15 Sep

Disturbing hope: Settle down in Babylon

PLant gardens and eat what they produce

My youngest helping to plant potatoes in our garden 2 years ago, he is now 3, the same age as drowned refugee Aylan Kurdi.


Most translations of the Bible subtitle Jeremiah 29 ‘a letter to the exiles’ or something similar.  Jeremiah’s words to those in Babylon then exiled from Jerusalem echo down the millennia into our current global situation:

‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’

Back then I imagine this was the last thing the exiles wanted to hear.  The prophet, God’s mouth piece, telling them to make this strange land their home. The exiles opening the letter would be hoping to hear that things were changing, that they should prepare for action in readiness for a return home.  Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with news that the Babylonians had been overthrown in Jerusalem. Maybe they hoped the prophet was writing with a strategy for undermining Babylonian power. I can’t imagine how they felt when what they read was an Old Testament equivalent of ‘calm down, calm down.’

Unwillingly living in the land of their enemy, full of anger and resentment following the trauma of seeing their own city taken captive, it would only be natural for them to want revenge, to ruin Babylon.  Yet God’s prophet tells them to settle down. Huh, not rise up? To marry the locals. Are you kidding? To seek the prosperity of Babylon. What, not Jerusalem?

How disturbing. I find the Common English Bible’s subtitle for the section the most pertinent, ‘Disturbing Hope: Settle Down in Babylon.’

Reading it now, it is also disturbing to realise that as a Christian in Europe, I am not so much exile but more Babylonian.  So, if Jeremiah was writing to the Babylonian’s, if Jeremiah was writing to those countries receiving exiles now, how would it read?

‘Give them land, welcome them; show them which crops thrive and share your family recipes. Educate them with your children, let them live, learn and love together with you that they might make families full of joy. Do not control their numbers. Encourage and enable their contributions, your future and that of your children depends on it.’

What are you going to do?








According to the United Nations Refugee Agency’s figures for 2014 there are globally 19.5 million refugees and 38.2 million internally displaced people (IDPs), 7.6 million IDPs in Syria alone. In 2014 there were 1.66 million applications for asylum worldwide, the highest number ever. It is likely the figures for 2015 will be similar or higher.




08 Sep

Whole woman, not just a womb

urban poppy

This is a story about God,
God and a woman who waited,
waited 5 years then conceived me and rejoiced
but the pain of the waiting never left her.
God spoke to her, through a prophet
(He does that):
“Sing, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
burst into song, shout for joy,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman
than of her who has a husband,”
quoted the prophet
to the woman; round, glowing and full of me, her baby.
And she knew God had been in her waiting.


This is a story about God,
God and a mother who loved,
loved so generously & unconditionally
that her children did the same.
Heavy hearted, expecting first day tears
she led her daughter to the school gate
but the strength of the mother’s love
& knowledge of God with her
gave the girl enough to overflow;
she took the hand of a crying child and comforted them.
“She’ll make a great mother” they said
to the woman, proud and full of hope.
And she knew God was in her parenting.


This is a story about God,
God and a mother who grieved,
grieved quietly confused for the daughter
once full of love but now remote and raging
angrily distant, so the mother asked “why?”
And, again, 5 years she waited;
5 years her for daughter’s rebirth.
And more for her to speak the truth of the horror
that made her soft heart, hard and jagged.
“She’s a typical teen” they said
to the mother who waited and grieved
(they didn’t know the whole story)
and she clutched at glimpses of God in her grieving.
This is a story about God
God and 2 men that were broken
so broken that their sinful nature violently engulfed the girl
in episodes of unspeakable horror
that a Sunday school vision of God could not contain
but He was there
For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost
and they were very lost, the two men
who did not hear God…maybe they have now?
This is a story about God
God and the hurt, angry girl
the girl lost in the shock and the fear and the shame
the horror, the violence, the dirt
and the disease it caused in her inner most parts
beyond her capacity to feel,
beyond her vocabulary to express
self anesthetised with street drugs
internally destroyed & alone
externally a dark silence PAUSE
eventually with the tangled anger of a toddler’s tantrum
the girl cried out to God: ‘Its not fair’
And, surprised, she heard him agree.
And the silence was broken.

This is a story about God
God and the man who said,
“I love you, not just your womb” when,
days after they met, his suggestions for childrens’ names
(Josh, Tom and Beth)
were met with tears
because the girl’s diseased inner parts
were potentially broken
by the 2 men that didn’t listen to God
but there was still plenty of hope
as little was known
and high expectations remained
“You’ll have fun trying” they said,
to the couple who knew
God was with them in their marriage.
This is a story about God
God and the woman who hid,
hid under a bushel of disappointment
when, after trying and failing,
the image on the screen
showed tubes twisted and closed
and the young nurses looked away
and the cold instruments offered no comfort
and the woman could not hide
the pain in her heart
that her husband could see
before her words could say
I’m sorry, it is as we feared: I’m broken.
This is a story about God
God and the couple who prayed
prayed with faith and with doubt,
and were sometimes more bruised
as their faith was questioned
& others spoke promises not theirs to make
(you are already pregnant said one, she was wrong)
and over time their prayer changed
no longer a plea for pregnancy (but that would still be nice)
now desperation for grace
to find sovereign God’s peace with how things are
and in the unfamiliar quiet beauty of a high healing mass
the flooding of the spirit with the words:
In the name of God who gives you life.
Receive Christ’s forgiveness, his healing and his love.
May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
grant you the riches of his grace,
his wholeness and his peace.

This is a story about God
God and the woman who hoped
hoped in Christ alone
who did not promise pregnancy
but the greater, fuller hope of heaven
Christ who saw a whole woman,
not just a womb,
and loved her,
and comforted her,
Christ who understands her trauma
who shares her continued grief
as even in a home filled with sons,
sons that grew in her heart through adoption,
her womb’s emptiness aches
but no longer the primal dark grief of her youth
but a dull ache which does not obscure
the light of Christ
who tells her she shines
and she knows God is with her in the grieving and the living.
This is a story about God,
God and me, the barren woman that many call mum.
Testimony written for Trinity College Chapel November 2011

urban poppy context

The stunning poppy at the top of this post was growing by a derelict house on Everton Brow, here in Liverpool. The 2 images seem appropriate to accompany this testimony, the urban decay creating the unlikely context for such striking beauty,  reflecting on my own difficulties has helped me find more of the rich beauty of God.