Friday, 28 March 2014

Walking the Way of the Cross

I guess it could be said that this blog post has been more than two years in the making. Certainly, the paintings of the Stations of the Cross date back to our time in Cebu. By the time they were finished it was well after Easter and didn't feel appropriate to publish them. The crosses too, come from the Philippines, being made from dried palms leaves from the courtyard outside our bedroom. Some of the words were also scribbled down at that point, somewhat incoherently; and I have returned to them periodically and scribbled some more, before finally turning them into the form in which they appear here as the basis for our Lenten Friday evening prayers this year.

The idea of walking or pilgrimage, and the image of holy ground are powerful ones for me, to which I have found myself returning at intervals. I offer them to others in the hope that they might mean something to you too.  

Monday, 24 March 2014

Inside the institution

I would suggest that one of our deepest human desires, or perhaps even needs, is to belong. We yearn to be part of something bigger than our own individual identity. Something deep inside calls us out towards one another. It is a response to this desire we are trying to live out in our current project of creating community here.

Of course, while our desire to belong can be beautiful and creative it can also be horribly destructive when we unite around what we are not, around being in because we're not one of the other who is out. Uniting around the common enemy is an ever-present danger which I am sure I could write about at length.

But today I want to reflect on other complexities and on one of the dilemmas that I think the need to belong throws up for me. I wonder whether it has resonance in the lives of others too.

I want to belong. I believe deeply that we are made for community and for relationship with one another. That is why we create groups, and organisations and institutions: I believe all of these are created out of a human need to create orders and systems through which we can be together. On the other hand, I defy any institution to correspond entirely with my thoughts, feelings, beliefs and behaviours.

What then do we do when we desperately desire to belong and to conform, but when the institutions to which we wish to belong seem to contradict our most deeply held values? How do we balance being true to the unity of our communities and maintaining the integrity of our decisions and expressed opinions? When is it right to remain silent for the sake of those we care about and when is it our duty to use our love as a platform for challenge? These are not questions to which I have easy answers. They remain live questions for me, and I share them as such.

The church, in its broadest sense, is a classic example: I believe deeply that as Christians we are called into relationship with one another: it is impossible to be a follower of Christ in isolation. I cannot be the Christian I want to be without the church; and yet how often do I despair at things said or done in the name of my faith which I disagree with to the depths of my very being?

As you may have guessed there are particular recent examples (well, they were recent when I started writing this anyway ...) which have inspired these reflections. Some are on a large scale, some much more intimate.... but my relationships with the institutions and communities concerned makes me question whether I should name them here, in what is, at least in theory, a very public forum. Yet if I don't, does this just sound like theoretical nonsense with no basis in a practical reality? On balance though, I think I'll risk sounding like I'm talking nonsense.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

For the love of Taize

In a couple of weeks we welcome one of the brothers of the Taizé community to join us in an evening of prayer at the church here. In an attempt to explain to others here just why this small corner of Burgundy is so important to me, I wrote the following for the church magazine. I share it here too, just in case anyone reading this hasn't heard me wax lyrical about this subject often enough ...

Many of you already know that the Taizé community is dear to my heart and a place that has played a hugely significant role in my journey so far. I don’t know where I would be without it, but it’s fair to say, probably not here. 

I want to begin by clarifying that although Taizé is often primarily associated with a particular style of music, it is about a whole lot more than that. Taizé had been getting things right for quite a while before they invented the Taizé chant. It is not, either, just about a particular way of praying. Although I do think it boils down to the centrality of that prayer. There are no compromises on the importance of prayer. Even on busy summer Sundays when up to 4000 people might be leaving and the same number arriving, the information point closes during prayer. Even the vending machines switch off during prayers.

And while it is not just about a style of prayer; it is about an understanding of prayer that much of the church would do well to heed. Prayer is not about lots of words telling God what we think he should be doing. It’s about stopping, listening and allowing Him to take us places we’re not sure we want to go. It is about allowing the whisper of unconditional love to shout louder than all the surrounding noise. Taizé’s rediscovery of the importance of silence, and their ability to make it accessible to all is an important gift to the wider church, should they choose to accept it.

I don’t just go to Taizé for the prayer. I go too for the sense of community, the shared meals with people from all over the world, the perceptive insights in bible introductions, the belief in the possibility of a meaningful ecumenism, the possibility of deep sharing with people you have only just met, the sharing in the work that makes the community run smoothly, the simplicity of life where it doesn’t matter that  I can’t check my emails.

But it still all comes back to prayer. Everything else works because it flows out of that absolute commitment to being open to listening to God. It enables the trust which hands over much of the running of the place to those who arrived a couple of days earlier under the supervision of young people who arrived only a couple of weeks before. It enables the trust which encourages each individual to take the implications of the gospel seriously without trying to make it more palatable to our western sensitivities. It enables the trust that hands over a gospel that says you are loved regardless, knowing that implicit is the challenge to go and live a life radically altered by that experience.

Taize is a place where I have been allowed to experience the consolation of the gospel so palpably that I have perhaps dared to face the challenge of the gospel just a little bit more than I might have done otherwise. And I am very grateful.