How can I be as energetic & optimistic and believing as young people tend to be? How can I have the wisdom borne of experience that older people tend to have? How can I become as insightful about life as those who experience marginalization or rejection?
I can’t !!!
To gain those attributes I must be with the young, the older, the marginalised – there’s no way of me somehow downloading them into my thoughts & behaviours. If I believe that those who are different to me genuinely have something that I’d like to have then I have to be with them; and not in a in-the-room-once-in-order-to-‘consult’-them sort of way, but actually in the room with them full-stop!……., to get the contribution of the young, the older, the ignored etc they have to be there, not merely give their views and disappear again.
The problem with this is time. To make opportunities where people of different backgrounds, beliefs & experiences can be together takes time – such things only travel at the speed of trust (to quote a community worker I know). If the main driver of life is to be efficient &/or economially expedient then it’s best to keep everyone in seperate boxes, decide which box should be dominant & let them take the lead. This approach will produce a result…………., but there is a different result to be gained by including, really including, more perspectives.
I realise this is idealistic, but I like being idealistic from time-to-time. It’s a utopian challenge to me personally……, I really like being with people like me! It’s also a challenge for how I do my work & the contribution I make in the places I have influence – no matter how small an influence that may be. It may also be a pertinent challenge at a time when service-provision, political decision-making and leadership in society are being exposed to scrutiny.
As one of the commonly-used phrases of this decade puts it…….., just saying!
I’m delighted to welcome a guest blogger for this occasion………, my very own ‘Mrs H’!! She says…….
I had two wildly contrasting experiences last week in Cornwall. On Tuesday we were walking along the clifftops and took some time to explore the Levant and Botallack mine sites. The stunning beauty of the setting could not hide the raw brutality of the place. At Botallack the steep track down a fissure in the cliff must have looked like the road to hell when the engine houses were spewing out smoke. Looking down the shaft at the end of the tunnel at Levant (restored as a memorial to those who died in the disaster of 1919) I couldn’t imagine what it must have felt like to descend into the dark and damp depths, day after day. The men, women and children who eked out a meagre living; those who lost their lives there; the communities shattered when the mines closed after the profits ran out; they shouldn’t be allowed to fade from memory or be replaced in popular culture by the romantic, sanitised, images of tourism and historical fiction.
The next day we visited Tremenheere sculpture gardens to see the sky space created by James Turrell. Also entered through a short tunnel, it could not have been a more different place to the mineshaft of yesterday. The light and peace of the space was overwhelming. Viewing the blue sky and clouds through the exquisitely formed roof aperture, I was drawn into marvelling at the One who had made the heavens and the time there became an act of worship, far more meaningful than many held in a “conventional” church.
Ever since, I’ve been trying to rationalise the two different tunnel journeys. But I think that what I’m meant to do is embrace them both. Not to run away from the pain of injustice, poverty, suffering and powerlessness but neither to deny the possibility of transcendent and transformational glory.
A bash at putting a first draft of a poem onto a photo I got of a Curlew at flight on the fields next to the River Severn at Tewkesbury
Jesus specifically warned about attempts to locate him in time-and-space following His resurrection (Luke 17;20 ff). He also taught that the reason He was going to ascend and physically leave the Disciples was to be free of geographical bounds in order to be with everyone by His Spirit wherever they are (John 16:5-7). This can of course be a great challenge to us in the face of some of the circumstances we find ourselves in…….., if His Spirit is with us then how is it that we still have to endure so much that isn’t identifiable with the kingdon of God?
In the face of this challenge to our understanding it’s easy to believe that we haven’t really quite ‘got’ Jesus’s Spirit in some sense; our difficult circumstances must equate to a lack of the Spirit, surely? We begin to think that to be ‘properly’ with Him we need to go somewhere else or be with some other ‘special’ people; we begin to idolise certain individuals and certain locations above others – if we can just get there, be with that person, those people, then things will surely change, we’ll get our fullness of the Spirit and we’ll have the ‘breakthrough’ we need. Needless to say there is no shortage of prophetic voices calling us out to venture to this place or that on the promise of a special presence of God………, after all anyone speaking such an invitation is spurred on by enthusiastic response! I don’t think that many people deliberately set out to dis-empower or mis-lead others, however excitement and passion can bring a carelessness of communication that can have the consequence of denying people’s genuine, lived experience of faith where they are.
The irony is that when communicating the good news of Jesus to those who seem not to know him we major on the fact that by hitching our wagon to Jesus we’ll have our rescue from what holds us captive and know Him with us in our lives…………, however this is an expectation clearly not met as the same voices can then be among those clamouring for the necessity for believers to go here or there to places, events and people of special significance!
I’m not saying that it’s bad to travel around to meet with others who follow Jesus, nor that we shouldn’t enjoy certain places and events that have an inspirational quality to stir us up in our relationship with the Divine. What I am suggesting is that it’s easy to go beyond that and make false claims about such activity; that over-enthusiasm can present these as unique, unmissable times, that will leave anyone who doesn’t participate falling-short in their life of faith and miss out on an opportunity to receive the grace of God in a way that’s unavailable elsewhere. This seems to fly in the face of the hope that’s held out to us that we can all have a relationship with His Spirit that will lead us into everything we need to know (1 John 2:27 .
Some may hear this and consider it speaks of a danger relevant only to particular branches of the Church – I would suggest that any expression of spirituality is open to such misreprentations. By all means let us arrange for gatherings and events and stir one another up in our relationship with God, but let us do so without suggesting He is there and not here!
So many people experience the closeness of God and don’t realise what it is. I used to be part of a team of people who went out onto the streets once a week offering to pray with those who wanted it – perhaps because of illness, sadness, difficult decisions to make, a desire to give thanks for something and so on. What made these occasions very special is that those with no particular faith or religious tradition would sense something; they’d often had their eyes closed while being prayed for and they would suddenly snap open and say, “what’s that?” or else they’d tell us afterwards that they felt warm or some other sensation. We’d explain to them what we believed that to be – a feeling of God being close to them.
I’m not here being prescriptive and saying that unless you have a ‘feeling’ then God isn’t close to you – how he chooses to be with each individual is obviously up to Him and the person concerned! – but there certainly are times when it’s a physical thing.
It dawned on me today that those priveleged to know God a little more closely do know what’s happening when experiencing these sorts of sensations; we don’t say “what’s that?” but instead say, “Hello”! We recognise Him. Recognition and actually paying attention are two seperate things however – ask any Parent!
Being conscious of God being close doesn’t mean that He forces His thoughts and attention on me – I have to be attentive. This can be a bit like my practice of eating cerial in the morning; munching it down while watching the news on the TV and just stopping occasionally when I find I’m chewing a bit of fruit in the muesli to think, “ooh, that’s nice”, and completely ignoring the other 90% of what I’m eating. In the same way I can become aware that God’s around more ‘particularly’ at a certain time but only be attentive when He conveys something ‘fruity’ – something that I think is especially relevant – and ignore the remainder of what it would be possible to savour at moments like that.
Jesus said that the Holy Spirit of God – His closeness to us – blows around us like the wind. I’m hoping that when He blows in my direction I don’t just listen to the ‘high notes’ but pay attention to the whole melody.