Thursday 17 January 2019

Like it was yesterday

As a teenager, I recall watching a dramatic presentation at some church youth event that impacted me deeply. The basic plot went like this. Young person at home, doing things that young people do, music playing loudly. A knock at the door - Jesus has come to visit. The young person becomes flustered, quickly turns off the "inappropriate" music, and tells Jesus to take a seat. The young person only has a few minutes before their friends will arrive to go out. Jesus picks up a book that is left on the table, this is quickly whipped away (also "inappropriate"). Another knock at the door - the friends have arrived. Young person tells Jesus to stay there and he/she will spend time with him when they return. Jesus indicates that he will go with them. Young person says no. This carries on for a bit, until the young person gets very frustrated with Jesus' persistence and effectively nails him to the cross to keep him from coming along. Of course, the young person has a moment of realisation and there ends the emotional drama.

I remember thinking this drama was highly effective in teaching what the Christian life is about and may have even re-enacted it myself at an Easter Camp or the like. Looking back now, I am quite horrified by what it taught me (and potentially many other young people). Jesus was to be a priority in my life. There should be no distractions. And when I fail at making this a reality, I may as well have nailed him to the cross myself. Guilt, guilt and more guilt!

A little over a week ago now, we had some friends come to visit us for a few days. We hadn't spent time with these friends since we lived in Tonga, seventeen years ago. We were friends on Facebook, but that was about where it ended. We now both had teenage children. A lot had happened in our lives since we had last met. But somehow, when they walked through our front door it was like our time in Tonga was yesterday. In the few days we had together, we laughed, reminisced, reconnected and had a fantastic time. There was no guilt about how little we had connected in the last seventeen years. There was no expectations that this should happen every year from now on.

In my experience, this is the nature of our best relationships. Time has no effect. Yes, of course, it is preferable to see those we love often and be with them through the ups and downs of life, but when it is not possible the relationship somehow still thrives. If this is how it is in our best human relationships, I would hope it is the same with the mysterious divine. Yes, its great to have our disciplines of prayer, meditation, reading or whatever you prefer. However, when this falls by the wayside for whatever reason, I don't think our first reaction when God shows up unexpectedly should be guilt. Our encounter will probably be just like it was yesterday.

Tuesday 1 January 2019

Behold - A New Year!!

There is nothing especially magical about a new year. After all, time is a human construct that has been created to enable order in what often seems a chaotic world. Look what happens when the trains don't run on time, or we have to wait for an appointment that is running late. Our lives are so dictated by the clock in order that we might be in control of this life that is ever racing towards some unknown future destination. There is some hope. As we have cleverly based our concept of time on the cycles of days, months and years, we have not veered entirely from the more cyclical understanding of time that is given to us in the natural paths of our sun, moon and earth. I find this a helpful way of looking at the new year: not so much the next step in a linear path where I am expected to be closer to perfection than 2018, but a coming around the circle again, learning from what has been and experiencing it anew. How we understand time has a significant impact on how we choose to live our life.

And so, as we come around again, looking at the path we have taken many times before from a different perspective, we ponder what we might do differently. Some make resolutions, often unrealistic and broken within a month. Others treat it as a fresh start, an opportunity to study harder, exercise more or be more disciplined. I gave up the idea of resolutions some years ago now. I can have very high expectations of myself and my lists were always far longer and complicated than was practical. 

A few years ago now, I began choosing a word for the year. This word was chosen in a very prayerful and reflective way. It has usually been a characteristic or a verb on which to focus for the year. The ones that come to mind immediately are 'integrity', 'courage' and 'cherish'. As I think on those words and the years that accompanied them, I recall moments and small transformations that crossed my path. I have been wondering for a few weeks now what the word for 2019 might be. A word has come back to me over and over like a persistent mosquito. I haven't sat comfortably with it for many reasons. It is an old word, not so used in every day language. It is not your usual verb or a personal characteristic - how will I make it applicable? It was seemingly a passive word, and I wanted something more challenging, more life disturbing. I even attempted to do a deal with this word. What if I have two words this year - this one (as it will not go away) and another that I will choose to make it more punchy!

However, I have resolved myself to trust this process and I am now happy to say that the word that has chosen me for 2019 is 'Behold'. The dictionary definition of behold is 'to see or observe (someone or something, especially of remarkable or impressive nature)'. My contemplative nature is quite content spending a year beholding the world around me; gazing upon the beauties of nature, watching those I love grow and blossom, searching out the moments and glimpses where the wonder of God is present. Seen this way, there is a sense in finding the sacred in all things and celebrating this each and every day. As Julian of Norwich said, "The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything".

But what happens if I start to use this word about myself? The initial reaction is to cringe in discomfort. I am not one to enjoy the spotlight. If the attention is turned upon me spontaneously in public, I would happily melt into my surroundings. Only use the word 'Behold' in front of my name after hours of rehearsals and all the mistakes have been ironed out. I love karaoke, but let me practice first!! So, what if I invited myself, others and God to say 'Behold, here is Cathie'. Suddenly, this word is a lot more challenging than I bargained for. To allow people to gaze upon my life and what I do before the dress rehearsals and the make up calls is something I encourage in others, but can I live it. I have always blamed my insecurities on the expectations of others, but this word is calling me to address the unrealistic expectations I put upon myself. 

I feel I am going to have a love-hate relationship with this word in 2019. I will need to hear my own words and see it as a coming around again, rather than some striving for unachievable perfection. Let's see how it goes. Behold - a new year!!