by Karen Turner.

Thanks to the generosity of some friends with a flat, our family has returned to Swanage in Dorset for seaside holidays over many years.  One spot that has strong memories is a stretch of beach that has a small inlet of fresh water leading down to the sea.  When our boys were younger they loved playing there, damming the stream or diverting it into small moats or lakes.  If I’m being completely honest, I loved it too, and still try to convince them to join me there, early in the morning or late in the afternoon, when most people have gone home.

There is something compulsive about digging in the sand.  It has such fleeting affect on the landscape, but somehow it’s so much fun to achieve a change, even for a short time, though all your efforts will be certainly washed away.

The work entitled When Faith Moves Mountains by artist Francis Alÿs involved 500 volunteers digging in a line in order to move a massive Peruvian sand dune by 4 inches. [1]  Though this project was a metaphor about the difficulty of affecting change in Latin American society with the motto “maximum effort, minimum result,” I couldn’t help but feel that it had something to say to me about ministry.

Although it might be quite an extraordinary feat to move a mountain 4 inches, what is the point? No doubt, like me, you have seen brilliant initiatives and projects come and go, and you have probably been a part of them, investing hours of effort in prayer sessions and meetings and washing up. Good things have happened through them;  justice, evangelism, mercy, friendship.  At a time when some congregations are considering releasing their buildings for different uses, I sometimes wonder about all the work and giving and prayer that went into constructing church buildings in the first place, surely offered in love, but for what purpose now?

Different times call for different sorts of building projects, perhaps less likely to be bricks and mortar, but equally susceptible to the ravages of time.  As I ‘dig’,  trying to be faithful in my context of offering ministry to university students, people who come and go from one academic year to the next, the sense of shifting sands is strong.  There is little here of visible permanence. Do I labour in vain?

This week a friend who is an MHA chaplain, shared some words she’d read with me:

Time provides the existential space within which we learn to love and care for one another.  But time needs to be sanctified, redeemed, and drawn into the service of God.  We do this by simply slowing down and reclaiming time for its proper purposes. To learn to be in the present moment is to learn what it means to redeem time. [2]

Most Bible translations interpret Paul’s phrase, ‘redeeming the time’[3] as getting more work done, making the most of the daylight hours.  Perhaps they are right, but I like the sense here of time itself being redeemed, made holy, and that not being achieved through busyness, but attentiveness.

As humans, we long for physical evidence, for a sense that we have made our mark and achieved something, but what if it was faithfulness itself that was part of God’s redemption of time?  And what if time was not so much a ticking clock but the expanse of God’s grace to us, to be treasured as holy company?

As someone on the cusp of undertaking a new project, some friends and acquaintances urge caution, telling tales of similar ventures that ‘didn’t work’. This is salutary and important, but the urge to dig is strong, because, of course, we aren’t building anything ourselves.  We are shoulder to shoulder with the Holy Sprit and in a way it doesn’t matter if it is washed away tomorrow.  We want to step into the reality where time itself can be redeemed, remembering that what God has done in a place simply cannot be measured by anything tangible but by a sense of God’s presence by our side. [4]

[1] You can watch a video about the making of the piece here:  More about the artist here:

[2] Dementia: Living in the Memories of God,  John Swinton, p.252.

[3] in Ephesians 4.16 and Colossians 4.5

[4] This song by The Porter’s Gate has been a refrain in my thoughts this week:

3 thoughts on “Sand”

  1. Very thoughtful. Remember all the people who have previously influenced us. They probably had no idea how much or little effect they were having. Yet their influence has been our very life, as the influence of Jesus himself.


  2. Thank you Karen. I found this particularly helpful – later this week I am to have a serious surgical ‘procedure’ and there are all sorts of risks attached, including (in my consultant’s writing!) death. Four days have become a sequence of moments, in each of which I am buoyed up – whatever the outcome – by love and prayers and the presence of God. This strange timeless time is indeed being made holy.


  3. Is redeeming the time achieved through attentiveness or business? For me the love of God is not manifested in passive moments of contemplation or prayer, but in active relationship with others. I am reminded of the story of raising of Lazarus in which the actual presence of Jesus redeems the time of loss. The question that arises is how we actually deal with ruined time: A death, abuse, illness etc where irrespective of whether it was our fault, or the actions of a third party, or pure chance; we are faced with a negative memory – a ruined time that blights our life. What we need is a new start, a new time, a resurrection. In my experience we find this in Christ, by recognising the inherent goodness of life and actively engaging in love for others. It is not that we forget the ruined time, it stays in our memory, but the amazing love we find brings forgiveness for our past, courage to face the present and hope for the future.


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