I am sitting at my desk looking out on a different view, I can see my neighbours houses on the edge of this small estate just off the A19 in County Durham, they are not on top of me, but they are there. In the evenings my front room is flooded with the light of a sunset, and I am getting used to this new home/ work space. I have a list of things to purchase, a washing line prop, having tried to use the washing line last night and searching for a prop, I decided to improvise with a walking pole, it was okay, but a washing line prop is on my list of things to buy, alongside toilet brushes, a lampshade and other random bits and pieces that might not spring instantly to mind. I have yet to check out the landline phones which are apparently in a box for me somewhere, and definitely need to replace my wireless keyboard, which does not seem to have survived the move ( yes I did check the batteries). Alongside these things I have a new fridge freezer, I haven’t had a free standing fridge freezer for 6 years, and keep opening the pantry cupboard expecting to find the fridge which is behind me!
I have been out and about too, enjoying the coastline, there are so many beaches on my doorstep, and it would be rude not to visit them, I may have been driving my Facebook followers mad by posting picture after picture, I am not bored yet, and have even been swimming a few times, having invested in a dry bag which keeps my phone, car keys and clothes dry while bobbing along behind me, I must admit I was nervous of it at first, but it works fine. There will be more swimming, as both tide time apps and a water quality monitor are now installed on my phone.
Other trips have been out to Durham, to reacquaint myself with the city on my own terms, it is part of my recent history and holds some painful memories so I decided to go and expel some demons and make peace with it. It was never the city’s fault, but associations are associations!
Associations, are associations, in just under 2 weeks time I will be attending my welcome service, it will be the fourth such service that I have attended, the first three all involved my ex-husband in some way, the first as we were welcomed as Community Outreach Workers back in 2002, and the last when we were stationed in the same Circuit in 2012, there is some interesting symmetry that places this one in 2022. Here I come as me, and only as me, the me that I bring does not come with any attachments, no family, no significant other, I also come having worked my way through not only divorce but through having allowed myself to come to terms with my own sexuality, something I hid from everyone, even myself for so long. I would love to say that I am comfortable in my own skin, but I am not, not yet, even at the age of 60, but I am getting there. I am getting there… I am but when asked to write an introductory letter for the Circuit Newsletter I am stumped for what to say, there is much I don’t want to say, not yet, and I don’t want it to read as a “happy all the day” Christian cliché that would once have sufficed.
So, who am I here, I come as a Methodist Minister, a Christian Minister, but what does that mean, a blogging friend wrote recently of his foray into a Christian bookshop, and the problem that there was barely a book there that he wanted to read, he, like me, and many others is questioning the shape of this faith, and the lack of room for certainties once held. Like many he speaks of loosing his religion… quoting the lyrics from U2, and a song I return to over and over;
I believe in the kingdom come
Then all the colours will bleed into one
Bleed into one
But yes I’m still running.
You broke the bonds
And you loosed the chains
Carried the cross
Of my shame
Oh my shame
You know I believe it
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for
I still haven’t found what I am looking for, and maybe I won’t, maybe the point is the journey, the search, the letting go of the black and white thinking and the certainties that religion once demanded of me, maybe that is why I prefer to think of myself as on a journey, each day bringing new discoveries, new mysteries, and new invitations to become, which inevitably means letting go of what was. Oddly I find it easier to contemplate the possibility of a virgin birth, of the incarnation of Christ in the man Jesus, and the death and resurrection of that man from a place of mystery and unknowing than I do when it comes to needing to somehow prove things, acceptance is enough, and there is freedom in that. That doesn’t mean that I believe in a literal 7 day creation, because it makes no sense, there is too much science to counter such a notion, and of course the glaring fact that the Bible, a mixed collection of literature begins in a poem! A poem, containing a myth, a myth that reveals a deeper mystery, the mystery that this wonderful, terrible universe is not a mistake, but a design, a creation sustained and held in a love that continues to declare “this is good” despite humankinds best efforts to wreck things.
Maybe it is humankinds tendency to wreck things, including my own tendencies that throw me back to that searching, a searching that somehow enables me to continue to have faith, a searching faith, that seeks the divine both within and without myself, if I am indeed good, there must somewhere within me be a seed, a kernel, of that goodness, the divine finger print, that breath that enlivens me body, mind and soul. Richard Rohr, speaks of finding contemplation, through a silent engagement with the soul within which allows all to fall into proper perspective, setting aside and notions of grandeur, or addictions to knowing and power, he says;
Ultimately, we do not earn or find God. We just get ourselves out of the way. We let go of illusions and the preoccupations of our smaller selves. As the cheap scaffolding falls away, the soul stands revealed. The soul, or True Self, cannot be created or achieved by our work. It just is, and it is already. The soul is God’s “I AM” continued in me. That part of me already knows, desires, and truly seeks God. Discernment of God’s will comes naturally to the True Self because here “I” and God seem to be one “I.”
Contemplation is a way to hear with the Spirit and not just with the head. Contemplation is the search for a wide-open space, a space broad enough for the head, the heart, the feelings, the gut, the subconscious, our memories, our intuitions, our whole body. We need a holistic place for discerning wisdom.
The effect of contemplation is authentic action; if contemplation doesn’t lead to genuine action, then it remains only navel-gazing and self-preoccupation.
He firmly believes that contemplation will lead to action because we will have found within a place of compassion, not only for the world, but for ourselves. As I ponder the letter that I need to write, maybe I need to begin with a time of contemplation, to find that place where I have nothing to prove, and from where I can offer simply what is.
I finish with the end of Rohr’s meditation;
I’m convinced that if we stick with it, if we practice contemplation regularly, then we will come to an inner place of compassion—for ourselves and for others. In this place, we notice how much the suffering of the world is our suffering. We become committed to this world, not cerebrally, but from the much deeper perspective of our soul. At this point, we’re indestructible, because in that place we find the peace that the world cannot give. We don’t need to win anymore; we just need to do what we have to do, as naïve and simplistic as that might sound. That’s why Augustine could make such an outrageous statement as “Love [God] and do what you will”! People who are living from a truly God-centered place instead of a self-centred place are dangerously free precisely because they are tethered at the center.
“Ultimately, we do not earn or find God. We just get ourselves out of the way.” Sally, you are a contemplative and I think that’s what I resonate with, in you. I dare say that most Christian bookstores of today lack much in a contemplative mode. In the US that’s true for sure!!! Prosperity gospel (small g for sure) wherever you look. Thank you for this lovely reflection.