Cowes, Phillip IslandThe Church of St John,
MINISTERS :- THE MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION
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Set aside a place to pray
Set up a surface for your Bible, a bowl and candle.
You might also find that a few flowers from the garden in a small vase or dish, a cross (even if it’s on a necklace) or other symbol like a stone, rock, branch, etc might be helpful.
Less is best, but then… you might find it fun to explore.
Keep a small journal and pen nearby to note the prayers and people that come to mind as you pray and read your Bible.
Set aside a TIME to pray and dwell with God.
On a Sunday, it would be good to keep in routine:
Pray at the time your community would normally meet.
During the week, you might find time with your morning cup of tea, or afternoon rest.
BUT, choose a time, and stick to it as best you can!
My friend Alison said to me today, “Have you gone to the green place to sit and notice yet?”
My friend Alexandra texted me from level 4 lockdown today and asked, “How are you?”
If you were to try to answer either of these questions, would you be a little worried that you might drop your bundle? I am. A reflection of the fragility of all of us have been managing for so many months for those who rely on us.
We need to be mindful that, although we will soon have some clarity of what the relaxing of restrictions might look like, this pandemic won’t be over. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Some are talking of about a ‘new normal’. Most of us wish it all done and gone. I’ve even heard voices saying, ‘Let’s write 2020 off.’
The invitation of my friend Alison to intentionally spend time in the ‘green space’ felt like a useless activity for me to do. My answer to Alex’s question, ‘How are you?’ revealed an exhausted, fragile version of myself.
But, I did take myself to the ‘green space’ as Alison had suggested, and I did dare answer honestly the ‘How are you?’ question, even though I didn’t think it would do much good.
And it wasn’t a solution, nor a panacea to the reality we are living. But it did help.
My prayer for us all at this time, is that you might be brave enough to carve out the space to get into the ‘green place’, and humble enough to answer the ‘how are you’ question. Knowing that it’s not about solving these things, but a moment to think: and know that it won’t undo us. Rather, it is to honour all that is true within us, rather than deny it, and to be humble before God with the cry of our heart.
Minister’s Update for August 2020: Mercy, Nick Cave and Cancel Culture
According to the dictionary, ‘cancel culture’ refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support or cancelling out of a public figure or company after they have done or said something that is considered objectionable or offensive. It is often seen through social media in the form of group sharing. We have seen cancel culture in our policies calling for the resignation of our premier and other ministers as a solution to navigating and managing our way through this second wave - as if by removing a figurehead, the pandemic would be magically solved - as if the premier or health ministers are personally responsible because someone who worked at a quarantine hotel came to work with a scratchy sore throat.
On Nick Cave’s website ‘theredhandfiles.com’, the artist has written a piece on the topic of Mercy, and in it he considers the place of Mercy as a means in our community life to deal with different view points. “Mercy is a value that should be at the heart of any functioning and tolerant society. Mercy ultimately acknowledges that we are all imperfect and in doing so allows us the oxygen to breathe — to feel protected within a society, through our mutual fallibility. Without mercy a society loses its soul, and devours itself.”
Cancel Culture inhibits good robust, respectful discussions and hinders us navigating difficult conversations and the complex matters of our time. Mercy provides a constructive attribute to help our listening to difficult points of view and discussing opinion rather than dismissing it. Rather than ‘cancel culture’s’ shotgun approach to shoot the messenger and thinks the problem will be solved, mercy provides a scaffold to hold nuance, complexity and difference.
Nick Cave goes on to say, “Mercy allows us the ability to engage openly in free-ranging conversation — an expansion of collective discovery toward a common good. If mercy is our guide, we have a safety net of mutual consideration, and we can, to quote Oscar Wilde, “play gracefully with ideas.”
The Gospel story of the Samaritan Woman who demands of Jesus healing for her daughter is an uncomfortable story. It reveals a Jesus who is rude, genderist and even racist. Exactly the kinds of behaviours and attitudes that ‘cancel culture’ would want removed from the common discourse. And cancel culture would want Jesus to be ‘removed’ from the public domain. In the robust conversation that this Canaanite conducts with Jesus, Jesus discovers something far deeper about himself and his theology. By the end of the story Jesus learns his ministry of Grace and Healing is for all people: not just the marginalised in his own ethnic group.
