Paying Attention

by Chris Roe.

In the 2017 film Lady Bird, the teenage title character (going by a nickname) must write about where she lives. Her teacher in the convent she studies at remarks on her relationship to Sacramento, a town she spends much of the film decrying as a dump from which she cannot wait to break free.

Nun: You clearly love Sacramento.

Lady Bird: I do?

Nun: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.

Lady Bird: I was just describing it.

Nun: Well it comes across as love.

Lady Bird: Sure, I guess I pay attention.

Nun: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?[1]

I’m an assistant in a L’Arche community, where I support and live alongside people with learning disabilities, growing together in mutual relationships in a Christian context. It is an enriching, moving and demanding place to be. Some of my favourite days as an assistant come when I walk into town with one particular person with learning difficulties. Alone it would take fifteen to twenty minutes; with this person, it’s more like an hour.

We walk slowly. We pause and comment on what we’ll do when we get to town. We notice cars as they go by, especially those that bear resemblance to a Beetle. We stop at traffic lights and wait patiently for the green man to light up before crossing, while our fellow pedestrians cut corners. We notice the ground beneath us and the people around us. We’re aware of each other’s presence. We relax into the rhythm of our day.

My experience is reflected in John Swinton’s book on time, disability and discipleship. Swinton argues that there is often a gap between the speed and pace at which many of us attempt to live our lives and the speed at which we can most readily give and receive the love of God.  Being slow, travelling in a gentle manner and taking rest are aspects of God’s time; in order to live well we should start from a slow place too. We must take the time, God’s time, to be attentive to one another.[2]

Paying attention is surely among the most basic ways we express love to one another. We’re often very aware of our loved ones’ presence in a room, and we can identify all the small signs indicating their mood. Being in a community, whether at Church or elsewhere, also involves becoming aware of each other’s wants and needs. Personally, I’ve found great riches in small groups (I’m thinking especially of student faith societies), perhaps because smaller groups can more easily generate intimacy and awareness of each other. We must take the gift of God’s time and inhabit it in a way that reflects God’s love.

As Lady Bird discovers regarding her home town, what we pay attention to reveals a great deal. We cannot attend to all things, and so we have to make choices. What choices do we make- who do we pray for? Which global conflicts do we remember, and why? Do we consider the concerns of the elderly if we are young, and vice versa? Whose gifts in our congregations are noticed? How much time do our meetings spend discussing buildings; is it healthy? How are we aware of God in our activities and liturgies?

Sadly, being a L’Arche assistant isn’t always about gentle walks! Being attentive involves commitment; we cannot only do it when we feel like it. It’s difficult to be lovingly attentive when you’re weary or someone is uncooperative. Living together, especially living with a vast range of intellectual ability, is tough. As assistants we also have to maintain quality care services, which involves paperwork. It’s easy to end up in a whirlwind of administration, doing important work but struggling to be present to those we’re meant to live in community with. It’s a gift of the person I walk into town with that they can drag us out of that and force us to attend the present.

How do we walk more slowly and pay deep attention to that which is present before us?

Of course, we must also be kind towards ourselves and allow ourselves to be forgiven when we get it wrong. The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognise the resurrected Christ. Yet Jesus walked, talked and broke bread with them. It is at the point they are leaving the city of Jerusalem, departing in despair from fellow followers, that Jesus appears to them![3] Even as we struggle to pay attention to God, God pays attention to us.

 

[1] Lady Bird (2017), written and directed by Greta Gerwig. Quote: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Lady_Bird_(film), accessed 08/04/2019

[2] John Swinton, Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Time and Gentle Discipleship, (SCM Press, 2016), particularly chapter 4.

[3] Luke 24: 13-32

Learning through God’s story

by Sandra Brower.

I’ve just returned from a week teaching at Wesley State University in Ondo, Nigeria – about a five-hour drive northeast of Lagos. It was a fresh reminder that theology is, indeed, everywhere. I always jump at the chance to leave my desk, and its associated duties, in order to visit and engage with sisters and brothers in Christ around the world. It’s so good to hear stories which are so different from mine, yet aligned to the story that we share. As soon as we arrived on campus, we were greeted by many different individuals, who had come from various districts to participate in their first week of a Doctor of Ministry programme. One minister shared his desire that we would take away the good and positive stories about his country, as a foil to the negative press we were likely to get on our newsfeeds.

