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Here is an interesting thing – in the Apprentice Training Programme, creating MARGIN is the Soul Training exercise linked to the chapter headed God is Holy.

The Diamond Ring Effect - the Sun's light peeking from around the edge of the Moon's surface

An important aspect of decluttering your life is making space to understand and know God.

Writing about God’s Holiness in Knowing God,  J.I. Packer speaks of the goodness and severity of God (p181). He warns against creating a false Santa Claus theology where God’s goodness is welcomed and his severity ignored.

Understanding and responding to all of God’s attributes is both urgent and important.

When do we take time to gaze at the stars – lifting our attention from the urgent issues that shout for our attention and beginning to consider the important issue of seeing ourselves and God in perspective?

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

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A year ago I would have described myself as a private person. I would have laughed if you suggested that I would soon have breast cancer and be blogging about it.

And yet this blog is not so much about me as about you. Sharing my journey with you gives us a chance to get to know each other better – and that is important to me.

Chapter 3 of J.I Packer’s book Knowing God adds a lot to my understanding of what relationships are like, and especially what a relationship with God can be like. It is headed Knowing and Being Known.

He gives a really useful description of what knowing God involves:

‘Knowing’ God is of necessity going to be more complex than ‘knowing’ another person. Just as knowing my neighbour is a more complex business than ‘knowing’ a house, or a book. . . The more complex the object, the more complex is the knowing of it. . . the position is further complicated by the fact that people keep secrets, and do not show everybody all that is in their hearts.’ (p. 36-37)

And so the quality and extent of our knowledge of other people depends more on them than on us – how much they want to be known.

Packer asks us to imagine what it might be like to be introduced to someone we considered to be ‘above us’ – whether in rank, or intellect, or personal qualities. The more conscious we are of our own inferiority, the more we will feel that our role is simply to respond respectfully and let them take the initiative in all interactions. He continues:

‘But if instead he starts at once to take us into his confidence, and tells us frankly what is in his mind on matters of common concern, and if he goes on to invite us to join him in particular undertakings he has planned, and asks us to make ourselves permanently available for this kind of collaboration whenever he needs us, then we shall feel enormously privileged’  (p.38)

This, as far as it goes, gives an illustration of what it means to ‘know’ God. God honours us by taking the initiative to make himself known to us.

To make it easy for us the bible gives us four pictures that help us understand how we can expect to relate to God

as a son to a father; a wife to a husband; a subject to his king and a sheep to its shepherd.

I find this really helpful. In the most recent part of my journey I have been like a bleating sheep who needed to be looked after and led. At other times a different metaphor would be more relevant.

The wonderful thing is that, according to biblical values, each pictures tells of a God who loves and cares for us.

Thank you so much for joining me on this on-line conversation. Whether you comment or not I value your presence. My journey through cancer is moving forward all the time. I can see us in the months ahead looking back at the highs and lows, remembering the pictures, the stories, the music, the pain and the joy behind them all.  We have so much more to talk about and to explore – and I look forward to doing that together 🙂


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Having got over my rant about unhelpful ‘advice’ on diet and cancer, I need some quality information to help me make sensible choices.

Here are two reliable sources:

First is from the UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology – where we find confirmation that diet does affect cancer risk.

The second is the UK World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) where we find a lot of specific guidance. I took the quiz to assess how healthy my diet is and was reassured not to worry as I am (and have always been) eating my way to health 🙂  I also took the quiz to assess my risk of breast cancer – and I am reassured about that too!

Joking aside, the advice is evidence based and should be followed. Here is a summary:

WCRF UK’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

1. Be as lean as possible without becoming underweight

2. Be physically active for at least 30 minutes every day

3. Avoid sugary drinks. Limit consumption of energy-dense foods (particularly processed foods high in added sugar, or low in fibre, or high in fat)

4. Eat more of a variety of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and pulses such as beans

5. Limit consumption of red meats (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meats

6. If consumed at all, limit alcoholic drinks to 2 for men and 1 for women a day 7. Limit consumption of salty foods and foods processed with salt (sodium) 8. Don’t use supplements to protect against cancer

Special Population Recommendations

9. It is best for mothers to breastfeed exclusively for up to 6 months and then add other liquids and foods

10. After treatment, cancer survivors should follow the Recommendations for Cancer Prevention

And, always remember – do not smoke or chew tobacco

Have a look at the WCRF website to get a lot more detail about how to put this advice into practice.

