Why the focus?

Gayle and I have had a focus on shifts in society for a long time. Gayle was involved in education and taught in schools that were not rated highly in government statistics. In that context she saw people come to faith, and early one morning when having arrived before anyone else was in the school she then thought someone else was also in and playing music… but no, simply some angels had also (got up early?) and come to add some music to the prayer. My push was simple: through prayer the church would shift demonic powers, discover the gift of the city / region and people would come to faith. As I developed that focus I moved from a simple vision of something that might look similar to classic revival (Finney, Welsh, Hebrides etc.) to a presence of God’s Spirit and people throughout all society. Influenced by Anabaptism the challenge was how to see that outwork practically. Thankfully the journey of understanding the nature of the imperial spirit ran parallel to the push toward the emphasis on salt in society. So an understanding that was in contrast to anything top-down developed.

Three years ago, this month, it became clear that a sharp focus for us was to be the opening up of space for a new politics to grow in Spain (and beyond in Europe). This was something left of field as neither of us have a background in politics. And if we were to see some kind of shift here so what? Why this focus? If we did have a top-down perspective this might be easier to understand, but we see the drive to get the Christian PM / President as misplaced. We do not think that all that is needed is to get the right party in power. The party governing can change but unless the very shape changes nothing really changes.

We will soon have lived in Spain 9 years and in this apartment for almost four of those. In the past 9 years we have dug deeply into the history of the land, both recent and ancient. We have witnessed an increasing exposure of corruption, of cases going to court. (Fancy buying a T-shirt with an extract from handwritten notes printed on it? The handwritten notes of the governing party’s illegal accounts and who was paid. This T-shirt has the extract of one of the many names: ‘M Rajoy’, and one of the payments he received from an account that has been run for decades.) There is a long way to go but there are shifts. We sat recently with a senior bank employee who told us in no uncertain terms that we needed to understand that ‘corruption is part of Spain and will always be here’.

The mainline press and TV channels do not cover a lot of the corruption. Thank God for social media and some very honest journalists. This past week a set of conversations have been recorded between a ring of at least 100 national police. (Thankfully there are many good and honest people involved in law and order.) However the conversations have not only been highly negative about the Catalan situation, but have talked one to the other of their hope that certain people will be destroyed and blown up. They have named journalists and the mayoress of Madrid among others.

The Catalonian crisis continues. Are the current Catalan political leaders ‘political prisoners’ or not? Even Amnesty International has said that they are not. At the same time as this goes on, greater clarity is coming into one of the big corruption cases, with the clear implication that many politicians in the governing party, including the PM, have received large illegal payments. The same party has failed to give an explanation for 40billion euros that has disappeared from public funds. The other main historic party has just had a huge debt written off by the banks. (Contrast this to a 42 page letter we received from the government saying that if we did not respond within 10 days we would be fined 70,000euros. Our crime was to send some money to a friend who was threatened by the banks and had no money to buy food.) The Catalan leaders have not been granted bail while a member of the governing party was granted bail and the next day one of his houses (in Mexico) was raided and 5million in cash was discovered. I could go on – almost 900 senior members of the governing party are either now in jail, court, indited or suspects in corruption. Our banking friend was correct – corruption is part of Spain… Corruption continues! But the future?

Anyway I am a little of track with this post. We are committed to seeing the corruption exposed and old ruling families from the Franco era no longer shape the future with that agenda. But so what? Why the focus? In making a response I note that something continues for us both – shifts in society; but the change of focus indcates that there have been some paradigm shifts.

  • The levels of corruption indicate that there is the presence and effect of the demonic that is unacceptable. Demonic powers do not just focus on one area but look to destroy humanity. We are their nemesis, created in the image of God. They look therefore for all kinds of partnerships, all of which focus on the dehumanisation of humanity. The corruption indicates their presence. That is almost reason enough to focus this way!
  • We see the body of Christ carrying responsibility for the world. This is God’s world, everything is in God, for in him we live and move and have our being. We owe it to the world so that living within boundaries they might seek and find him. That is certainly a significant reason.
  • Justice is called for and this has led to a new word – we are not looking to Christianise the world (as per Christendom) but to heavenify it. By this I mean a greater measure of heaven’s love, freedom, servanthood and justice to be made visible. All good gifts come from heaven.

We are deeply grateful to God for both evangelical and charismatic foundations. We pray that those we meet and increasingly share life with will find Jesus in a not-too-dissimilar way. We continue to seek to be a witness, bearing testimony to new creation realities… but our focus is on the politics, to push back space so that those who, knowingly or not, partner with demons will no longer be able to do so, and those who manifest love and justice will find space to yield their gifts for others. That is our focus in the foreseeable future as we believe that is our responsibility.

We have been here almost 9 years, by the end of 12 years we expect to see something shift beyond recognition. The next years… a focus that needs to stay sharp and a bumpy ride!

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WOW!!