Storytelling is at the forefront of my mind. Back home now, I’ve been madly trying to meet a deadline for the Postgraduate Certificate of Higher Education programme I’m enrolled on this year. My allocated small group has to submit material this week on the topic of ‘storytelling as a learning tool’. It’s been fascinating to look at storytelling as a learning theory; much research supports the claim that ‘whatever we learn, we’re learning it through someone else’s story and through their eyes’ (Ashton & Stone, 2018, p. 147). My week in Nigeria was no exception.

I was invited to deliver lectures on liturgical worship. The Church has long proclaimed the motto lex orandi, lex credendi: as we pray, so we believe. In other words our liturgy leads to and informs our theology. During our week together, the students and I considered the proposition that in corporate worship, we gather together as a community of faith to be guided by the God who seeks after us.  The scattered community brings its various stories that have developed in the time apart, gathering once again to have these stories shaped by and oriented to God’s story. At the end of my teaching week, I asked each student to answer the question, ‘what was the most significant learning point this week?’ A common response was the concept that Christian worship starts and ends in community. It doesn’t start with each of us, individually, or even corporately; it starts with the Triune God, a community in his very being, who calls us to worship, gathering us to himself. By his Son and his Spirit, the Father draws us in to participate in the life of God.

One of the PowerPoint slides for my PGCHE group’s presentation on storytelling defines storytelling as ‘a learning tool to make sense of experience’ and a ‘way of knowing that is socially constructed.’ I can’t help but think how this relates to theology and corporate worship. Stated as simply as possible, theology is ‘God-talk’ – talking about God. It is the conviction of many that we can’t engage in this task in any meaningful way unless the God of whom we speak reveals himself to us. If he doesn’t, how on earth can we know what to say? But where is God revealed to us?

When I lecture on worship, I often come back to David Peterson’s (1992, p. 20) definition of worship as ‘an engagement with [God], on the terms that he proposes, and in a way that he alone makes possible.’ In worship, we don’t simply gather to talk about God, we meet with him. The Latin motto begins to make sense. Worship is the fount of theology, because it is where we meet with God, and come to know him. And in coming to know God, we come to know and understand ourselves. It is in this engagement, then, that our stories become meaningful and we are, indeed, able to make sense of our experience.

I find it frustrating when worship leaders assume that we call ourselves to corporate worship (the latest fashion being ‘countdowns’ to worship). It turns the framework of Christian worship on its head – we gather ourselves to call on God, often expressed in an initial time of songs of praise and adoration. Certainly corporate worship must incorporate our adoration and praise, but these must always be understood in the context of response. Worship leaders (and planners) are instrumental in determining whether or not our worship, from the outset, expresses a gospel of grace. If whatever we learn is indeed through someone else’s story and through their eyes, let it be God’s story and through God’s eyes. Then, and only then, will we have eyes to see and ears to hear the good and positive stories my Nigerian brother challenged us to bear witness to.

 

Peterson, David (1992), Engaging With God: A Biblical Theology of Worship (Downers Grove:  Inter Varsity Press)

The Grace of Self-Doubt

by Graham Edwards.

When I was a child in a church service, I remember one preacher holding up two pictures for us to look at, a picture of the building we were in and a picture of a group of people. “Now,” he said, “which one of these is the church?” after a bit of back and forth we decided that the picture of the people was the church.  “That’s right,” he exclaimed, “the people are the church,” and then with a remarkably booming voice, “we are the church!”   I encountered that same phrase when I was doing my own research, I asked a group of people “what is the church?”  and after a slight thoughtful pause, one member said, “well … we are the church!”   I don’t disagree with the notion that church is primarily about people and not buildings, but as I reflect, I find the phrase “we are the church” riddled with gaps.

The “gaps” I’m talking about are the kind that Wolfgang Iser (1978) argues exist when we read a piece of literature.  He claims that texts are not all-sufficient, because as we read, there are unwritten implications, blanks or gaps that we have to bridge.  As I read (or hear) the phrase “we are the church” I find that the gaps take the form of questions.  “We”- who do we mean?  Those we are with now?  Those who are like us?  Those who agree with us?  Those of different ethnicity, or sexuality, or gender?  “Are” – do we mean that we are church at this moment?  Are there times when our actions or words mean we are not church?  How do we judge when we are and when we are not church? “The” – do we mean we are part of a larger whole, or is our local church really where it begins and ends? “Church” – what do we think claiming to be church demands of us? Merely turning up on a Sunday? Or something more?  We probably won’t agree on the answers to all these questions, some may be contentious and some potentially divisive.  In the Methodist church there are other issues we are considering – the nature of ministry, supervision, marriage and relationships and so on, these too may be difficult for us to agree upon.