And about God and cancer? . . .  we have lots more to explore . . .

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How did I get cancer? Was it something I ate?

All sorts of questions bounce round my mind as I come to terms with what has happened to me.

Was it something I did that caused the cancer?

If what I was doing caused it to happen once, then might I cause it to happen again.

Is it my fault in some way?

A vague sense of guilt floats around in the background of my mind. I feel vulnerable.

Before this happened to me I ate well, exercised regularly, am not overweight – I was a healthy specimen!

Last week I picked up a magazine at the specialist clinic with the heading “Everything you need to know to help you beat cancer”

. . . but instead of being helpful, reading it leaves me feeling confused, overwhelmed, depressed and angry!

It is full of aggressive talk – fight it, beat it, win the battle.

I feel exhausted at the thought of the effort involved.

And it is full of advice about what is and is not a risk for cancer – what I should and should not eat. I knew none of this before now.

Here is a sample of the headlines

  • 20 natural compounds that help fight cancerno mention of how much they help or how much to take
  • Dietary supplements – kill or cure.  Well, it clearly matters to get that one right!
  • Imperfectly natural – how natural products damage our health
  • Stress does cause cancer
  • Can cancer drugs spread breast cancer?
  • Mushrooms help fight breast, prostate and bladder cancer (even button mushrooms!)
  • Vitamin D – are you getting enough?
  • “Beetroot cured my cancer”
  • CT scans increase cancer risk
  • Mammograms endanger women at high risk
  • Walnuts help fight breast cancer
  • Women can pass cancer to their babies
  • 515 chemicals used on a woman’s face every day – some are known toxins

However nowhere in the magazine is there a suggestion that I have cancer as a punishment for something I did.

And yet those who have cancer very commonly believe that God gives us cancer as a punishment for something we did.

They believe in a God who is angry and who judges and punishes openly.

Do you think they are right – does God cause cancer and disease?


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“we have not even the vocabulary to describe the aroma of coffee – how then should we speak of God ?”

How true! The way I understand and represent God in my thinking is very likely to be different from how other people understand and relate to Him.

So how can I check out the metaphors I use to relate to God and is there a blueprint I can check them against?

To help me explore this concept I conducted a small research project as part of my coach training. We were looking at modelling. The theory is that if one person can do some thing, it is possible to find out how they do it, learn it yourself and teach it to others.

Sport provides great examples. We can explore how long distance runners train for endurance; how darts players hit the Bull’s Eye; how swimmers achieve efficiency in their strokes. We model them by watching what they do and breaking their actions down into small parts so that we can copy every detail. And, of even greater importance, we find out what they are thinking – what stories they are telling themselves about what they can and cannot do; what values they hold about excellence; and what they believe about their mission and purpose.

If a golf master tees up to hit the ball and tells himself in his head “this is probably going to go straight into the rough”, how likely is he to hit a winning shot that whistles straight towards the tee?

For my research project I interviewed some mature christians to find out how they pray. And the results were fascinating.  Some imagined God in front of them, up in the sky as a presence without any form, others imagined Jesus sitting beside them, as a person. They ‘heard’ God in different ways, and felt his presence in different ways.

Each had their own metaphor to describe the divine presence and the experience of prayer.

No-one mentioned the Holy Spirit in them.

So is there a blueprint?

Can you imagine my delight to discover that great minds have been exploring this very question for over 25 years – Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Brennan Manning and James Bryan Smith.  The result is a Curriculum for Christ-likeness – An Apprentice Series – Discovering the God that Jesus knows.

And the greatest delight is that I find myself part of a group of friends asking the same questions and seeking the same depth of authentic relationship with God.  We are learning from the master himself.

“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”

As I learn I will share with you – topics like God is Good . . Trustworthy . . Holy . . And looking at how to respond with Soul Training.

This is not a course for those who want to know about God. It is for those who want to know God.

The first step and the first soul training exercise are not what you might expect them to be . . .

p.s. Thanks to Col for the quote about God and the aroma of coffee from Wittgenstein

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