Nick Cave continues:
Yet mercy is not a given. It is a value we must nurture and aspire to. Tolerance allows the spirit of enquiry the confidence to roam freely, to make mistakes, to self-correct, to be bold, to dare to doubt and in the process to chance upon new and more advanced ideas. Without mercy society grows inflexible, fearful, vindictive and humourless.”
Jesus learns that mercy is that thing that enables us to engage with ideas that are uncomfortable. Jesus learns that mercy is that thing that delivers us the capacity to deliver compassion. Jesus learns that mercy is not just for the chosen but for all people. All people are God’s people and so he realises that his mission of mercy is for the whole world. Mercy brings life.
The power went out last night.
I usually have some candles around the house, but because we are filming the Sunday service from the loungeroom of the Manse, there were plenty to choose from. Soon, my family room was aglow in candlelight. It made we wonder ‘why don’t I do this more often?’ It’s such a simple thing to do, and a very effective way to relax.
As you know, I’m reading Julia Baird’s book, ‘Phosphorescence’, and she has introduced me to the Japanese term yugen. It is a word that has to do with the feeling of being aware of the Universe in a way that triggers our emotional response that is too big and powerful to put into words. We might think of ‘mountain top’ moments or amazing sunsets: just being in the right place, right time to see a flight of wild geese take off, or perhaps capture that moment when the sunlight filters in a certain way through the dawn light of the sun rise.
Reading this, and being at home, as we all are, immediately made me yearn for a time I can get back down to Swan Lake on Phillip Island and watch the birdlife or stand at Pyramid Rock and feel the ocean wind. It made me miss what we can’t access at the moment. And it also made me think that these moments of awe are not possible stuck at home.
That was, until last night’s blackout.
In the glow of the candle light, I noticed that the moon was out. The cool light of the moon was casting a ‘moonlight shadow’ through my window. I only noticed it because of the blackout. For a moment I sat in my window looking out the night sky!
Mae Jemison, astronaut on the Space Shuttle Endeavour is noted as saying “Life is best when you live deeply and look up.” Who would have thought that being at home in a backout could nourish heart and soul like this? When Jesus says in John 10, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly’, perhaps he is also referring to these small moments of wonder? These little moments happen all the time, yet we so often miss them.
Makes me wonder what else we will discover in this time of remaining safe at home?
A Holy a week like no other.
Usually, this week is an extraordinary time of ecumenical sharing here at Phillip Island. The Inter-Church Council here has for many years shared the week, visiting each other night by night. Last year we started here at St Johns with a contemplative Taize Style reflection, Tuesday at the Anglican’s, Wednesday at St Mary’s Catholic where Fr Manny shared a new hymn (at last to me), and a contemplative night at the Island Baptist church on Holy Thursday. Although it’s exhausting, it’s also so nourishing, enriching and this year, I’m missing being on the journey together to Good Friday and Easter Day.
However, as we remain at home and we journey together from there.
Outside tonight is the ‘super moon’. The moon is the closet to the earth and in some kind of alignment with the sun that makes it look huge!
There is a beautiful song my Tori Amos, called ‘Twinkle’ from her 1996 album ‘Boys for Pele’, that tells the story of lovers separated by a terrible event. Although separated, they can both see the star, twinkle, and that keeps them connected.
This Holy Week, we are a little bit like that.
Unlike the song however, we are connected by more than moon light or twinkling stars. We have wonderful technology that enables love face to face chat and prayer: and social media that enables us to share video messages.
We have just up loaded a Good Friday message on our Facebook page
One of the things that I’m noticing over these initial days of formal ‘‘Social Isolation’’ is how often I’ll think to myself, “I’ll just pick that up when I’m out,”…and of course, none of us are out and about as normal.
If you grew up on a farm, you might find your old patterns of weekly shopping re-emerging in your life. And What a good idea!
The ‘‘i-phone generations’’ are finding that idea tough.
Growing up in a world where, quite literally you can click a button on a computer and your products are delivered to you the next day has become their ‘‘norm’’.