Our disagreements are not simply intellectual opinions but are often deeply rooted in our lived experience which provides us with a different hermeneutic, a different starting point for our reflections on the life of faith.  Yet we know that we are not Christians in isolation, we learn from each other and our different experiences, which help to make “transparent the truth for which we seek” (Farley, 2002, p. 67).   With all that in mind, what, then, do we do?  Perhaps we need the grace of self-doubt.  Margaret Farley (p. 68) calls this “one of the least recognised gifts of the Spirit”. It is not about doubting our value before God and spiralling into hopelessness and despair. She writes:

“This is not a grace for calling into question every fundamental conviction we have achieved … it allows us to listen to the experience of others, take seriously reasons that are alternate to our own [and] rethink our own last word” (p. 69).

This grace calls us to see differently, to understand the position of others, and face the sometimes-uncomfortable truth that our position – on whatever issue we reflect on – may not be the end of the debate.   Fundamentally, I think, the grace of self-doubt bids us to see again that the grace of God is not only ours, it is also spread across the world, indeed as Paul Lakeland (2012, p. 17) notes there is “a worldly grace that the church does not control or even know”.   The grace of self-doubt is for those who struggle to make sense of the world and the challenges of faith in an ever-changing context.  It allows us to begin to work with the complexity of living in a church where people sometimes hold diametrically opposed positions, by asking each of us – in grace – to consider whether our last claim is all there is to say.  In doing this, we may find new ways to value each other and honour the image of God within each of us.   Without this grace, we may miss our part in God’s great work.

“We are the church” – yes, we are, all of us, when we agree and when we do not, so perhaps we need the grace of self-doubt as we live our faith in the church and in the world.

 

Farley, M. A. (2002). Ethics, Ecclesiology, and the Grace of Self Doubt. In J. J. Walter, T. E. O’Connell, & T. A. Shannon (Eds.), A Call to Fidelity (pp. 55 – 76). Washington DC: Georgetown University Press.

Iser, W. (1978). The Act of Reading. Baltimore: John Hopkins.

Lakeland, P. (2012). Reflections on the Grace of Self-Doubt. In D. M. Doyle, T. J. Furry, & P. D. Bazzell (Eds.), Ecclesiology and Exclusion (pp. 13 -17). New York: Orbis.

Spiritual Writing Today

by Julie Lunn.

In my last post for this blog, I talked about spiritual writing and described the project I am engaged in at present – which is to look at how women in the Wesleyan tradition articulate faith; both women who wrote their conversion testimonies to Charles Wesley, and how contemporary Wesleyan women articulate their faith today.  A few women got in touch as a result of that blog and contributed a text to the project – thank you!  Others also contributed from Methodist, Nazarene, and Free Methodist traditions, and I am now in the process of analysing and writing up the data received.  So this article is a first indication of how the project is unfolding.

The ultimate aim is to compare similarities and differences in women’s writing from the two periods and examine how theology, faith and spirituality have changed or remained the same within a Wesleyan expression of faith.  In addition, indications of significant factors which nurture, strengthen, and promote faith development will be noted and offered to encourage those of us on a journey of faith today.

In response to the request for contributions to the project I received thirty-four submissions, which together amounted to eighty-three pages of text.  Being entrusted with this material was a sacred privilege.  One participant spoke of trusting me with the work.  The material is personal, expressive of intimate relationship with God, and in many cases not originally intended for public view.  The submissions which were blogs or written for a magazine had a different voice, deliberately written for an audience, but the majority of texts were not; this was holy ground.

Of the thirty-four participants fifteen submitted extracts from existing spiritual writing – eleven from spiritual journals, two blogs, one letter to a spiritual friend and one from a magazine article.  Fourteen submitted one-off accounts written for the project, eight of which were of a specific spiritual experience.  Three submitted accounts of their conversion experience and two submitted testimonies.  Of the thirty-four participants twenty one keep a spiritual journal as part of their response to faith – ten of whom journal occasionally.  Fourteen participants have a spiritual companion, mentor or spiritual director.  Seven have a prayer partner or partners.  Twenty-six participants have another relationship which assists their spiritual journey – these include friends, a partner, a group e.g. housegroup or Bible Study group, a minister, books or podcasts, and the body of Christ or other Christians.