Just a short blog to report back on the past short while. BUSY, BUSY, BUSY… and off to Sweden tomorrow so will be a few days till everything settles down. So much to say and deserves something much longer, but the highlight, or maybe the most significant aspect from our perspective was our first visit with Roger & Sue Mitchell to El Valle de los Caidos. We knew that this was the year to visit there and begin a process, but we certainly pushed further than we thought we would at this stage.

caidos

To go into the history of this place, its significance, how it is fed from El Escorial, and the spiritual power source it is would take not a blog but a book. With work that began in 1940 we now have the largest cross in Spain – and I think in the world erected right over the tomb of Franco. (Still processing the effect of using the Cross in these situations. Some sadly mind-boggling possibilities as to the effect, and not simply the effect psychologically / or with deception… another blog some other day.) The valley and basilica built with labour from prisoners of war. The founder of the Falange party is buried one side of the ‘altar’ and Franco the other, both of whom died the same date Nov. 20th some 39 years apart. In the valley were brought bodies from the Civil War – from both sides of it. This is not reconciliation, but a forced acceptance of an imposed resolution.

Amazing to watch post-mass and see even one family where the father stood by the tomb and gave the Nazi salute. Makes sense of my neighbour when I asked him about the Civil War eventually said – after pacing his balcony – it is still here.

Any way we will watch and see the repercussions in this most eventful year in Spain – 40 years after Franco’s death.

So prayer and a few acts, and as is normal immediately following aligning the true cross into places with such history the wind comes. And as we completed the wind literally blew, swept, rumbled, sounded, spoke (no idea what word to use) through the tree tops in a most remarkable way. Then over… stillness.

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Quick follow up

A little quiet here as Gayle and I have had to make some adjustments to our plans. However a couple of things to put together. First is the concept of symbolic intercession. There are many examples of physical manifestations that mirror a historic situation. Ezekiel gives us many examples. Here is one:

Then lie on your left side, and place the punishment of the house of Israel upon it. For the number of the days that you lie on it, you shall bear their punishment. For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment. So long shall you bear the punishment of the house of Israel. And when you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side, and bear the punishment of the house of Judah. Forty days I assign you, a day for each year. (Ezek. 4:4-6).

Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days representing the 40 years in the wilderness is another example I would offer.

I think these things are very common experience when we go through the stages of seeking to identify with a geography or a people. There is an interchange and often the negativity of a place gives a ‘kick’ before the phase when things reverse and the geography gains the benefit of the identification.

I had a dream experience where I was expecting an impartation of healing but the person came, laid hands on my stomach saying that what I needed was an impartation of youthfulness because I was with Gayle. (Amazing how simple revelations can fuel prayer and expectation. That was 6 months ago and we are still working through the implications of the dream and what it practically looks like.) We knew at the time that there was a Spanish application, with an ageing population and a loss of hope among youth.

A couple of mornings ago as I woke I realised that something is happening with the Podemos expression. The leaders are young(-er) but the crowd in Madrid was maybe on average 40+. This was not a youth protest expression but an older generation aligning to a younger one. It had also come out of what was known as the 15-M which was a youth/ student expression. In many of the new expressions in Europe we have to see beyond the simple, this is good, this is bad to what is happening at a deep level. The answer is not found simply in the formation of a new political party, whatever way they express themselves, but at a deeper level. Part of the deeper level is in the symbolism which is part of the process of realising a new reality. Symbolism is so important. Both pointing to the reality that is being symbolised and (more importantly) drawing to themselves the reality of what has been symbolised. So I think we need to look strongly toward the symbolism that we see.

So in this turbulent year, at all levels there needs to be an alignment of the older to the younger. Maybe what we are seeing symbolised in this march indicates something is shifting for Spain? We know it is certainly time to push again for some of the historical issues to be exposed and the effects overturned.

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Home from the capital

A PS at the beginning!! Forgot to say that… (must remember to keep taking those tablets to help me remember… old joke ‘I take two tablets a day; one is for my memory and I can’t remember what the other one is for’).

Forgot to say that Gayle bought a watch one time we were in Madrid just as we were leaving. It was a sign that time was being reset. Anyway with watch on wrist we arrive in Madrid this past weekend. The watch has stopped at 12:00:12. The day we were focused on is known as 12-O (12th. October). Strange but batteries do run out so was just interesting to see that the time when it stopped was what it was… but once the watch was reset to the right time, it just picked it up and off it went keeping time.

It reminded me of a few years back when I had an interesting set of experiences where clocks and watches that had been stopped just started, including one that had the pendulum removed but it then started and also ‘tick tocked’.

Then I picked up the video from the hospital room where Bob Jones spent his last night before he passed away (I am putting a link to this at the bottom of the post). So I think there is also something we need to note about a shift in time.

Cold in MadridNice to get home. Madrid is the capital, in the centre of the country and higher up so quite a bit colder than here. We did see this sign indicating the temperature (- 173°C /-280°F) which did explain why we needed jeans and coats!! We certainly had some impressive thunder storms while there but trust we also destabilised the atmosphere ourselves.