Part of this re-calibration might bring some wonderful freedoms in family life.
Going to the supermarket daily becomes an unconscious pattern in people’s lives: and we all know we never just walk out with the one thing we went in for!! Imagine doing the ‘once-a-week’ shop again? Imagine the space and the time that unclutters our lives because of that one simple change? (and imagine how much less waste in our pantries!)
On the other hand, being home, (and it’s looking like that will be for a period of time now), can and will bring about disconnection from one another. And because this is not just separation from friends, but also separation from families, it would be very good for us all to step up in our intentional telephone callings, letter writings and emails.
Today I did a Bible study: and it reflected on Matthew 10: 40-42.
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me,
and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
In many ways, we are the practical hands and feet of God for each other in our day to day community. While we are at a distance from each other, let’s be intentional about making contact from afar!
This week I took the Salt Lamp that usually resides in the Church, and placed it in the window of the Manse. There are many understandings of what a Salt Lamp can do for our mood, health and wellbeing. Some talk about the ‘ion’ effect of them: how the Lamp helps to promote a sense of calm. Others promote health benefits way beyond! I placed it in the ‘street facing’ window as a sign of hope.
The gentle glow of the lamp spills into the night, illuminating the canopy of the large tree that cocoons the widow.
I read a story of children who are sending ‘hugs’ into their street by placing their Teddy Bears on their window ledge facing outwards.
Yesterday I set up the beautiful blue ‘icicle’ lights that glow in the entrance foyer of the church at night. I usually set these up in the last week of Advent as a way of bringing the building ‘alive’ for the celebration of Christmas. This time, however, I wanted to bring some light to our building in a time of great stress to the local community, and the wider world.
Our Church building is the home to many, many communities. From Yoga Kids to Rural Australian for Refugees: United Yarners to Belly Dancing: choirs of the U3A and Sister & Misters: Bass Coast Play Group to UCAF, the St John’s Singers, Red Cross, and Market on Chapel. Each one of those communities also cannot meet at the moment.
In these days while we are observing social distance, it’s good to know we can each reach out to one another in creative ways. If somebody is on your mind, give them a ring or drop them a line. I’m sure when our hearts are prompted in these ways, very often that prompting is of the Spirit.
Our Moderator, Rev. Denise Liersch reminds us all, in her prayer to the Synod, of the presence of God with us all.
God is with us;
God walks with us;
God is one with us, in all the realities of our lives;
In God we unexpectedly find hope in to new life
And new ways of being.
My prayers are with you constantly.
In the grace and hope we have in Christ, may we find our life together.
May these weeks of resting at home bring nourishment and an abiding sense of God’s presence with you and those you love.
Last Christmas Day I discovered a four-hour window of time, after the rush of early morning Church services, where I was not required to be anywhere! A moment of stillness on a busy day: a moment of silence after the flurry of Christmas preparations.
As a minister, my calendar to Christmas is wonderfully full of social events, activities, pastoral visits and celebrations, in addition to the preparations for services of ‘carols and stories’ and worship. So, those four hours on Christmas Day were a deeply appreciated gift. I made a cup of tea, opened some homemade shortbread, sat in my arm chair and rested.
Once before I spent a Christmas in a similar way. On that day, I enjoyed a toasted sandwich and a peppermint tea, and did some afternoon gardening. Wonderful! It was a remarkable day. I had grown up with formal, pressured meals, where the tensions of the day far outweighed any enjoyment of the food or company. That toasty on Christmas Day was one of the best culinary experiences I have had!
I’m no Grinch! I enjoy the festivities. But it is also encouraging seeing people embrace a simple approach to the celebrations. Choosing a priority of planet and people over wastefulness in gifting or food is a very exciting direction for the season.
Some find Christmas Day the loneliest, especially when the year has been marked by the death of a family member or the breakdown in relationships. My past experiences of a simple day, well planned: or a simple day accidently encountered have nurtured my Spirit and enabled me to enjoy the day, whether alone or with others!