There were several surprises for me as I read and analysed the texts.  One was that I had not expected such a high number of participants to practice the discipline of journaling or to have a spiritual companion or relationship which assists the spiritual journey; but this is deeply encouraging.

Similarly encouraging were the number of contemporary texts which referenced scripture (twenty-two texts) and prayer – twenty-one texts either talked about prayer or included prayer in the text – these features were very similar to the texts from the 18th century women.

The experience of Jesus or another spiritual experience also featured significantly in both sets of texts.  The experiences of Jesus received by the 18th century women included a sense of the love of God, peace, and sins forgiven.  A number of experiences are visual, with Christ’s sufferings presented, frequently in the context of the service of Holy Communion; or visual experiences of Jesus in glory.  The contemporary experiences of Jesus similarly recorded a sense of love, peace, joy, warmth and a sense of presence, and some verge on the physical- ‘seeing’ Jesus’ eyes of love, ‘feeling’ Jesus’ breath on the neck.

Two texts indicate struggle with experiencing Jesus.  One is challenged by Jesus’ maleness for her as a woman, drawn instead to the presence of the Spirit.  Another speaks being eager to know and please God as a young person, but unable to experience Jesus, ‘I felt like the apostle Peter that I couldn’t go anywhere else-as much as I didn’t get this Christianity life or have any felt experience of Jesus, I felt that He alone held the key…I just didn’t know how to get to Him.’

These texts, in themselves, encourage faith.  Their honesty, openness, wisdom, and depth of faith is moving and humbling.  As the project continues the process of discovery will I am sure, continue to be one of delight, challenge, and insight for the living of faith today.  At this early stage of analysis there are however three key thoughts for reflection:

  • What do we actively do to support our spiritual life and growth? Do we make a note of our experiences of God – so we can see over time how God is working with us and within us?
  • Who are our companions, encouragers, challengers?
  • Do we express ourselves to God in prayer and root our reflections in the text of Scripture?

If we do not do these things yet – why not start?

Most Highly Favoured Lady

by Richard Clutterbuck.

Methodist theology and spirituality would be enriched if only we could overcome our collective hang-up about Mary the mother of Jesus. Almost fifty years ago, in his classic book on the rosary, Neville Ward[i] pointed to the deafening silence about Mary within his own Methodist church. Since then there have been some small developments in our attitude (a few references in the Methodist Worship Book and the annual Prayer Handbook) but it is still true that while the great majority of Catholic and Orthodox Christians place Mary at the heart of their spirituality and faith, most Protestants, Methodists included, keep her at arm’s length. Yet the art of western Europe is shot through with images of the Blessed Virgin Mary while its music has countless settings of Marian texts. My own music collection has several settings of the Stabat Mater (picturing Mary’s suffering at the foot of the cross) written by contemporary composers, among them Sir James Macmillan. At the level of popular spirituality statues, icons and shrines continue to be the focus for prayer in places (like Ireland or Italy) with a strong Catholic tradition. You cannot engage with our cultural and religious history[ii] without some appreciation of the place of Mary.

Of course, there are some good reasons for our wariness. Marian devotion has sometimes eclipsed the figure of Jesus Christ, who must always be the centre of Christian prayer and thought. Methodists would not naturally identify with the language of some of the Marian dogmas, for instance the immaculate conception and the bodily assumption of Mary. And it is true that the depiction of Mary has sometimes been associated with negative and unhealthy attitudes to female sexuality. But there are signs that a growing number of Protestants want to learn from the tradition of Marian devotion and theology[iii]. If the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are genuine expressions of the Christian life – and we believe they are – then it is likely that our own tradition can be enriched by a critical attention to the beliefs and spiritual practices that sustain them. That is what the phrase ‘receptive ecumenism’ means.

I’m writing this on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25th and shortly after my return from an ecumenical Marian pilgrimage to Walsingham.  That pilgrimage was remarkable for the way in which fifty Christians from a wide range of denominations came together in shared worship and thinking. Two of our most significant inputs came from the Methodist Frances Young and the Orthodox Metropolitan Kallistos. The event confirmed my personal commitment to a project of bringing the Methodist theological and spiritual tradition into critical dialogue with the Marian doctrine and devotion of the Catholic tradition. I have already done work on how the dogma of the immaculate conception of Mary might relate to the Wesleyan doctrine of Christian perfection, finding points of convergence and tension. But there is potential for much more. Here is a brief ‘shopping list’ for Marian dialogue:

  • Annunciation and election.
    Methodists have tended to fight shy of the doctrine of election, fearing the ‘horrible decree’ of double predestination. The figure of Mary challenges us to think though what it means to be both eternally chosen and free to offer or withhold consent.

