Rumours of deeper things…

 

tents, in high wind

I am heading off with a group of friends to a small Hebridean Island for one of our ‘wilderness retreats’ next weekend.

Spring is here. Yesterday we played our first cricket match of the year (both Will and I out for 0 on a wet sappy pitch) and the garden is full of shy colours. I yearn for wild places.

My awareness of the significance of the wild in understanding myself, as well as trying to understand God, is a constant work in progress. I can make few definitive statements in relation to either. All I can say is that experience is more important than definition. So I continue to place myself in places where I hear rumours of deeper things…

In deep meditation

A few years ago I wrote a series of ‘dispatches’- short poems really- that I tied laminated onto bright card, then tagged to the top of canes. We have used them a few times, laid out along cliff tops or on circular routes around wild headlands. I was reviewing some material for this trip and decided not to use them again, but realised that the dispatches say almost everything about my own hopes and prayers for encounters with God. Here they are;

1.

There are rumours-

Like smoke signals blurred in desert wind
They say

He is here

Not in metaphor
Not whipped up in the collective madness of charismata
Not just politely suggested by the high drama of religious ritual-

Here

Sweating
Breathing
With mud on his shoes
2.

Should I hide?

Should I stay in a fold of ground
And hope he does not walk my way?

I could never meet his eye
Knowing that the hidden parts of me will be
Wide open
3.

How do I prepare?

I have no fine things-
No fine words
My shield of sophistication
Is broken

I am soft flesh laid bare
I am a fanfare to repeated failure

I am herald only to this
Hopeless
Hope
4.

But this King wears no stately form
Wants no majesty

He walks gently
And has a humble heart

And he is-

Here
5.

Put down those things you carry
Sit with me a while
Stop making things so complicated
It is much simpler than that
6.

Start from where you are
Not where you would like to be
Not where others say you should be
There may come a time
When I will warm your heart towards a new thing

But right now
I just want to warm your heart
7.

It is not for you to cut a way into the undergrowth
Or make a road into the rocky places
Rather let us just walk
And see were this path will lead us
You and I

8.

All around you is beauty
See it

Smell it

Feel it falling like manna
9.

Look for softness in your heart
There I am
Look for tenderness
And it will be my Spirit
Calling you to community
10.

My yoke rests easy
If you will wear it

And my burdens lie soft on the shoulders
If you will lift them
11.

You are wrapped up in me
And I am bound up in you

We are held together by soft bindings
Like tender shoot and stake
Like mud and gentle rain
Like worn shoe and weary foot
Like tea and pot

Like universe and stars
Like ocean and rolling wave
Like fields and each blade of grass

There is now
And there is our still-to-come

Coming

12.

And he was gone-

But still I am not alone

The Spirit is stirring the waters

 

Alt worship, old school…

ohps

 

Aoradh met yesterday for our ‘family day’. We have one of these a month at the house of one or other of our members. Everyone brings something to eat and something to contribute to an act of worship- it was lovely.

Yesterday we sang, listened to music, watched a DVD and spoke about starting again, changing things up. Among all the lovely things we did, what stays most in my mind was something that Michaela encouraged us to do using old school technology in the form of acetates.

‘Alternative worship’ (if you have not come across the phrase before) could be understood as a creative democratisation of worship within the Christian tradition. It involves taking old and new rituals and reinventing them, finding renewal and making new community along the way. It might also sometimes veer towards the highly technical- the joke is often made that if the alt. worship scene has a patron saint, then this is likely to be St Jobs of Apple. Contrast this with when the movement started out, when we all dug out our parents slide projectors and borrowed the OHPs from our local schools. Having said all that, our family days have very little in the way of high end technology.

Michaela’s idea was to take a song – an old Vineyard song called Hungry; She took some of the words- the negative ones like hungry, weary, empty, dry, broken and wrote them on a sheet. She then placed an acetate over the original sheet with other words on – satisfy, restore, arms open wide. The words merged, but remained separate.

She then asked us to think of all the things that were weighing us down; all those hard situations, areas of pain and brokenness, and to write them down on a sheet of paper. We then were invited to take a sheet of acetate and write words of hope, with prayers and promises. Then place the acetate over the sheet of paper.

Simple, low tec, but done prayerfully, in the company of friends it was beautiful.

I have my sheers here now. Depression becomes paired with gentleness, with patience, with grace. Awkwardness becomes paired with creativity and love…

Who needs beats and 5 different projections?

 

Accidental beauty…

Table

 

The small group I am part of – Aoradh– have spent years planning activities and events. Labyrinths, prayer rooms, worship spaces, stations, meditation walks through the forest and along the sea front, etc. At present we are taking something of a rest- there is a lot of pressure and busyness around with members of Aoradh, and so the ‘external’ side of what we do has taken a bit of a back seat. I really miss this- not just for the fact that an important dimension of who we are- the collective ‘mission’ outwards- is missing, but also because I miss the creativity.

Having said that, planning creative events is not always easy. Creative people can easily be caught up in their own ‘thing’, we do not easily listen to the other. My experience is that these planning events work best when visible enthusiasm is combined with patience, love and grace. When these are lacking it can be a tough place to be.

