Monday, 30 April 2012

Imaginative Contemplation

On Saturday I spoke at our Synod retreat and shared something of my experience of a seven day silent retreat.  One of the things I described was my experience of 'imaginative contemplation' as a way of prayer.  In this method you choose a passage from the Bible and get into the story. You use your imagination to picture the scene. You might want to picture it as a painting or perhaps as a DVD with movement and sound. The exercise is to enter the scene as though you were a participant or a bystander and to consider what catches your attention, and so what God might be saying to you.

One of the stories that I reflected on in this way, when on retreat last year, was that of Jesus’ healing two blind men, as recorded in Matthew 20:29-34.

It was good to enter this story. I felt myself to be one of the crowd, but a subversive member of the crowd. The crowd were telling the men to be quiet when they were shouting, trying to attract Jesus’ attention. I wanted them to keep shouting and ignore everyone else, and was delighted when Jesus stopped to speak to them. I found myself reflecting on four aspects of this scene. The first thing I noted was that this encounter happened as they were leaving Jericho. In every situation the time to move on arrives. The second thing is that Jesus asked them what they wanted him to do for them. He didn’t make assumptions. How would we answer that question? In particular, what is the one thing that we want Jesus to do for us at the moment? The third thing to note is that Jesus did what he was asked. How interesting – and how exciting – that God responds to our requests, but note the motivation. Why did Jesus respond to this request? He did so because he was moved with compassion. And the fourth thing here is the result. The result is that they followed. They did so immediately and without, so far as we know, being asked to do so.

Here, then, is a story of the compassion of Jesus in operation. Here is a story of the generosity of Jesus in operation. Here is a story of the delight of being healed. These two were surely healed in every sense of that word. What did I discover as I explored this story, as I imagined myself into it? I discovered that sometimes it is worth shouting. I discovered that crowds can be wrong. I discovered that Jesus is the servant king. I realised the crucial nature of that question which Jesus asked: what do you want me to do for you?

Monday, 9 April 2012

Ready Or Not?

Have you ever played 'hide and seek'?  Ready or not I'm coming.  The hiders hide and the seeker counts to an agreed number before shouting - 'ready or not I'm coming' - and then the hunt is on.  If you have prepared well and hidden well, it will probably take a time to find you, but if not .....

One of the things that concerns me is that we, in the church, take so much time getting ready.  I know that we sometimes refer to the church as 'the bride of Christ', and brides are entitled to take time to get ready.  But I fear we overdo the planning thing.  I think we need to learn to trust God to take us as we are and use us.  After all, as David Heywood reminds us in Reimagining Ministry: "When Jesus left his original disciples to carry on his mission they were far from ready.  One had denied him and all had deserted him at the point of greatest pressure.  But Jesus did not mean to wait until they were fully prepared before commissioning them for ministry.  His plan was that they would continue to learn on the job and his promise of the Holy Spirit was precisely for this purpose."

Just as Jesus made sure they had the resources they needed, so it is for us - but just as they needed to get on with it without waiting for the perfect moment, so do we.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Spiritually Hungry

Joan Chittister writes:
"Spirituality is about the hunger in the human heart."  God's possibilities are overflowing.  Surrounding society suggests that we have so many needs.  We live in a  society which has got lots of stuff but in which many people are hurting because it's not working for them.   We need those times out in order to find space for God.  How can we find the right priorities amid all the stuff that is going on?  But God does put us in the rght place.  The Spirit is with us, strengthening us.  We need to not be scared of hunger.  We need to be reminded of the joy of God's banquet. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012


How important that we realise that we are forgiven and all the implications of that!  As David Heywood says (in Reimagining Ministry), "Perhaps the secret of the church's attractiveness lies not in its being a community of the good but of the forgiven, not a group of people offering a standard to emulate but one whose members know their need of God."  It is not what we do that makes us effective, but what God does through us.  Like any group we have plenty that is wrong with us, and we do well to recognise that, but it is important to also recognise that we are loved and valued by God.  In the old parlance, we are sinners - but we are forgiven sinners!