 

  • Grace and cooperation.
    Salvation is entirely the work of God’s grace in Christ – yet God takes that project dependent on human cooperation. One of my fellow pilgrims asked Frances Young whether she could go along with the term ‘co-redemptrix’ for Mary. Metropolitan Kallistos interrupted by saying that – in a sense – all Christians are co-redemptrix. Perhaps Methodists could start by using the term Theotokos (God-bearer) to describe Mary. It affirms both the truth of the incarnation and also Mary’s key role in the story of its unfolding.

 

  • Christian solidarity and prayer.
    While Methodists may affirm, with Wesley, that the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion, we have been notoriously better at speaking of personal salvation and holiness than of the holiness and solidarity of the Church. Contemporary Catholic Marian theology has, since Vatican II, been seen as part of ecclesiology: Mary is understood in terms of the community of those who are ‘in Christ’. If it is true that ‘one family we dwell in him, one church above, beneath’ then inviting Mary to pray for us is both natural and right.

 

  • Liberation and Reversal
    The Magnificat moves us beyond the submissive piety of so much traditional Marian devotion. Methodists will find their own tradition of the social gospel enriched by what Catholic theologian Elizabeth Johnson, calls ‘the dangerous memory of Mary’, the Mary who is ‘friend of God and prophet.'[i]

 

[i] Elizabeth Johnson, Truly our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, Continuum, New York, 2004.

[i] J. Neville Ward, Five for Sorrow, Ten for Joy: A Consideration of the Rosary, London, Epworth, 1971.

[ii] There is a scholarly and vivid account of this in Jaroslav Pelikan, Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture, Yale University Press, 1996.

[iii] Examples include the short document, Mary, Mother of the Lord, sign of grace and holiness, produced by the British Methodist/Roman Catholic Committee and the Les Dombes Group report: Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints.

[iv] Elizabeth Johnson, Truly our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints, Continuum, New York, 2004.

‘Direct Cremation’

by John Lampard.

‘The way we treat the dead is an indication of the way we treat the living’. You may have seen, on television, on the web and even on the London Underground, advertisements for ‘Direct Cremation’. It is what it says on the coffin. Your relation’s or friend’s body is collected from a hospital or morgue, cremated without ceremony, and a few days later you either receive their ashes in a cardboard box, or they are anonymously scattered somewhere at the crem. There is no preparation of the body, no viewing, no contact (apart from phone or email) with the cremation arranger, no viewing, no hearse, no service. What you do with the ashes, if you elect to receive them, is up to you. You can arrange a funeral service, or not. You can dispose of them any way you wish within the law and your own level of ‘taste’. In the USA this service is known as ‘Cash and Ash’.

An increasing number of established funeral directors are offering this service, but there are now at least twenty new ‘disruptors’ who have entered the market. They can operate from home, making all the arrangements on line or on the phone, with no storage facilities, using any vehicle to transport the body.  Costs for this service vary, but it can be half the cost of a modest funeral, so it is attractive to people who cannot or do not want to pay ever-increasing funeral costs.

These are many social implications of this new trend, but there are also ethical and theological issues for Christians. Unfortunately the Christian churches have never faced up to the fact that the standard ‘choices’ burial and cremation are not alternatives. With burial there is no remainder; with cremation there are several kilos of undisposed of remains which need to be disposed in one way or another. Should the ashes be treated with the same respect as the body? Is cremation a religious act, requiring liturgy and the presence of a minister? Are there Christian and non-Christian ways of disposal? What routes are there for pastoral care for the bereaved from funeral directors, officiants, or those to whom the bereaved might be directed?

The Catholic Church has recently issued instructions that following cremation ashes should not be scattered but buried, and also should not be used to make jewellery etc, or kept in an urn on the mantelpiece, or divided among members of the family.[i] It argues that Christians should be buried (as a body or as ashes) as Christ was buried. This has been a distinctive Christian practice and understanding over the entire history of the Church. As an aside, it is worth noting that Greece will shortly have its first crematorium, the last western country to begin to adopt cremation, albeit still in the face of fierce opposition from the Orthodox Church.