The Christmas story is hardly a story of feasting tables and abundance. Rather, it is a story of a young woman, a fragile couple and the gift of the birth of an infant in circumstances less than perfect. The creation of family. Every child is a gift. Every child changes everything in life. Most of all your heart. I wonder if we pondered this central story, and wondered why it has endured, if we’d discover a deeper meaning; an even more simple gift? If love is born like this, then perhaps our celebrations of it would reflect the complexity of what it is to be a gift for each other, rather than buying gifts for each other?
May your journey to Christmas Be a pathway of Peace, Hope and Joy, A journey of Love.
On Sunday I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a woman who kindly looked after me when I was a young lad about town. She is now a successful and notable lawyer in Melbourne, known for representing people who have been in institutional abuse. I have watched her career grow through the media as she has advocated on behalf of those who have been silenced. It was exciting for me to see her recently on the ABC television programme ‘Q & A’.
But if we were to turn back the clock, to when our lives first crossed, we were both in our ‘post-University’ days. We met through a church community event she had been dragged along to! Church is not her thing at all! Both of us were living in share houses that happened to be just around the corner from each other. We were trying to determine what our careers would be: I had just left a Chartered Accounting firm, and she was completing her Articles in a Law firm.
In this story, I had experienced the end of a budding relationship. One Sunday afternoon, feeling a little fragile, I walked down the street to my friend’s house. When she opened her door, her gentle and kind welcome reduced me to tears. I stood on her door step and wept before her. She brought me in, applied cups of tea and cookies, and sent me on my way comforted and restored. I have never forgotten that simple act of kindness.
When we met again this past weekend, 27 years later and she really didn’t know who I was! She was gracious, but also a bit concerned, “Who is this person who I cannot place?”
The gentle and acts of kindness we can offer each other make a profound difference in our world. We may often never realise the value of the simple acts of helping we offer to each other. It didn’t matter that my re-acquainted friend had no idea of who I was! It was a wonderful and rare opportunity to be able to offer my deep thanks to a person who so profoundly helped me! This is the kind of world I want to live in: this is the kind of person I’d like to be growing into; this is the kind of school we can practice being. The wonder of the gift we can be for each other. I think this is living the Grace we know in Jesus.
Picture Ian Roach: Gradian News Accessed 11/11/19 https://www.nambuccaguardian.com.au/story/6481391/pigeon-steals-poppies-to-make-its-home/
You may have seen this story in these days leading to Remembrance Day. A pigeon has made a nest, with poppies of remembrance, on the window ledge of the Hall of Remembrance at the War Memorial in Canberra.
For me, the image brings forward ideas of how memory can create a nest of safety, how a fragile animal can have the ingenuity to make a home, and how new life can emerge from remembrance.
Over these past few months the St John’s community has encountered the death of a number of dearly loved members. People whose lives lived the Gospel of Hope and Grace they had received. These are deeply sad times, both now and in the weeks to come.
A church community carries grief together. By living in community, we don’t have to continually explain what has happened to us: we can be held as we grieve.
In our contemporary culture the processes of grief and sadness are undervalued. We are encouraged to celebrate life, with little attention to the sadness we carry forward into our futures. It might be helpful to remember, that grief and celebration are not opposites: rather, they are friends in conversation with each other. And it’s that mutual conversation that helps us into our futures.
Let’s be thankful for this life we get the share together: mindful of our fragility and humanity, and confident in the community that surrounds us in times of stress, need and sadness. Let’s be open to how the Holy Spirit may be moving in our lives, bringing comfort, even in our sadness.
A Short walk into Christmas
I have been exploring some of Victoria’s State Parks with a thoughtful friend who is taking an interest in the Indigenous stories of place. Just near here is a seasonal waterfall and on the morning we visited there had been rain all night. The waterfall was in full flow: a cascade of water falling over the rocks. Truly beautiful. My friend had reminded me not to get distracted by this ‘main event’, and to attend to the less dramatic, but equally breathtaking aspects of the bush. After a long look and listen to the waterfall, I was able to see the complex beauty of nature.
Christmas is somehow like that walk; we can be distracted by the big event, but are also asked to pay just as much attention to the little things too: with as much care and attention.
