, accepts me, ‘reinstates’ me and promises to be with me forever.

Jesus understands perfectly this business of back story. And I’m so thankful for that.

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