Our focus was simple… Columbus Day, here known as the Dia de la Hispanidad, a day when many things come together, representing patriotism, militarism and imperialism. Our prayer since the beginning of the year has been with regard to the right alignment of Spain, calling for the ‘spine of Spain to align’. We had not planned to be in Madrid specifically for this day as we were unaware of the date (sorry for our ignorance) but once we decided to travel there over this past weekend we then discovered the significance of the date. It also coincided with Simon and Amy (Cádiz) completing a section of a prayer walk covering the area where Columbus sailed from and ending in Puerto de Santa Maria at his statue.

columbus_flagThe area dedicated to Columbus carries the largest Spanish flag in the nation, and some very impressive and creative sculpted monuments to Columbus and the ships that went out. Right beneath the flag we placed a plaque in a humble olive tree, the day before the large military parade, complete with king’s speech took place.

If I knew how to pray in these situations I would love to inform you… but I am pretty clueless about such things. We sought to come in humility and repentance. Our experience is certainly that most shifts seem to begin with something inadequate. Two non-Spanish people in Madrid, two non-Spanish people in Cádiz – what difference does it make? Those things are hard to evaluate, and of course we do not know about the (perhaps) Spanish-born who have stood in the gap before and after we have gone will continue to do so.

Who knows whether there was a sign or not. The old king was not present, this being the first time the current king has stood there to give his speech as king. A young / old issue is huge in Spain and something we will write about in the future. Cataluña / Catalonia (maybe I should write Catalunya (Catalan)) today announced they will not be proceeding with a referendum in November concerning independence. Was that a sign? We have huge sympathies with Cataluña due to its severe oppression during the Civil War, and the continuing centralised attitudes that come from Madrid… but there is always a higher way than reaction.

Small things in the hand of God can shift enormous issues locked in history… The photos that follow might indicate the smallness of our activities in contrast to the ‘achievements’ in the history.

Columbus Plaque
columbus_tower

 

Columbus Ship
Plaza Colon

 

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Intercessory moves…

I sometimes like to revisit an emphasis that once meant a lot to me. I like to consider, think, reflect, what do those expressions mean to me now and do they still have some value and meaning for me and others around me.

Intercession is one of those that I visit often: standing in the gap? Hm….Really value this idea that we, the incarnational body of Christ stand in the In-between places, the gaps to fill them, creating a bridge, a place for a crossing over of people groups, ideas. Over the years this has gathered meaning for the body of Christ I think. It has been a long time since any of us considered intercession to be merely prayer, or indeed the Body of Christ being merely incarnational, but….

Are we to fill the gaps, close the gaps, create the gaps, expose the gaps? Intercessory politics surely is about exposing for some and closing for others. So as we are embedded in the layers, interstitial spaces of our society*, the filling of all creation with body of Christ what are we to declare? What do he hear? What is our statement? What is being written through us? What is our cry? The pulling of tomorrow into today, the exploration and re-imagined future, the new Jerusalem, I don’t believe it us blueprinted in the way we have imagined but like the apostles job of old, ours surely still remains to declare the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven !

If God positions us so to subvert, shake and ultimately to destabilise the dominating structures that hold people in slavery then what is our intercessory commitment? How far will we go, how long will we stay. Do we stay to the death. Assured of the resurrection. It was Abraham’s faith that pleased God not his sacrifice. Faith in a land he had not yet accessed except in a re-imagined future.

Some argue that the intercessory move of the early 2000 is over but I think we are just beginning to understand that is is far from over. It has surely just redeemed humanity positioned, in response to creations cry. standing between the adulterous woman and the stoning crowd. to reposition the body into the world, this prayer movement now is to shift and reposition the world!

Perhaps the ‘act of intercession’ would benefit from fresh definition.

* Martin: had to look that up!!! an interstitial space or interstice is an empty space or gap between spaces full of structure or matter.

[author]

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Interview with Karen Ashton

Karen from England has lived and worked in Romania for the past 12 years with Networks (see the first YouTube video for a little of what they do). She recently came and stayed with us and we had a great time together. She is both remarkable – prayer walked across and around Romania and recently to Russia. A few encounters with those in authority en route!! She is both extraordinary and very ordinary. It is a great combination. She never tries to suggest she knows what she is about but she carries the presence of God in a very easy way. I think you will enjoy the short video with her – sound quality was a bit challenged due to the wind, but worth listening to. I know her desire would be to simply encourage anyone to trust God and step out.

She left us to go to a local garage to hitch a ride to Barcelona en route to Romania. Not recommended in the guide books, but she said this is how she likes it… her and God setting off on another journey.

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An Experience of the Holy Land

In the springtime of 2008, the epic prayer journey that had begun in Whitby, and I had joined in Italy en route to Rome, arrived at the Golan heights, having wound its way through Greece, Turkey and Syria over the previous two years. Of course there was no way to walk out of Syria and across the border into Northern Israel. There was some fifty miles of almost war zone that had to be ‘hopped over’.