We all need space for contemplation in our lives, like my bush walks. Contemplation has been defined as ‘a long loving look at reality’. Often the life questions we struggle with are matters that invite that ‘long loving look’. Contemplative practices facilitate sitting with the complexities and sometimes help us find resolutions that are life giving.
Jesus was known as one who would frequently depart to wilderness places for short moments in the every day of living and loving. Mary is also remembered as a woman who contemplated things deeply in her heart.
As you reflect upon the year, may you afford yourself that ‘loving look back’ at all you and your families have managed and achieved; and be gentle in looking forward into the New Year that lies before us all.
We are afraid of heat waves.
The thought of relentless heat and blinding bleaching sunlight; nights of radiant residual heat of ground, walls and not a breath of refreshing life giving coolness fills us with dread. Thankfully this summer, here at Phillip Island, we have been blessed with both heat and relief.
I've been wondering about this new year, and what is it I might want to explore, discover and learn, both formally and informally. This year I will take a unit or two of academic updating at the Uniting Church's Pilgrim Theological College. But what is it I want to learn?
My desk, bedside table, coffee table, lounge chair are all surrounded by books: each a window into somebody's thoughts and their world. What will I learn from them?
And, informally, what is it I'm learning? The Latin moto for Monash University, (if I'm remembering right), translates as, 'I am still learning'. What is it that I am being taught? What lesson? What understanding? Where do I need to grow? Where am I resisting learning? What is it I need to learn, it perhaps don't want to?
This is what often gets referred to as informal learning, but I think, actually, is that deeper, more profound awakening of understanding that is integrated into our lives.
Am I being asked to dwell more deeply in prayer?
Am I being guided to think more about compassion and how to live compassionately?
Am I feeling that I need to learn to practice living more generously, in love, and seek the healing of forgiveness, so that I can better live in love and offer that life giving forgiveness to those I share this life with?
And if I am, then how will I go about it? What will I do? What will I read? How can I get connected with the place to dare practice and live it?
Last year, at our Church Council's reflection and retreat day, Lyn Francis was flicking through a prayer book and found the following prayer. I've been near this prayer most of the latter half of 2018.
And it's here again at the start of this year.
A good reminder of what a church seeks to offer and be in our community.
It's just so often that we get caught up in the day to day of community life that even we forget, or simply ignore what the faithful life is about.
So, I'm sharing this prayer with you, with credit to the anonymous author. Thank you for writing the words I could not find: and may they inform the church we are in at this time and place, for all people.
If this is not a place
Where tears are understood,
Then where shall I go to cry?
And if this is not the place
Where my spirit can take wings,
Then where shall I go to fly?
If this is not a place
Where questions can be asked,
Then where shall I go to seek?
And if this is not a place
Where my heart cry can be heard
Where, tell me, shall I go to speak?
From Singing While it is Still Dark, (Friends of Unity, 2008), p. 72.
This book was prepared for the members of the Uniting Church South Australian Synod, 2003.
Advent is a season that I find emotionally amplified. For me, hearing the news touches me very deeply at this time of year. Last week our congregation was invited to participate in a national mailing effort to encourage our members of Federal Parliament to bring peace and hope to those people in detention centres, under the authority of the Government. How can we sing ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel’, while children and people remain in endless captivity?
The wilderness voice that calls to us all to “prepare ye” The Way, calls clearly to those listening. The preparation of the season goes way beyond the skirting boards, the pudding and the gifts: it calls us to wonder how can we bring the word of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love into our Advent practically and prayerfully?
We will sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel again in this Season: most likely at our service of Stories and Songs on Christmas Eve here at St John’s, Cowes at 7.30 pm. And I’m sure that I will still find it’s mournful lament and demand to rejoice will catch me! That’s the gift of good music, thoughtful lyrics and the Spirit of God in it all. And I know it will continue to shape my Christmas season.
For those few of you who read this little page on our website: a Merry Christmas to you: may the blessings of this season of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love be with you as we celebrate the Birth of Jesus again this year.
Reading this week’s newspaper I came across a report from the BBC radio team. It told of new 'slow radio' programming: a phenomenon of broadcasting the relaxing sounds of church bells or boiling kettles to help people “escape the frenzy of everyday life. ” The programmers suggested this was a way to encourage mindfulness amongst both existing and new audiences. Other sounds suggested include the noise of a clock ticking, a steam engine chugging through the country side, and even the counts of cows in a field being blessed by an Irish Priest.
