After this traumatic year when so many have lost loved ones in the pandemic, hugs have been missing from many people’s lives. But there is a place of blessing where they can always be found in abundance. Let’s go there!
Hugs are precious. They express close heart-to-heart nearness with others. But during the lockdown we’ve been missing time with friends and extended family, parents, children, grandparents, when we share laughter, hugs and smiles – smiling faces that speak volumes. A backlog of hugs has been building!
Ffald-y-Brenin – a place of Blessing-in-Waiting
We have been missing other important things too. Our churches and community centres have remained forlornly silent of the sound of human voices. We have seen community life brought to a standstill and there have been a lot of lonely people. The Christian Retreat Centre at Ffald-y-Brenin has also been largely empty during lockdown. A place of blessing for many visitors in the past few years it now stands silent – waiting for them to start arriving again.
Blessing at the Cross
Since this simple cross was erected on a hillock in the Ffald-y-Brenin grounds many visitors to the Centre have experienced encounters with God here. It has become a specially ‘thin place‘ where heaven seems to meet earth and surprising things can happen. One angry young woman came bearing deep resentment against God for allowing her past experiences. While at the Centre she vented her anger at the cross, spitting at it and banging it with her fist. As her anger subsided she later discovered release from the hurts of the past as God’s love began to embrace her. A few days later her church minister rang the Centre to say:
“I just want to tell you that the lady who’s come back is the lady we’ve always thought might be lurking underneath the pain of this person, and we just want to say how wonderful the change in her is.Read more in Grace Outpouring
Often, visitors to the centre have spent time sitting near that cross and have come away blessed with a deep sense of having been close to the Father-heart of God. Some have left prayers. Others have left behind worries, past hurts, griefs and gone away with lighter steps and a refreshed spirit.
Former Wales International Rugby legend Emyr Lewis told his story on BBC Songs of Praise on St David’s Day this year. He recalled how, at a low point in his life after giving up his professional rugby career, he went to Ffald-y-Brenin. There, one of the team members prayed a prayer of blessing over him – a custom at the centre. Afterwards, going out into the centre grounds he noticed the cross with the sun shining on it. He took this as a symbol of God’s open arms of love offered to him. “I must go to church” he responded. He went and found a warm-hearted church congregation where his new found faith has deepened.
Land of Revivals
But you don’t have to go all the way to Wales to discover the hugs of God. The open arms of Jesus on the cross are always where we broken people find forgiveness and acceptance in the outstretched wrap-around love of God.
Wales as a nation has known many revivals of Christian faith over the centuries. Pembrokeshire has seen its own share of this too. The pilgrimage site of St David’s Cathedral reminds us of Wales’ patron saint. Some have suggested St. Patrick may have left from here to return to Ireland as a missionary in 433AD. The Great Awakening of the mid 18th century, the 1859 and the !904 revivals, especially, had a huge impact here. One of the great hymns of that 1904 revival was ‘Here is love, vast as the ocean.‘
Here is love, vast as the ocean,
Loving kindness as the flood,
When the Prince of Life our ransom,
Shed for us his precious blood.
On the mount of crucifixion,
Fountains opened deep and wide;
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy,
Flowed a vast and gracious tide…..
Grace and love like mighty rivers,Translated from the Welsh
Poured incessant from above,
And heaven’s perfect peace and justice,
Kissed a guilty world in love.
Wishing you a very Joyful Easter. Come and, with me, spend some time at the cross. We need to allow ourselves to be hugged by God. He is waiting, longing to throw his arms around us.
We have a lot of hugging to catch up with!