Rector's Thoughts For Lent
A new thought each day
2nd week of Lent thoughts.
Member of the Inclusive Church network
Most days finish with me stitching something. Even if it's just a few stitches in my latest quilt or embroidery, or a single row of knitting. It helps in so many ways. The rhythm is familiar, and here, at last, is something where I can see immediately whether I've got it right! But when I sew I'm usually not following a pattern, sometimes I try, but at some point I just have to change things and what I'm making veers off from the prescribed route to become more completely mine.
There seem to be two parts to being creative. The first is the skill, learning the basics, getting to know the rules. The second is practicing, becoming familiar with techniques, and then setting the rules aside and beginning to 'fly'.
The interesting thing is that creativity itself isn't specific to whichever craft or art you practice. Becoming more creative at sewing, for example, can help you to be a better writer. Knitting can help you be more creative at how you raise your family. I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised about this. After all, we are made in the image of God, and look how creative He is!
I arrived at my parent's home the morning of my brother's funeral to find them sitting in the kitchen each nursing a tot of whisky. It didn't seem strange to me, except that they didn't drink! The whole day itself seemed to pass as though it was from some parralel universe. It couldn't be real.
In the late 1960's the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross first wrote about the 5 stages of grief. Her work was really helpful, and has been used in training people to support others through their grief. The journey through grief is hard. And there are no shortcuts. And we all need sensitive support as we travel this hard road.
But, as with everything, there are drawbacks to her work and Kubler-Ross herself, throughout the rest of her life was always trying to refine and develop It. Thinking that there are 'stages', which we pass through in some defined order as we grieve is too limiting, and may make people feel they are somehow 'doing it wrong'. Grief is much more like walking a labyrinth. Our feelings may seem to swing quite wildly, and sometimes we may be plunged back into the depths of despair, but there is movement, and change, and light at the end of the darkest tunnel. And Jesus, who told his disciples that, in his death, he would prepare a place for them, walks with us and supports us on this alien journey through such wild and unfamiliar territory.
I think I take after the cat in not liking to risk my dignity! So talking to a roomful of senior clergy about something I feel passionately about, but where I don't really understand the science was tricky. I'm a scientist by background, but the world has moved on, and fracking wasn't on the syllabus when I studied many moons ago!
But that's the problem. It is now very difficult for ordinary people to really have an informed opinion on many things that could have far-reaching consequences. Because we don't understand all the chemistry Involved in fracking, or the ramifications of possible genetic testing, or prenatal diagnoses, or even what can now be done with computer algorithms. However, I'm not sure that this means we can't have a valid opinion, or that we shouldn't concern ourselves with proposals that are very disquieting to say the least. After all, if we are to be good stewards of the world that God has made, we can't keep leaving it all to someone else to decide...
Decisions, decisions, decisions..... We make them everyday. Some of them are easy ('do I eat that last piece of chocolate?'). Some are more difficult ('How do I reduce the amount of plastic I use?'). Sometimes, if you wait long enough the decision is made by default (your biological clock doesn't tick forever...).
A Jesuit priest once told me the most difficult decision is the choice between two good things. Making the best decision can be tough. How can you tell which is your path? Which choice will bring you to a place of contentment, of really living well? Which is the 'right' choice?
Christians have grappled with decision-making over the centuries, wanting to make choices that honour God and which fulfil their vocation. Tools have been developed that help, they sit under the heading of 'discernment'. They are one of the real treasures of the church that don't get the appreciation they deserve.
'Vocation' is one of those words that has had its meaning slanted. We've come to think of it as meaning being someone special, a priest or nun maybe, or a doctor or a nurse, a teacher perhaps? Someone with a job that helps other people. But that isn't what vocation really means. Everyone has a vocation, not just religious people, teachers or medics. One theologian describes it as your 'sealed orders', that which God has called you to. And it seems to be quite fluid, to change through your life. It isn't something set in stone when you're young. Basically, if you're still alive you still have a vocation to discern!
I used to think it was a bit like being a Russian doll: I am called to be a wife, mother, priest.... But then I began to realise that each of these was different because of the other. I am a different priest because I have children. The vocation doesn't so much change, as be lived differently. This felt more like learning to dance, developing your steps and movements as the music changes. Sometimes it seems to get very wild on the dancefloor!
Have you ever truly realised how important you are? In all the great expanses of the universe, this is the only place we know of where 'atoms regard atoms'. This is the place where there is life. Where thinking beings have evolved. Where we have begun to understand what it means to be human. And in the mass of humanity born throughout all the ages, there is only one 'you'.
You are unique. And God has known you since the beginning. His beginning, not yours. And you have been given a vocation. Called to be who you are. No one else can be you! There is something unique that you have to offer. To the people you know, to the world around you, to the thread of history. You are irreplaceable.
And you don't even have to think about how to be 'you'! It just comes naturally to you. Aren't you 'fearfully and wonderfully' made?
"I wish I had your faith" she said blithely, and I wanted to scream. It's not like blue eyes, or dimples! It's not something you're either born with or you aren't! Faith is like a muscle, use it or lose it. Work at your faith, exercise it, allow it to have room in your life, give it its proper place.
Or maybe faith is like the wires that used to connect the telephone system. Something that energises, that is there, almost dormant in your life until something happens, and for some reason you begin to see that this life is just part of something so very much bigger. You begin to realise that you can't do it on your own.
It's as though you've peered over the side of the boat and slowly realise that there is much, much more of the iceburg down there than you can see above the sea. Or this other, more important state approaches you at a 'thin place', as the Celtic Christians used to call them. Usually these were holy places, or holy times of birth or death. Times when even the most thick-skinned can begin to feel the power of eternity, or sense the pulse of the universe. Faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains, but maybe you have to start to build your muscles by moving a grain of sand.