Monday, 5 January 2009

... on stepping-stones

While looking through Good News magazine pages for the article referred to in the previous post, I was reminded of something about which I wrote here two years ago: – somewhere within each of us there is a boundary we have set for ourselves. It is our limit for feelings of inadequacy or vulnerability in our relationship with God; we are prepared to approach Him this far but no further. With time the boundary hardens into a barrier, until one day something happens to make it crumble; a process that can eventually bring the whole structure down. As the wall disintegrates within us we are buffeted by our insecurity until we stand with nothing but rubble on all sides. We are held in the grip of the very fear that made us set our boundary in the first place: a fear of yielding too much of ourselves into the hands of God.

The word ‘rubble’ caught my eye in two articles in the Nov/Dec 2008 issue of the magazine.
Gerry Gallacher wrote, ‘There is a great deal of rubble - rubbish, hampering our rebuilding of Jesus’ Church. Things of the world hinder us and sap our strength: material possessions, status, money, fashion, ungodly or excessive entertainments. The enemy is very near and hides behind and within the rubble, from where he mounts attack. If we are engaged in this work we need to throw the “rubbish” away and put Jesus first in our lives.’
Fiona Hendy wrote, ‘The book of Nehemiah tells how the broken down walls of Jerusalem were rebuilt by families, stationed next to each other – everyone helping. In the beginning there was much rubble to clear in order to get started, and it seemed overwhelming. But they continued. The work was threatened time and again as the enemy tried different tactics to stop them: trickery, threats of violence, mockery … What does this mean for us? Many of us become overwhelmed by the state of the country, (and the Church!) or distracted by the amount of work to be done and the apparent strength and devious tactics of the enemy. But today’s trumpet call is: Focus everyone! Pay attention! Let’s start building. Never mind how much rubble you see, just clear it out of the way, keeping your eyes on the goal. Your part matters, however small. Start now!’

Having written that we must recognize, salvage and rebuild with the sound building blocks left from broken dreams, I am conscious of the way similar thoughts and themes crop up again as we follow what we usually take to be a linear course. Even if we are in fact following such a course, our progress is as though within a giant wheel that rolls slowly along our path with each step we take. The stages we have passed through were thought to have been left behind, but then we find ourselves in similar circumstances again, not repeating what has gone before but building upon the lessons previously learned with a deeper search, a closer walk and further insights.
It strikes me that walking my path is turning out to be remarkably like reading the Bible, in that whenever I believe I understand something my continuing search reveals ever deeper layers awaiting my discovery; what was once experienced as mind-opening or life-changing is later recognized as superficial and having brought me only a little closer to my goal.
The Bible contains more than enough spiritual food for a lifetime. Reading it once, however slowly, carefully, prayerfully, will never open all its truths to us. We have to travel with it and through it, allowing its pages to turn in the same way that the wheel of our experience turns as we tread our spiritual paths, bringing the cycles of learning and understanding, of revelation and knowing, round again in a pattern that fits our own degree of advancement and our capacity for a closer walk with God. It is this gradual process of deepening trust as the pages of our lives are turned that dispels our fear of getting too close and of being asked for more than we are prepared to give. As we place ourselves more willingly into His hands we see more clearly that the rubble around us can be forgotten once we have gathered the essential lessons learned from under the dust. These are the stones with which we are to continue building upon the rock of Christ, and it is this process of leaving the rubbish behind while rebuilding that moulds us to God’s will. It is what includes us among The Moulded: the apparent next stage among the group of twelve followers I suggested we could travel as two years ago. (06.01.07)

I say what appears to be the next stage, as all twelve (and all the other descriptions we may feel suit our circumstances) do not follow a linear sequence. They are all present and building and changing at one and the same time, while seeming to return at different times and at deeper levels as the wheel, and the pages, of our lives continue to turn.
We have only to face toward Jesus for this process to begin. We will become the persons we were born to be, shaped to His will, if we allow Him to enter, to dwell and to reign within us.
As Fiona Hendy has said, ‘Focus everyone! Pay attention! Let’s start building.’ If we focus on the things that really matter the rubble and the rubbish will, in effect, leave themselves behind while the stones we have salvaged become stepping-stones for our continued progress towards the building in which we are all called to take a part; the building of our commitment to Christ and His Church.
Carrying that which is of value from our past into our future is symbolically expressed in the following words quoted by F. W. Dillistone in his book, The Power of Symbols.

‘ ... the Oxford firm of Shepherd and Woodward, in their centenary year, have re-modelled the robe worn this morning by our honoured Chancellor. Four ladies, one of whom remembers working on the original garment in the 1920s, made an entirely new black gown with new lace, but carried over the virtually irreplaceable embellishments from the old one. ... To incorporate irreplaceable material from the past into brand-new present-day workmanship is to exemplify that ideal which the University has kept in mind for seven hundred years, and will surely always keep in mind: an originality grounded in tradition, a vitality continuously renewed.' (John Wain, Professor of Poetry, in his final speech at Encaenia in Oxford.)

Incorporating ‘irreplaceable material from the past into brand-new present-day workmanship’; this is what we are called to do in conforming our individual lives to God’s will. In working to that end we can generate a collective longing to achieve the same for Christ’s Church.
‘An originality grounded in tradition, a vitality continuously renewed.' Is this not what the world needs from us? – what the world wants us to be? Christ’s Church today would be exactly that if Jesus walked among us; it would be alive to the world as it is today, and our churches would be buzzing with people who are now searching and longing for something we are failing to give them.
In general, the Church does not demonstrate ‘a vitality continuously renewed’ and this can only be because we ourselves are not so renewed. We are the Church, and we are blessed with the constant presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Have we not heard Jesus telling about the Spirit in John’s Gospel? Have we heard but failed to understand? Or in understanding have we failed to believe?
Fiona Hendy’s trumpet call, ‘Focus everyone! Pay attention! Let’s start building.’ carries some real weight.
I believe today’s one word of guidance from the Holy Spirit is the first one: - Focus. Until we can focus on the word itself we will not understand what it really means. When we do understand it, we shall be ready to focus on the Spirit, and that means opening ourselves to His guidance and to the gifts He brings. Then we shall begin to hear what is required of us.
Only then shall we be sure of what we are to build.

‘If the Lord does not build a house
in vain do its builders toil.
If the Lord does not guard a city
in vain does its guard keep watch.'
(Psalms 127:1)

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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