As I sit here pondering this newspaper article, it reminded me just how easy it is to have a cluttered aural sound scape. The company of the radio, music in shops, people with headphones on constantly.
The quiet practice of bible reading, or contemplative prayer are spiritual disciplines that have been parti fo Christian Spirituality for centuries. Perhaps mindfulness is deeper than just the sound of a clock ticking. Perhaps mindfulness has been prayer all along!Spring Cleaning: Spring Reading
It could be that the days are brighter now that we have moved into Spring, but I am certainly noticing the things that need a clean up around my house. Last weekend I was in the front garden cutting some trees away from the guttering. This weekend I found some places where I'd been missing with the vacuum cleaner!
Now that the cleaning is done, I thought I might share some of the things I reading with you. On-going learning is not only part of the academic life, it it's also part of the life in faith we share. Our lectionary readings take us through the Letter of James, so so I'm reading James: The Wisdom of the Brother of Jesus, by John Dickson and James, First, Second and Third John by Kelly Anderson and Daniel Keeting.
Because James is one of the earliest writings in the Christian Canon, I am also reading
Unity & Diversity in the New Testament: an inquiry into the Character of Earliest Christianity, by James DG Dunn, and also,
The New Testament: a historical and theological introduction, by Donald A Hagner. Both if these are detailed overviews of early church, and I'm seeing more clearly the distinctions in our Bible, and the developments if theologies contained there in.
As a community we have just traveled through five funerals in six weeks. I've just started New Journeys Now Begin: Learning on the past of grief and loss, by Tom Gordon. This book is published by The Wild Goose Publishers, who are connected with the new monastic movement at Iona. Even the first chapter gave me some insights that were new to me.
At a devotional level, I have re-encountered Joan Chittister, the Benedictine Nun and writer famous for her works in faith and life, especially faith in ageing! Her devotional, The Radical Christian Life: A year with St Benedict, is a bite size thought for the day, leading me to contemplative moments in my working day.
My former Mentor, Ruth Hoadley has lent me Tim Winton's new book, ‘the shepherd’s hut’, and I'm halfway through. And I’m listening to a singer new to me, Zach Williams. One of the Carols by the Bay artists sang one of his songs last Christmas, and I've finally got a copy of his CD Chain Breaker.
I hope you're reading is taking you to a quiet place of contemplation and challenge this Spring! After all, it is a season of new beginnings!
“After Pentecost nourishing the soul, mind and body”
The month of June heralds the start of winter. The days are noticeably shorter, the nights longer. Soon the winds from Bass Strait will sweep across the island. The rain will fly horizontally. There will be fog and cloud. And finally, the pastures of the island will turn green, the dams will fill, and the paddocks will be stocked with new animals. Winter brings with it time to rest.
Our church calendar leaves the period of festivals, and we travel together through what used to be called ‘ ‘Ordinary Time’’. Ordinary time has been renamed The Season of Pentecost. I guess the intention is to alert us to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. What’s Ordinary about living The Spirit?
There are things that can only be done in winter. Slow cooked soups, spicy casseroles, afternoons reading on the couch, brisk walks in the garden. Phillip Island over winter provides for us an opportunity like no other to feed the soul of faith. So, what will you do with your winter? How will you use the Ordinary time of winter to be with God?
Our St John’s community begins a fresh approach to our monthly Study group. The knitting group is establishing new friendships and skills. In our Sunday service we will welcome A worship team of our Elders leading us (Sunday 10 June) and we look forward to hearing from Charles Popple, who is a lay preacher from Croydon Uniting Church. The Uniting Church Assembly also meets, and you can follow the discussions and read the papers the church will be discerning. I highly recommend reading the Theological paper on marriage. And at home you might take the opportunity to catch up on reading the books unread on your shelf. You might take some time to sort through a shoe box of photos or your recipes!