I’ve been thinking about that contested and contentious land of Israel again recently. Everyone seems to have an opinion – no, stronger than that, an agenda – for Israel, it seems. A vested interest: ideological, religious, political – including many people who have never been. The challenge we felt, entering the ancient Jewish promised land for the first time, was to lay down our own agendas; to see through fresh eyes, as though for the first time.

Did the prayers I thought I would be praying have an agenda, one way or the other? Probably did, if emotional reactions are anything to go by. But we were a team, and we came from different backgrounds and persuasions. It amazes me when I look back, that we comprised American Israel supporters and those who had campaigned for Palestinians rights, activists, prophets, intercessors, even a few open-minded souls. It had to have been the Spirit of God with us, that we were able to stay open, love each other, stay together, and each of us in our own way sacrifice an agenda, allowing the land not to harden us, but to soften us.

Israel and the West Bank gave me a series of human encounters. I needed all of them.

After breaking bread in Nazareth, a Palestinian boy brought us sweets. As we prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane another Palestinian boy pelted us with rocks. Thank you to them both. If you are a prophet in Jerusalem and people like what you say and say nice things about you, you are probably a false one. If you get stoned you are probably ok.

On the border of the West Bank I stared through the windscreen down the barrel of a high powered rifle in the hands of a nervous Israeli border guard. We had overshot the STOP line by a couple of metres and he was not happy.

“What the hell are you doing?”

Afterwards, when we had relaxed; become human again, while we waited for permission to go through, we talked with chain-smoking 20 year olds in uniform. Boys who had killed, emptiness in their eyes, who just wanted to leave the promised land forever – go to Goa or Australia when their national service was done. For me, these were victims as much as anyone there. De-humanised by the political and religious agendas carved out for them behind bureaucratic desks, preached from media, pulpit and mosque.

In the hills outside Bethlehem, we stayed with a Palestinian follower of Jesus. Determined to love not hate, in obedience to his Messiah – though Israeli bulldozers had razed his olive grove and sealed off the only access road to his farm with concrete blocks – for security.

At the Western Wall I met a young Orthodox Jew collecting for charity. I asked him if he would take me to the wall, and show me how to pray there.

“We pray for the Messiah to come”, he told me.

So with our hands on the wall, at the base of the old Temple, we both stood and prayed for the Messiah to come.

“What will happen when the Messiah comes,” I asked. “Do you know the story about the river that will flow from under the temple, out through the East Gate, and make the Dead Sea fresh?

“Yes, we believe that.” He told me. “The military occupation is only temporary, when the Messiah comes there will be peace, and we won’t need the military any more.”

At Hebron, our little band of five would have had to stop. Several times Palestinians told us to turn back – we looked like Jewish settlers – it was too dangerous for us. But our Muslim taxi driver went a few hundred metres ahead of us to prepare the way; shouting out to villagers that we weren’t settlers, we were praying for peace. Over the days we spent together, he had come to believe in what this odd bunch of foreigners were doing.

Together, these people were the Holy Land to me. They all moved me in their own way and found a place in my heart. Common land but no common ground – except maybe the ground of my own heart. There is a true gift of the land that is concealed by its exact opposite. As we moved through boundary after boundary we were trying to find it.

Perhaps the true gift of that scarred piece of land is only released when the agendas are sacrificed – political, religious, theological, whatever. Perhaps it is only in Israel that we can really discover that God is not on the side of any ethnicity, nation or group. He’s neither one of us, nor one of them, if the Angel that Joshua met on the plains of Jericho is to be believed.

And it was at Nablus, that was Shechem, in the West Bank, that Jesus, having crossed every boundary imaginable, told a Samarian woman that God was worshipped neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. Neither this way, nor that way. He stepped past the either/or question; superseded it. Not with a compromise, or a ‘both somehow’, but first of all with a ‘neither’.

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A Pilgrim’s Progress – Part 3

Apologies for the break of two weeks. I’ve had the minor matter of my daughter’s wedding in between. I suppose I could write a blog about that…even post my ‘Father of the Bride’ speech…but that might be a little self-indulgent. In any case I’ve left the Pilgrim stuck in Iran, so had better go and move him on a bit.

This past week there’s been an ‘Israel loves Iran’ link that has popped up on Facebook. I was really encouraged to find it. Somewhere in the world there are Israeli young people and Iranian young people who are choosing to say “I love you!” to each other, and “We don’t want your war!” to their governments. It made me glad that we had travelled through Iran praying for such things. Governments take the headlines in the media, and we can be deluded into thinking that’s what’s going on…at least I often do…but the main event may be with the voices not heard publicly. When I read Ezra, Nehemiah and Daniel I see that Israel and Iran (Persia) have had a long and interesting relationship, and there may be more surprises to come if we dare to not believe the media headlines that pose as total reality.

Cobham, the town where I live, is not particularly lively in the evenings. The only night life past about 10.30 is Ali’s kebab van. Ali is an Iraqi Shia, and last year, when I told him I was going to Iran and hoped to visit the holy city of Masshad, he was really pleased, and also a little incredulous. He’s never been there. Most Shias’ hope to get there, in fact it’s a popular honeymoon destination, but it sees next to no western tourists.

