Reversing the flowMay 13, 2017
As part of my year of investing I’ve been trying to invest in my spiritual well being a bit more. It’s easy to pass the buck on this, onto the scripture I need to study for ‘work’, the time spent in church buildings, the ever filling prayer list, especially when personal time is precious. Truthfully it’s not a discipline I’m great at holding but pushing myself this year changed the way I saw retreat.
Last year I was blessed to get the chance to do the Velvet Ashes retreat and it was great, but this year I wasn’t alone. As the two of us sat in the rented apartment making our way through the material it felt like my thirsty soul, that had been fed through brief showers, was submerged in an ocean. My recent discipline of a daily pause to let scripture breathe it’s influence had changed the way I examined the beautiful material we worked though. I was more realistic and prepared to dream of moving the practices forward. I was surprised to recognise how much the daily repetition had changed the moments of silent struggle into opportunities for me to ask…
‘How can I connect with God in this moment?’
The more of motherhood I experience the more the pull and push and battle over priorities and time and focus grows. While I’ll willingly endure a hiatus to personal plans for my child’s early years, my mental health still needs a separate identity, my spirit needs watering, my relationship with a my saviour needs nurturing. The balance teeters on a knife edge.
For me the echo that will last from the retreat is not a lot of extra practices but rather turning that ‘pause moment’ sentence upside down. It’s not just about how I can connect, but also how I can allow God to connect with me. As part of our exercises we did some centreing prayer time, space where we just dwell in the presence of God without an agenda. It’s a practice I’ve found myself returning to. It’s a deep place and yet it’s so simple.
I didn’t realise how spent, exhausted and empty I’d felt even though I’d found space and rhythm and joy in life. It took the slow process of a truth seed planted and nurtured and protected to show me why. My energy, my faith, my enthusiasm was all flowing one way… out. I was frantically building my steps up to God and ignoring the ladder he’s already lowered down. I was parched and yet raising my diving board ever further from water. I need to learn not just to taste but to dine on God’s words, to dive into the wellspring, breathe in the ever present God and recognise he is in this space with me.
The space we get at the edges of life, the times to pause are so precious and yet so often filled running in the shadow of the rapidly falling hourglass sands. We get so wrapped up in out own reality our connection gets condensed into whispered arrow prayers. Clearly, some moments my heart is heavy and dripping with the need to share, but other times I’m learning to whisper in the quietness of my heart ‘Lord, I come to you’ and as my fingers uncurl and my eyes close I bask in the miracle of being a child of the divine.
Serving in stillness (rest)March 30, 2017
This weeks theme is rest and it’s something I’ve actually found myself ahead of the ball on for once. I’m fighting for alone time but I’ve found a rhythm that, at least for the while, seems to leave me less exhausted and more excited than daunted about work.
I’ve let go of my expectations as I recognise what to invest in, it’s given me permission to trust God is still working when I’m not. Invest…these’s that word again, my word for the year seeping into my everyday. This process of investing may conjure up visions of building ones pile, or digging the earth and tending the saplings, but in practice it’s turned out to be much more about pruning. Perhaps you can grow beautiful roses in the dense jungle but they will be more appreciated and easier to tend in well pruned flowerbeds. And that’s where rest comes in, because last year I was trying to do so much and feeling so much personal disappointment as my to do list grew ever longer.
So my days are now in a pattern that build in rest and work and time to be open to the day. Zeljko often goes off to work at a friends house and I tend Adam alone for the later part of the morning. We play, I may get space to browse my phone or sort some laundry but it’s not what that time is for. Today we painted with bubbles in the dirt, tomorrow we may build a Duplo house to be saved from fire or go explore the canal and pick dandelions. After we’ve eaten a light lunch and I’ve sat the 30-45 minutes in a darkened room Adam is (fingers crossed) asleep.