If cremation is viewed as a non-religious act, but simply as a method of preparation of the body for final disposal, are there any Christian objections to the growing practice? Is there pastoral value in the common practice today of a ‘private’ cremation followed by a church service? Is the ‘committal’ at the crematorium a false parallel to burial? Could a new Christian model for a funeral be prior ‘direct cremation’, a church service with the ashes, immediate burial of the ashes, and a communal coming together?

The shape of my own funeral service is still uncertain in my mind. Much depends on the age I reach and family circumstances. I cannot see any Christian objections if there is cremation first and no coffin in church. This could mean ‘direct cremation’ followed by a service I know that I want a forward looking funeral service and not a backward looking service of thanksgiving. The one certainty I hold to is that I want my ashes be buried in ‘holy ground’. The one hope I hold is that within the ultimate mystery I may rise with Christ.

 

[i] (2016) ‘Ad resurgendum cum Christo’ (To rise with Christ)

Into the future; navigating a time of change

by Sally Coleman.

The Church of Christ in every age,
Beset by change, but Spirit led,
Must claim and test its heritage
And keep on rising from the dead
(Fred Pratt-Green) 

Times of change are challenging and difficult, producing all kinds of resistance and anxieties within us, and yet, we all know they are quite simply a part of life. Over the last decades we have become more and more aware of a change in the life of the church; numbers have fallen, churches have ceased to meet, and the demands of church life and ministry have become too much for some.

Recently one of our Church Stewards returned from holiday with news for the local congregation, “it seems to be the same everywhere” he said, “churches are struggling with questions about their future. Even if they go into stationing for a minister it seems unlikely that they will get one. We are going to have to start thinking differently.”

Could this then be the time for us to begin to ask and imagine what rising from the dead might look like in the myriad of local contexts that we inhabit? This demands that we might be willing to let go, and to die to the way that things have been; “anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal” (John 12: 24 The Message).

Change is always happening; people come and go, people die, others are born. Life is a constant reminder of the cycle of birth and death, and this is normal, yet so often when it comes to our institutions we look for constancy and security, something to keep us fixed and sure, a stronghold in times of trouble. Do we look to the church for our security, substituting it for God? Does our desire to cling on to what is, hinder us from becoming, and even desiring what might be? Are we missing the move and call of the Spirit, who longs to lead us through the desert of loss and lament to a new place where life begins again, where we literally rise from the dead?

Again and again the Psalmist finds hope in the darkness; consolation and help from God when he (sic) gets to the end of himself. Or to put it another way:

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
(Matthew 5:3 The Message) 

Lament has the power to release and re-orientate ourselves. While many see the gift of lament in the context of exile and return, it can also relate to the situation between the Crucifixion and Pentecost. Can we place ourselves into the shoes of the early followers whose world has been turned upside down; the shock of Good Friday and Holy Saturday, the confusion and slow dawning of Easter day and all that lay between those days and the total change that Pentecost brought?

Not much happened in those days. The disciples met with Jesus on and off between Easter Day and Ascension Day, but even then, they were in a space of waiting, watching and praying, preparing for something they could not name, and for a future they couldn’t anticipate. It takes serious commitment to sit with such discomfort, and two things marked out this waiting time: firstly they met together and, secondly, they committed themselves to prayer. In days such as these the underpinning of basic spiritual disciplines is essential. They will help us through the storming times and prepare us for what is to come. To quote the popular C.S. Lewis mis-quote, “Prayer does not change God it changes me.”

We know prayer can change and re-orientate us, and yet we often feel that it is nothing. How many times have you heard somebody say, “I can’t do anything but pray,” as if prayer is our last resort and not the first option? Prayer releases in us new possibilities and potentials, and even more remarkably frees us from fear as it connects us to the perfect love of God.

So we are called to set out upon an uncertain road. As with any journey what we want is a map and clear directions, a destination in sight, but that is often not the pattern for the people of God. From Abraham to the disciples the call was to move and to follow, and yet no immediate destination was made clear.

Elaine Heath writes an open letter to the church:

“Change happens all the time so that every generation, every community, every person can experience God in their world, their context, their time. And what about the wave of change that is upon us… that looks different from the church that we grew up in? These are from God… Beloved church, can we agree to let God have our anxiety? God knows how hard it is for us to let go. We simply have to be willing to be made willing. Just a tiny degree of openness allows God to work with us…”[1]

 

 

[1] Elaine Heath, God Unbound  Upper Room Books 2016  pg. 98