Back to the Iranian pilgrimage then. After four days being charmed by the beautiful city of Isfahan, we steeled ourselves for the trip to Mashhad, sensing it was not going to be that comfortable. On the Iran Air flight to Masshad the atmosphere changed. There were fervent prayers before the flight and we touched down amidst chants of “Allahu Akhbar.”  All the women covered up in black in preparation for landing, and on the runway there were more public prayers of thanksgiving for a safe journey. It felt unusual because so far we’d experienced Iranians in ‘normal life’, and they aren’t that religious. We were definitely ‘strangers’ on this stage of the journey.

Emerging into the city, there was a scrum for taxis, which, due to the little Farsi we could muster, we had to be rescued from by a sympathetic taxi driver, or we would have been there all night. The city had a hyped-up atmosphere, lit up like a cross between Blackpool and Oxford Street at Christmas, and it’s like this all year round. The shrine of the Imam Reza expands every year to cater for the millions of pilgrims and contributes substantially to the clerical coffers behind the Islamic Republic.

The next morning, descending our hotel steps, we found ourselves in a one-way tide of intense and focussed humanity on its way to re-live the martyrdom of the dead Imam. We merged with the crowds and went to the shrine. There are vast courtyards, numerous mosques and an inner sanctuary for the tomb itself, where non-Muslims may not go.  It was hardly regulated, but we sat outside in the vast courtyard in the hot sunshine and watched Shia pilgrims from many countries come and go. Somehow it felt an enormous privilege to be allowed to be there. One of those places where you think, ‘How did we end up here?’

The central focus of Shia Islam, which is very different to Sunni Islam, is the nursing of an ancient grief and shame; the murder of Mohamed’s grandson Hosein at Karbala in AD 680 by the troops of the Caliph Yazid. On that day the leadership of the Islamic world was lost to the descendants of the prophet and instead, as Shias view it, usurped by the political dynasty in Damascus. Every year at Ashura, Shias mourn this loss, re-living the intense emotions. Shias’ to this day see themselves as underdogs; pitched against corrupt, arrogant and worldly authority – at a global level that today is represented for many of them by the dominant USA/Israel/Saudi Arabia alliance. They are cast as the powerless ones, martyrs willing to endure or maybe die faithful against the great economic and military powers. One day, a hidden or supernatural Imam, the Mahdi, will appear, overthrow corrupt powers and restore things to the way they should be.

The Imam Reza, buried in Mashhad, was another martyr. At his shrine, weeping breaks out spontaneously. Inside themselves all the pilgrims find an identification with the murdered Imam, and through him, their martyred leader and hero, Hosein. They claim it is cathartic; the mourning and weeping carries their own life’s suffering and regret away, leaving them peaceful and content. After the mourning, there is partying.

At every point we were welcomed and treated kindly by Iranians, and every step of the way we experienced the Lord’s provision and care, but I suppose it was inevitable that the religious intensity of that place would take some working through. Out of our thirty six hours there we spent thirty in our hotel room, enduring it and waking at night to battle with various inner torments. It was a huge relief to get away after two nights there. One would think in such a place it would be hard for a church to survive, but most surprisingly, although there have been Christian pastors and converts killed here, this is one of the cities where numbers of Muslims finding Christ has been highest, in a land where it is high anyway.

We knew that in walking into a place like that there would be a lot buzzing around us in the spirit, and that kind of intensity finds out a few cracks. We were not hostile, we carried no militant agenda, but neither were we victims. There were real people just like us there, who in some way had welcomed and included us. We were guests of the Iranian people. We chose to sit in the middle of their passion and their seeking, to be conscious of our belovedness and theirs, and of ‘A Deeper Magic’, as CS Lewis put it, than all that was going on around us. True to history, The Persian Empire was an uncomfortable place for the people of God then and for us now. An exile but also a place of new beginnings; a place of captivity but principally for God could get hold of us; a place for facing our demons and for a work of God to take us to a deeper level; a place that could be the making of us. Our hope was that in some way our journey could be part of that mystery of reconciliation of all things in Christ, beginning in the deep inner places of our souls, eventually working its way out into the nations and peoples of the world.

I hadn’t had a kebab since that time before we went to Iran, but last week I went to Ali’s kebab van with my son, Alex, and Ali remembered and asked me about my trip. I had hoped to buy him a little gift, but at the time couldn’t bring myself to purchase any of the abundant religious kitsch that had been on offer. We talked a lot about Iraq and Iran, the foolishness of governments and the common sense of ordinary people. It was just another little thing that reminded me my journey had mattered, and made me glad I had been.

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A Pilgrim’s Progress – Part 1

This is going to be a tale in several parts. I apologise if that is frustrating, and I hope it’s not pretentious, but if it’s not your cup of tea you can take a break from reading my posts for a few weeks. My daughter is getting married on the 1st September, so it helps me to give myself a thread to follow through for a while, just in case my head is elsewhere.