Last year at this point I’d go rushing into the thousands of jobs I’d mentally been listing all morning, but no longer. It’s not healthy for me and I’ve no chance of finishing them even if I exhaust myself – I would have ended up resentfully picking up my toddler when he wakes, while realising how much was left wanting. Instead I use this precious ‘me’ time to listen to the daily meditation and a light workout on the wii. 20 minutes later I make a cuppa and settle at the computer for work. I know that limits my time, but I’m mentally, physically and spiritually prepared. In the houses stillness as I work I can pause to mediate over the words I listened to and if I need to stop. Memories and prayer needs and whispers of recognition seep through. Even though it’s such a short sprint I usually get enough done that it’s only print outs and excitement which draws me back to continue or tweak later in the day. It focuses me, the toys can be collected between games later, the washing up while Adam watches Bing, the vaccume may wake him anyhow, they are not the priority and so they sit abandoned.
After nap is tot-school, if we do it, then our evenings are family time – to cook a meal or watch tv, see friends, wander to the shops, city or soft play place. As spring makes it’s rapid journey on the way to summer, outdoors beacons us more. If I’d known my days would be so relaxed I’d have felt guilty for I know the funding that upholds my work, but slowly I’m coming to realise there is service in the stillness too, witness in the time to spare and everyday duties, work of the heart. Service does not need to be continuous to be effective, but reliable and regular and continuing. We place an artificial bridge between serving and action. We forget there is serving in our personal care, and not just in the cheesy ‘your body is a temple’ way. Rest is a commandment and a discipline, Sabbath is not just a day but a practice of living. Equally action can be a distraction, it can leave our heads so busy and bodies so weary we are unable to hear the still small voice, unable to meet the need when a friend asks us to come, unable to serve those nearest to us fully. Next week we’ll get to say yes to a friend who needs a someone to look after their son each morning, perhaps we’ll go see the newest parents in our friendship circle or God will surprise us with something unexpected… it’s quite exciting giving God empty space to fill.
Linking up with Velvet Ashes where the theme this week is Rest
A trail unseen (follow)March 24, 2017
When I first heard I would be going to Serbia I travelled up to Nottingham to meet a woman who had some a similar trip some five years before. If memory serves she had stayed in the house of a local minister and her experience had been fostered in that communion of a church family. The effect the trip had taken on her was clearly visible and while it gave me some broad brushstrokes for my preparation prayers, the realisation, even at that time, was that my visit would be immeasurably different. I left with clear knowledge that this encounter would provide me with no road-map for my travels.
It’s a simple desire with many who travel to wish for a road-map in advance, and the longer you spend living between cultures the more you realise the simultaneous futility and terrible need for one to be given. For many on mission trips the road-map is presented, to some extent at least, within the organisation they go to serve within. For others, the mission itself is undefined, to draw a map or simply traverse the land. We imagine this trail unseen, undiscovered, not yet laden with footprints, not yet cleared with human traffic. We paint ourselves explorers lead by God’s great call, when in reality we are stumbling forward hoping God will use wherever we land.
In the the messy daily gritty-ness of living we can find ourselves aching for the guidance a road map may bring, a need to feel in some way routed and not totally clueless on where we should be going. On basic level it’s a control craving, to live with more certainty and less reliance on that faith that got us here in the first place.
As I follow my saviour on the long 40 day Lenten journey to the cross I simultaneously walk a pathway well worn, with smooth stones and prayers untold held in the memory of every speck of dust, while continuing on the pathway of everyday which seems to hold no fixed destination nor plot any course. The two hold each up upright, the certainty and the security of one breathe stability and flexibility in the other. It is only through trusting faith we can slowly become less about pursuing the way forward through the undergrowth and more about following the sound of that faint whisper, searching it out.
I know even as I move that my path is not direct, my route not efficient, rather it is like a child’s innocent dance – it swirls and falters and it’s elegance is equally clumsy. I move littering the ground as I pass with echo’s of my presence. Easily I fall pray to relying on my own council, my own image of the divine becomes both a comfort blanket and justification for stomping over the ground with such bad grace. I may snap twigs and trample undergrowth, weaken bridges or clear pathways, I may cause ripples of conversations and interrupt others. But the call beckons me to keep on towards a light, a whisper, a radiance of power that words can not contain. I follow those dusty sandals that lead me up Golgotha’s hill, those ancient words that open up wells that quench thirsty souls, than indescribable that calls me to come. Perhaps my trail may never be a pathway for another soul but really that was never the point, perhaps I’ll turn round to realise that as I followed I lost my own way completely without even realising it.