St Andrew, Glencairn

Glencairn Methodist Church

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June - 2011


As a tutor on the Diocese of Connor's Continuing Education in Ministry (CEM) programme, I was invited to attend the CEM annual retreat in the College of the Holy Spirit on the Scottish Isle of Cumbrae. The College is part of the Scottish Episcopal Church's Cathedral of the Isles complex. Cumbrae is ten minutes by car ferry from the west Ayrshire coastal town of Largs. We travelled by car from Larne via Cairnryan. The party comprised Bishop Alan, 2 Archdeacons, 3 Counsellors, 11 recently ordained clergy and myself. Cumbrae is an ideal place for a retreat. It is a small island being only 10 miles in circumference, with one small town, Millport. This was my first visit back to Cumbrae since I camped there with The Boys' Brigade a million years ago! [Read a brief account of the retreat here and see some photographs here.]


Bishop Alan led our thinking on the retreat and he shared with us some of the ideas in his forthcoming book called "Shadows on the Journey" (Columba Press, Autumn 2011). This  is my attempt to share with you some of my impressions and thoughts.


There are shadows on our journey through life all of the time. Some are malign and painful, others and benign and joyful, some we don't even notice. The Bishop started by considering the Easter story in Luke 24: 13-35. This is the account of the two disciples who travelled from Jerusalem to Emmaus late on Easter Day, who were saddened by the horrible death of Jesus and puzzled by what they had heard the women say about seeing Jesus alive. They were under the dark shadow of the events of Good Friday. But Jesus came and walked along side him. They didn't recognise him. He asked why they were downhearted and they told him. Then Jesus, "beginning with Moses and all the prophets, explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself." And still they did not recognise him, such was the darkness of the shadow they were under.


Dark shadows come over our lives from time to time - illness, bereavement (especially the death of a child), unemployment, resentment at hurts inflicted by others on us, guilt at hurts inflicted by us on others. Shadows so dark that we begin to lose our faith.Shadows so dark that we do not see the bright shadow of Jesus walking beside us.


When they arrived at the village and since dusk was approaching, the two disciples offered standard Jewish hospitality to this stranger and invited him in for a meal and to stay the night. And during the meal something marvellous happened. Jesus "took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them." THEN they recognised him and he disappeared from their sight. Through this symbolic action, the dark cloud was lifted and they saw clearly the bright shadow of Jesus who had always been there.


The Psalmist, paraphrased by Stuart Townend, writes,

And though I walk the darkest path,
I will not fear the evil one,
For You are with me, and Your rod and staff
Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone.
And I will trust in You alone,
For Your endless mercy follows me
Your goodness will lead me home.

[Stuart Townend 1996 Thank you Music  (based on Psalm 23)]

There are many ways in which we encounter the mystery of the living Lord Jesus - words, thoughts, actions, symbols, paintings, sacraments.

Try not to let the dark shadows of your life hide from you the fact that you are loved and cherished by your heavenly Father, just as the cherishing father of the prodigal son loved both of his sons, even though dark shadows in their lives hid this from them [Luke 15: 11-32].


PS Bishop Alan goes on to discuss many more "Shadows on the Journey". Get his book when it comes out!

31 May 2011




 NOTE - Previous "Monthly Messages" are archived at