Saturday, 30 June 2012

Contemplative Prayer

Prayer is the way in which we engage with God.  It takes many forms, just as our human relationships take many forms.  The variety is valuable and needed.  One of the key things in any relationship of depth is that sometimes it will be enough to be 'just with'.  Indeed, not only will it be enough - it will be essential.  In prayer terms we might describe this as contemplative prayer.  Henri Nouwen suggests: "Contemplative prayer is prayer in which we attentively look at God" (Clowning in Rome, p. 77).  He goes on to say: "Contemplative prayer can be described as an imagining of Christ, a letting him enter fully into our consciousness so that he becomes the icon always present in our inner room." 

One way in which we can do this is to focus on the Gospel stories (or, indeed, other Biblical passages.)  As we 'enter' the accounts of Jesus' earthly life, it will help us to reflect on how we should engage in all those things that face us in the way that God would have us to do so.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

David and Goliath

David is confident that Goliath can be defeated (1 Samuel 17:31-49).  He cannot see why anyone should be afraid of him – and he offers to be the one to take him on.  I will go and fight him!  But though Saul surely desperately wants someone to go and take Goliath on, this is not the offer to accept.  He will open himself to all sorts of criticism if he sends this lad out to his death at the hands of Goliath.  But David is insistent.  He tells how he has killed lions and bears in the course of taking care of his sheep. The implication is that, by comparison, this is an easy task.  And, of course, in particular he is not afraid of Goliath because he is reliant on God.

I don’t want to go far down the route of using Goliath as a way of describing the things that we face.  But it is worth just asking in passing – what are the giant things that frighten us?  And might it just be, not that our fear that would vanish, but that we would find a better way of coping if we were more careful to remember God’s presence with us?

David names God, and that is always a good thing to do.  The Lord has saved me from lions and bears; he will save me from this Philistine.  The soldiers in Saul’s army are cowards, but they are cowards because they are facing this thing on their own.  David’s grounds for taking on this battle are theological, rather than anything else.  He will do it because God is with him.  As Brueggemann says: “David does not doubt the old stories of God’s deliverance, because he has firsthand data concerning bears and lions.”  Saul is persuaded and he offers David his own armour.  Here the story takes a bit of a comic turn because David staggers around in Saul’s armour for a bit before abandoning it.  It is far too big for him – and he doesn’t need it anyway.  David goes against Goliath with just five small stones and his sling.  But that is all he needs.  Well, it’s not, actually.  All he needs is God’s presence.  That is the important thing, and that is the point of the story.  The story reminds us that the power and strength that we need come from God. 

Saul thought he knew what was needed to engage in this kind of warfare – and so he equips David with all the standard army gear.  He is grateful for David’s faith, but has not yet realised just how radical is this faith.  David proposes a radical alternative.  Forget the armour, the sword, the helmet.  What are needed are just five smooth stones and a sling.  Are there times when we think we know what is needed, times when we stack all the equipment up, but need to discover God’s very different approach. 

David must have appeared to be unarmed and defenceless.  His alternative must have seemed no viable alternative at all.  But David is ready to respond to God’s call.  And that’s the question.  And that’s the point.  How ready are we to respond to God’s call?  Because if God is calling us to do it, even giant-killing is possible!

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Sound of Silence

We live in a noisy world, and we often even try to fill the silence with noise.  We also live in a busy world, and most of us spend most of our time rushing around.  Brian MaClaren recognises this but points out: "My default mode of hurry tells me that I have so much more to learn from silence, from being still, from simply being, letting the reservoir slowly fill, storing up a deep but quiet power." (Naked Spirituality, p. 279).  We do need to get over the feeling that we need to rush everywhere, to learn to take time, God's time - to, in the words of the psalmist "be still - and know that I am God."

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Downwardly Mobile

We tend to think that the thing to be is 'upwardly mobile'.  We want to better ourselves - to move up in the world.  We aspire to better things all round - and the world of advertising tells us about all the things we need and just how much they will improve things for us. 

But if we look to Jesus as a model - and where else should we look - we discover a very different story.  As Brian McLaren says: "We're trained by the ladder of success to think it's for climbing, not descending.  But God's mobility is opposite to our own."  He adds: "When Jesus comes of age, he doesn't climb a mountain and live above the fray in a contemplative cave or commune.  No, after a brief period in the wilderness .. he moves continually down into the mess of human history."  (Naked Spirituality, Hodder & Stoughton, 2010, p. 255).  The incarnation is fundamental to our Christian understanding - and that is nothing more and nothing less than that God came - down - to earth to be amongst us.  The task of ministry - of the church - is to be amongst those who need us.  Let's get down to it!

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Our Common Vocation

I have been reading on in Henri Nouwen's Clowning in Rome and was struck by some interesting thoughts around how we respond to God's call.  Nouwen suggests - and I agree - that we have a tendency to individualise it.  We all have our own particular calling, our unique role in God's great scheme of things - and so we do.  There are things that are specially for each one of us and many of us carry out part of our mission as we engage in all sorts of opportunities that are there in the community.  In my last post we had a special service to celebrate all the things that different people did - and I have heard of others holding similar services.  It is valuable to recognise the breadth of mission in which members of a particular community are involved through the range of things that different people do. 

But what is our common calling?  Of course, God calls us to individual responses, but surely there is also a communal aspect.  Nouwen suggests that: "our own individual vocation can only be seen as a particular manifestation of the vocation of the community to which we belong."

We need all the different bits of the body - but the body needs to remain as a whole.  Nouwen goes on to suggest that our deep love and commitment should "lead us constantly to consider how our ministry can be an expression of the ministry to which we are called together."

Friday, 15 June 2012

Send in the Clowns

Henri Nouwen, in his little book Clowning in Rome (Image Books, 1979), recognises the clown as "a powerful image to help us understand the role of the minister in contemporary society."  He comments: "Clowns are not in the centre of the events.  They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we come to admire.  The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkward, out of balance .. but .. they are on our side." 

Maybe it is not the image we want, but surely ministry is about getting in there amongst things.  Somewhere else I came across the image of the clown as the misfit, the odd person out.  In the end we are all misfits, except that God transforms that - and so we all have a role - and it all fits together.  To change the image for a moment we are, as the apostle Paul puts it, the Body of Christ.  But I like that clowning image.  Elsewhere Paul talks about our needing to be "fools for Christ".  Effective clowning is actually remarkably skilful.  The trick is to make it seem otherwise.  When we think that way, we do have a good image for ministry - and we will surely be looking for God to 'send in the clowns'!