One thing that can happen over winter, is that we hide away. Rest and relaxation is important, but I encourage you to make the effort to keep connected. Winter is an opportunity to dwell with God. The quietness of the island lends itself to exploring places you haven’t visited for a while. And even on a patchy day, a glorious sunset is still possible to be glimpsed. So, take this opportunity before you for nourishing the soul, nourishing the mind and nourishing your body.
“How are you growing?”
When we begin thinking about things that grow we think of things we perceive growing. Plants and trees show buds and shoots. Children grow in height and size. Collections of records and books grow. Cities grow with new buildings and roads.
We have an idea of what growth looks like.
However, when we apply the concept of growth to our faith, we might want to be a bit careful.
How does spiritual life grow? And what does growth look like? We might begin ‘the SHOULD’ sentences. I should do this, I should do that…and it doesn't take long before we start modifying those statements, so that soon we find ourselves saying “we should, but we don't”, and then we feel we have failed. Or that our faithful life is a bit crummy.
Where did those ideas about what a growing Christian life looks like come from??
Growth, especially in the Faithful life is subtle. It's certainly not like looking at a tree or building grow. Growth in the Faithful life is supported by our worship, bible study, fellowship, and all the service rosters we are on, but it's certainly not any one or all of those things. Growth perhaps is measured by other markers; less like a measuring device, or size chart.
It's a bit more like trusting God that every faithful thing we do: that every breath we take; where we go; who we meet; that who is we are, is enough.
And all those faithful people I call to mind, who I think were ‘Saints’ to me: those who I saw as people growing the Faithful life, were actually, just like me anyhow. So, the question “How are you growing” is really a question for us NOT to compare ourselves with others, or our “should lists”. Rather, it is a question that might bring us closer in our walk with Jesus. The writer to the infant church community in Thessaloniki wrote, “God's Word is at work in you!” Believe it! (1 ‘Thessalonians 2: 13)
In the fields of Easter, here in Phillip Island, the land is becoming greener. The lake at the cemetery is beginning to refill after the dry summer. The shearwater birds are flying their epic journey to the Northern Hemisphere. Our holiday neighbours have returned to the cities into their working weeks. In fields of Easter, in the fifty days that church communities celebrate Easter, things here at Phillip Island are returning to usual.
How usual does your world feel?
Is anything ever really usual?
For the disciples, after the resurrection, there was a sense that ‘one returns to what one knows’. The post resurrection story of Jesus’ BBQ on the beach in the gospel according to John 21, sees the disciples back at work on the fishing boat. After the trauma of the events in Jerusalem; the betrayal; their own shame at not being the faithful people they hoped to be: even after the appearances behind locked doors; the testimonies of the women: even then, how to live life in the light of resurrection was an unknown quantity. Things began to return to usual. After years of living as disciples, they returned to their boats.
Known pathways and patterns can be helpful guides after such upheavals.
Psalm 66: 10-12 speaks of such a journey. It speaks of being through what seems to be life's tests and trials. Tested as silver is refined, caught up in nets, carrying heavy burdens, through fire and rain, and yet, “You have brought us out to a spacious place.”
Was the disciple's return to their nets a time to return to the known pathways? And was it also a time to regain space, to regain a sense of self?
Had the disciples remained behind the locked doors, in fear and loss, then something would have gone terribly wrong. Some people understand the church as a place where disciples huddle and hide, living small lives, blocking out the complexities of life in the world. However, the Gospel message is one of coming into spaciousness. The saved people are the ones who have come into a spacious place.
James Alison, historical Jesus and New Testament theologian, describes the calling as “the huge adventure of unimaginable horizons to which we are being summoned to participate.” Returning to the boats was only the beginning of seeing the horizon differently.
As Phillip Island becomes greener in the Autumn rains, is anything really returning to usual? Or, is it, that we are invited to see the horizon differently? To become curious about this Easter season. What is God showing to me now? Where is it I feel God is drawing me? And how can I live in the light of that gift of grace? As Easter people, we are always being lead to new horizons, and invited to see differently our futures. For the disciples, they found their new pathways by returning to what they knew and responding to the next call of Jesus. For them, their horizons were about to expand.
We are invited to discover that spaciousness, of new horizons too in the fields of Easter.