One of the things I would have liked to have done before I die, is to continue my sort of pilgrimage or  journey of prayer east until I reach China. Not walking all the way, but hopping from city to city, country to country all the way. I am not driven by a clear agenda of what I must do or accomplish through it; I wouldn’t be setting out to preach or fight anything or change anything in particular – except perhaps myself in the process. It comes more from a belief that I can discover God in new ways in new places, and that the encounters, spiritual and human, personal and involving other people, that crop up in such journeys are part of redemption; of heaven touching earth, for me and for the places I go through.

It’s not a foregone conclusion that I can complete this journey though. I feel rather stalled at the moment, but that too is part of the journey. The trouble is some places have a big impact on you, you go in as one person and come out as another – well almost.

We’ve been through Arabia now, but that territory had such a huge impact on one friend and travelling companion. There are consequences; you can’t just push on regardless.  So then we were down to two. I managed to breeze through that one, but the next territory, Iran, was the one that got me. When you go on pilgrimage these are not just physical places but dramatic journeys of the soul that take you to new and unexpected territories. Pakistan is next in line, but at the moment I can’t summon whatever it takes. Adam took me to Bombay Stores in Bradford to buy a Shalwar Khameez. Wearing the clothes might help, but he came away with a new outfit and I didn’t. I’m just not ready. Adam is probably thinking, “So now we are just one.”

Many years ago a respected African intercessor told me,

“You know, if you want to go into a place, you have to enter spiritually first before you try to go physically. If you go physically before you’ve entered spiritually, it will give you trouble.”

Since then I’ve experienced doing it wrong and doing it better. The Lord gave me controlled experiences to illustrate it to me. These African intercessors know what they are talking about. They are used to seeing themselves walking in spiritual landscapes that have been covenanted in various ways. They see themselves and the environment around them quite clearly in the spirit. I don’t, not yet anyway, but I’m trying to learn, trying to pick up the clues.

So Iran – well here’s how it seemed to work for me. The first thing you come to in any place is the gates, you have to go in through them, and they are controlled. We stood and looked at the Gates of Iran for months. Incidentally, I choose not to use the name Persia, because that’s the Greek name, People of the land have always called it Iran – the land of the noble.

In Gates there are levels of permission, temporal and spiritual. If the spiritual welcome is there, then the temporal stuff should eventually come into line, although it might make a fuss for a while. Those gates are at the knife-edge of global hostility between east and west right now. Maybe that springs from Alexander’s first symbolic spear-thrust into Asian soil as he crossed over for revenge. He chose to greet ‘Persia’ with the point of his spear. It was clear no warfare was going to get us in, the reverse in fact, only a willingness to die.

I came to realise that the true spiritual authority in that land lies with the martyrs. If you get a chance to read the testimonies of converts who died for their faith in Jesus during the Khomeini years, you will begin to think Iran is a holy place – they are beautiful, moving, powerful. In fact the whole land is oriented around martyrdom – it’s in the Shi’a soul. It’s why Iran will not baulk at sacrificing itself to US and Israeli nuclear weapons if necessary. The power is in the dying you see – these spiritual powers are highly intelligent. The regime draws its power from the 600,000 ‘martyrs’ of the Iran-Iraq war. The symbolism is quite blatant there. Iran is built on the blood of the Martyrs. Subsequently I’ve begun to ponder national personalities in Enneagram terms. A friend of mine says Iran seems to be quite strong in Type 4. It makes a lot of sense and if there’s anything in that, it really helps understand why things are the way they are. I realise that subject will now have to be revisited. With Iran there’s the poetry and art of course – it’s sublime.

So to enter in there was a fellowshipping with the Martyrs for Jesus in advance, which unavoidably brings your life at one level to an end. It’s a very Iranian thing to do – pilgrimages to the shrines of martyrs. There was a city called Mashhad in the East which we wanted to get to eventually. God knows why, its name means ‘place of martyrdom’ and I think it’s the spiritual heart of Iran – you meet Iran’s soul there. But I’m not morbid or gloomy by disposition, and I am blessed with an extremely buoyant, capable and positive travelling companion, and what’s more I had the promise that the Lord had a treasure for me to find there, something precious to bring back for my children, my descendants, my community perhaps.

Amazingly, Iranian visas were granted in days, we were exempted from the usual interviews and fingerprinting, bar the queueing we sailed in. That kind of thing reassures you. But there was this hostage crisis going on at the time. There was what appeared to me a very real walking into possibilities I might not come back. Once inside it’s quite sealed off by sanctions. Politics there are volatile and we were always going to be suspect. We know we were followed.

There was another gatekeeper though, also passed on from this life, who I will tell you about next time.

To be continued…

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Go find the angels #4

Been a little while since the last update on our ‘angel journey’. We have wanted to leave it a little while to reflect on it, but I hope you have not lost the thread. In brief: Michael S called, used language that we had used ‘the angels have not been able to land’, then went on to talk of the Inquisition time and how there were three levels of resistance now over the city. To change this and to give the angels access here we were to find the place9s) of refuge and then the angels would come back with us.