A friend posted something on Facebook the other day called ‘Say Yes‘,  written by an American Pastor called Jenny McDevitt. I really liked this;

A few years ago, on a friend’s recommendation, I read Tina Fey’s book Bossypants. Her writing is equal parts funny, crass, and brilliant (and if you can’t stomach all three, it’s probably best to leave this one on the shelf and ask me for a summary). More than a few pages dramatically changed the way I approach ministry, including her explanation of improvisation.

 

Improv, she says, depends upon four basic rules. First, say, “yes.” Agree with whatever your partner (or community, or congregation) has created. Second, say, “yes, and.” Agree, and then enter into the creative process yourself and start contributing. Third, make statements. This is a gentler way of saying, don’t be the person that only asks questions. That puts pressure on everyone else to come up with all the answers. Once again, contribute. Help create. And fourth, understand that there are no mistakes, only opportunities. Something didn’t go as planned? Look around and see what unexpected beauty has emerged accidentally. It’s almost always there.

 

Each one of these is worthy of your consideration. For me, it has been transformative to enter each conversation with a church member assuming I will do everything I can to say yes to whatever idea, scheme, or dream they bring with them. Obviously, I can’t say yes immediately to everything. Sometimes it takes conversation and creativity so we can both say yes to an adapted idea. Sometimes it takes questions to understand the spirit behind the idea, so we can find a different way forward that honors the original intent. (And yes, it’s true: there are times when I have to say no. That’s another post for another day.)

 

Saying yes has changed the way I approach ministry with others, but also the way I approach daily tasks myself. Shifting the evaluative question from “How could this go wrong?” to “How could we make this work?” invites open, positive dreaming and dialogue. It fosters an expectation of creativity. Frankly, it demands that I be more creative, constantly.

 

For the community, it communicates that we are all in this together. We’re on the same team, working toward the same goals. Saying yes is not blind acceptance; it is shared initiative and creativity. It honors what people bring to the table, and opens doors to possibilities I would have never imagined on my own.

 

Theologically, saying yes affirms the ministry of all God’s children and reminds us that creation itself is sacred. In the big picture, saying yes is to look at death, and offer life. It is to look at fear, and offer companionship. It is to look at the dark, and offer light. It is to look at hate, and offer love. In a world that is all too quick to say no, to say yes is to pry open the gates of the kingdom a little bit wider every time.

 

Aoradh Pentecost bonfire, 2013…

Jar of peace

We have just spent a lovely afternoon at our annual Pentecost Bonfire out at Ardentinny beach.

Every year we gather to mark the birthday of church, sharing food then some worship. Today Michaela and Pauline had planned a series of activities around the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.) The Spirit sent as our helper, our guide- a kind of warmth in the middle of us…

For Love, we used footprints, signifying a step towards the other

For Joy, we used a canvas splashed with exuberant colours

For Peace, we sat in silence listening to the gentle waves, then opened a jar to scoop it all in, and put the lid on

For Patience, we found ourselves a stick to signify sticking with someone or something

For Kindness, we took a smoothed pebble to signify being smoothed and shaped by one another

For Goodness, we passed round a bag of tasks- things that would help us see the good in others

For Faithfulness, we remembered that we had long term committments to one another, and so we wrote on our pebbles the words from Ruth- “Your God is my God”, and passed the pebbles to another

For Gentleness, we reminded ourselves that we did not need to force our way in life, and spent 5 mins walking alone

For Self control, we reminded ourselves that we needed to direct our energies wisely, and so we wrote on ribb0ns, which we intended to fly from the tail of a kite, but the wind was light so, we just decided to take them home.

It was lovely.

We do not usually use music outdoors – there is so much music in the waves after all – but this time Michaela used her little Mp3 dock to play songs- and the simplicity of music, companionship, the beach and an open fire (even with fickle eye stinging smoke) made for a time of deep peace.

All church services should be like this…

Paint

'Church@ gathers

Andrew upside down

incense/pews

 

Benches…

Aoradh have been planning some installations to coincide with Cowalfest (walking festival) and the MOD (annual festival of Gaelic culture held in a different place in Scotland each year) both which will run in Dunoon over the next couple of weeks.

We have decided to use benches along a 1-2 mile stretch of coastline. Each bench will have a piece of poetry, scripture or an activity to help with meditation.

As ever, we are leaving everything until the last minute, but if you are in Dunoon over the next couple of weeks we really hope you enjoy the things we are creating.

Geek worship!

I saw this via Ian Adams on FB this morning;

It is a film of a worship service in Exeter Cathedral, making use of the X-box game ‘flower’ throughout as an image of creation.

The curmudgeon in me wants to scoff at such techno-geek worship- in many ways the use of an X-box seems to me the ultimate in what some already might regard as excessively gimmick-driven alternative worship.

However, it was really lovely wasn’t it? And perhaps it is totally logical to start to use new media within our worship as it becomes increasingly part of who we are and how we interact.

Perhaps Call of Duty as an way of symbolising spiritual warfare might be a step too far though…

Good Shepherd Sunday…

It was today, according to the Lectionary.

It was also our Aoradh family worship day today, and it was lovely as ever. We used the general theme of Good Shepherd in our worship, then we ate together and sat round a fire in the garden until the spring rain set in.

Today we did a thing with some of Si Smith’s flat pack nativity figures– the shepherd, and lots of sheep. We asked people to write worries on the inside of the sheep, then add them to the flock- first feeling the better for the company, then we added in the shepherd. You get the picture.

Here are some of the flock;