Note on the Inquistion: began in 1492 and continued at one level or another till 1808, and the edict to expel the Jews was only revoked on 16 December 1968.

mapWe made a previous journey north to the Huelva area with a focus on Niebla. This time we went to Badajoz and then on to Hervás.

 

Hervás: June 19,20

Swifts have marked our journey – they flew in and around when we prayed in Niebla and again in Hervás they flew once we prayed. First one appeared, then before too long there was quite a number circling where we were. On both occasions we had not seen them before praying. (And since coming home Gayle looked up at the shadows being cast as she watered the (her, but I eat them!!) tomatoes. Two swifts happily sitting on the aerial on our roof.

There is much more to learn about the connection between heaven and creation – Mark 1 has such an intriguing eschatological statement: both the angels and the wild animals were with him.

We stopped in Badajoz with Andrew & Natalie and set of for an overnight stop a further 2 hours north of Badajoz, in the small town of Hervás, in the mountains West of Madrid.

This has a well-preserved Jewish quarter and there was a saying in the XV century: “Hervás los judíos los más”, meaning that there were so many Jews in the village that visiting travellers received the impression that they were a majority. One of the streets is called the Calle de la Amistad Judeo-Cristiana (Jewish-Christian Friendship Street). It gave refuge to Jews, and it is documented that it also gave refuge to Jews from Cádiz.

The ex-President of Israel, Itzhak Navón visited Hervás reportedly because the unemployment there was 0% while the area was standing at 20%. A blessed place? Here is a quote from the source:

Hace unos años el ex Presidente Itzhak Navón estuvo en esa localidad, y en el reportaje televisivo producido en esta oportunidad señaló que mientras que en toda Extremadura la tasa de desocupación llegaba entonces a un 20%, en Hervás era cero.
(http://www.elreloj.com/article.php?id=22309.)

Collage

We are now a couple of weeks after our time in Hervás. And the results? Perhaps too early to say. But…

  • the swifts flying around once we had prayed certainly was a strong encouragement.
  • The swifts appearing on the roof aerial, sitting content
  • Michael had said that it would be easier for us when we came back: we ‘feel’ that.
  • And the first night back – and since – we have slept well, unlike pushing into the issue of the angelic on previous occasions.
  • And finally on TV on Thursday night this past week a series of documentaries began on the Inquisition. we have not seen anything like this before. It is based on eye-witness reports and testionials from the time and on how the actual communities responded. Often after prayer what has not been ‘visible’ becomes visible.

I am sure there is more to be done, but for now it feels like a phase of this journey has been completed.

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What’s the point of Prayer?

I’ve found I get asked a lot of questions about prayer journeys and prayer walking, what exactly it is we do, and why, and most perplexingly how we know if it’s making any difference. The answer is we don’t know really, and if things do change, we can’t prove we had anything to do with it. The one thing I do know is it changes me – but that’s not the point – is it?

When I was about 16 my two best mates at school were not believers. I was, and they teased me about it. I just tried to survive and keep in with my peer-group whilst not betraying my faith. One day I was riding my bike along a country road when I was seized by a feeling of something that wanted to burst out from inside me. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I didn’t want anyone to be watching while it happened. I dived into a field, let out a load of groaning and crying, felt better and got on my bike and cycled home. A few days after that my best mate wanted to become a Christian and ‘prayed the prayer’. The third one, feeling left out, followed shortly after.

I’d not really encountered the Holy Spirit back then, but it was the beginning of a discovery of prayer as something powerful. In my first year at University a similar thing happened. The guy in the room next to me became a good friend but his lifestyle was self-destructive. I wanted him to get free and ‘saved’ so I prayed for him on and off. Then another friend of mine, an older guy who was a great mentor to me, just said, “If you fast for a day he will get saved.” So I did, and a few days later this guy walked into my room, turned my waste-paper basket upside-down, sat on it and said “You’ll never guess what – I’ve become a Christian.”

I’m sure lots of people have a few great stories like that to tell. Not everything rolls over so easily, but for me it was the beginning of the notion that prayer was probably the most effective thing I could do in life.

Egypt – turning up the heat

Being in Egypt took me to a new place prayer. In Egypt, and in other parts of Africa, people tend to be much more familiar with ideas about prayer and pilgrimage and various public expressions of faith. In the west though, we don’t have much of it and tend to be rather uncomfortable. In other ways though, it was a furnace that made you fight to get any fresh spiritual air.

If you took the metro or walked in the street in Cairo, every day you would see pious people reading their Qurans, muttering prayers and reciting the names of God. Prayer, of a kind, was everywhere. Those who were not praying would always be deferential and respectful of those who were. In Arabic God’s name crops up in every other sentence. So in Cairo, to walk in the street, alone, praying aloud, did not attract undue attention.

So we went through many ups and downs, trials and errors, and gradually learned how to live amongst another people. We carved out imperfect roles for ourselves and allowed ourselves day after day to live under what those people had to live under. One thing you discover in a Muslim land is that actually, Islam is highly impermeable, there’s a lot of suspicion about Westerners and their religion and there’s a lot of discouraged missionaries around. The few who made an impact  were often thrown out of the country. So the reason to be there boiled down to prayer and not much else.

Sometimes the atmosphere in Egypt was so intense you felt you were just clinging onto the edge. “Just build an altar”, was some wise advice we were given. It’s all Abraham did when he arrived in Canaan.

I began to learn a lot from some Egyptian Christian friends. Firstly, they didn’t need a foreign missionary to help them, but I needed to learn from them how to live in this place; their place. Whenever there was one of the big Islamic festivals the atmosphere could get so heavy. They would get together as families and just sing and worship together for hours, they could start out quite heavy but end up happy and joyful and full of faith. I realised how strong this worship was and I began to make it an (almost) daily practice. All religion hammers you in the head department, which is a big one for me, so putting the head in the back seat and taking it for a gut/heart-led drive was the only way through.

The early morning prayer call used to hit us hard. It cuts right in to your deepest dreaming time, so loud you rarely sleep through it. That’s undoubtedly strategic. Often I found I would waken in the silence about two minutes before the call began. I could jump out of bed, get into the living room and sing my own prayer first and right through, then go back to bed. You could affect your whole day like that.

We lived right opposite one of the quite fundamentalist mosques. A truck load of soldiers would turn up and park in our road for the Friday midday prayers just in case there was trouble. The preaching was incendiary. Afterwards you would see fights and crazy demonized young men going wild with anger. It was amazing how I could struggle with fantasies of violence and rage – totally uncharacteristic of me. We had to decide beforehand on Fridays as a family, whatever happens today, whatever anyone says, it’s not going to be an issue. Nothing is anyone’s fault – not today.

That stuff is real and you end up with prayer and only prayer. That’s all I came to do.

The intercession of Saint Anthony

There is also a strong tradition of prayer and the monastic in Egypt because of the Desert Fathers. Sure there’s a lot of dead religion in the Coptic and Evangelical churches, but some surprises as well. There are spiritual wells there somewhere. One of the surprises is that the Coptic Church has always practiced exorcism. Muslims are very aware of the demonic that affects them, and that it’s certain Christian priests who can sort it out for them, so they go to them. The monks are especially revered and both Christians and Muslims go to them for prayer for healing, especially infertility.

The Desert Father, Saint Anthony, never wrote a book and we only have the writings about him that his disciples left. They wanted to honour him so in the accounts there is inevitably a mixture of fact and embellishment. However, he chose a radical lifestyle that still inspires people today. The desert was, for Anthony and his followers, a physical place that represented their inner world, and it was the wrestling in the inner world that could change the course of history. In one account he shuts himself away in a dark cave to encounter in his own soul the gods of ancient Egypt one by one and wrestle with them. It sounds dreadful, but you can see he believed that whatever problems Egypt had were his personally, and could be overcome within his own soul for the sake of his land.

So perhaps not surprisingly, Egypt lent itself to me to be a place of some deep inner journeys, which I was able to perceive as being intimately connected to the land and the people God had sent us to. It was teaching me that the stuff we have to attend to on the inside is not just an unwelcome diversion from the important work of doing effective works as God’s people in our world, but it may just be the other way around. If prayer only transforms us, that could be the whole point of it.

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Go find the angels #3

The places of refuge were in the hills according to Michael, so we have hired a car and, with Simon and Amy, made a journey of some 2 hours up into the region north west of here, the hills from Huelva. (Journeys from here would have been as likely by sea as by road, so north west is not too unlikely.)

AlmonteThe first place we visited was Almonte. The city felt open, and in the main square was a statue to the Constitution of 1812. It was erected in 1978, just 3 years after Franco’s death, indicating that the place was looking forward, refusing to be gripped by fear. At by the statue were wild-geese. Such an encouragement to us to pursue more. However, in spite of being open, there was no sense of the angels walking the streets. Just did not feel as if this would be the place to connect.

NieblaWe went on to Niebla – a city with a remarkably well preserved old city wall, and with a history of Muslims, Jews and Christians. It had a significant synagogue that became a church. Here we felt there was something to connect with. Subjective of course. While praying two swifts came in and flew around the area where we were praying, circling twice. We do not remember them being present at any other time on our time of prayer that day.

Then back home… our night of sleep (or lack of) was so reminiscent of our night post praying in the Cathedral. Something has shifted – enough? Maybe not. Perhaps now they will be able to land, perhaps we have more to do here to prepare the ground, perhaps we have to dig deeper elsewhere. We certainly have other plans – into areas where the Inquisition was very vicious, for example, Arcos de la Frontera, and we are off to Badajoz – near the Portuguese border – this week, planning to drive back up through the hills of Huelva en route. Certainly in that region Jews from Spain, including Cádiz, were given refuge. There is a village there, called Hervas, about a further 2 hours beyond Badajoz that we will visit that even a former PM of Israel came to see because of the remarkable blessing that was on it due to protecting Jews.

Oh and while out on the road we can do some modelling for travel brochures. What do you think of this pose in the streets of Niebla?

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