What is giving you life, in this time of confusion?
A lot of us have had our assumptions about the world exposed this week. When the busyness stops (has it stopped?) and we are forced to weigh every action against its necessity and risk, our priorities come to light very quickly.
Among clergy, this has led to all sorts of debates as to what we should be doing. What is our ‘job’ right now, when we can’t gather the community in normal ways? Some of us have jumped first into creating resources for prayer, others, to providing content online, others still, to telephone calls and community organising. And it wasn’t always obvious, from previous patterns of ministry, who would turn to what.
So, I found myself in a conversation yesterday about what the scattered church needs. Is it bible study or preaching, liturgy, or zoom? Where we found agreement was in the idea that we need to find ways to keep finding ourselves in God’s story — to be rooted in the ever constant presence of God, as we learn anew what it means to say God is Love.
For me, that meant that my priority was daily prayer. I took one look at this crisis and said: monastic rhythms. Pray, work, rest, grow. Sustain communal life. In other words: I reached for the formative experience of faith and vocation, however far from that I have sometimes strayed.
Daily Prayer is giving me life, in this time of uncertainty, because it grounds me in the life of God without trying to give all the answers. It overlaps narratives. Scatters images. Gives space to breathe.
One of God’s gifts at this time was that all of my copies of Common Worship Daily Prayer — all 7 of them — are ‘out’ in my churches right now. So, I can freely use Celebrating Common Prayer — my preferred prayer book — without worrying about what I ‘should’ be doing. I like CCP because it has softer edges, more shimmer, more play.
The second canticle right now is one of my favourites – a text that gives hope when efforts seem fruitless, and I feel a bit lost:
As the rain and snow come down from above,Isa 55
and return not again but water the earth,
bringing forth life and giving growth,
seed for sowing and bread to eat,
so is my word that goes forth from my mouth,
it will not return to me fruitless,
but it will accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the task I give it.
That promise soothes me right now: God will bring life. The getting from A to B, from seed to fruit, may be perilous, but life is resilient and finds a millions ways to emerge.
Because it is a phrase I love, it hooks other phrases, other images, memories of prayer.
‘Creator God, creating still…’, ‘in the tender compassion of God, the dawn from on high…’, ‘your wisdom draws beauty from chaos/ brings a harvest out of sorrow/ and leads the exiles home.’ Liturgy gives a deep well of possibilities — fragments that rise up, and recombine.
The other day, a played with water colours. I’m not ‘good at’ painting, and I don’t do it often, but I wanted a change, and it was worth a try. The pan of paints is very pleasing. Each colour itself a jewel. And it makes the painting possible because someone who understands these things better than I do has already offered a pallet, given colours that will work — there is both flexibility and purpose.
That’s how the phrases of liturgy work for me. They are the colour pallet. Each phrase is a jewel in it’s own right, but it also waiting to be picked up, set alongside something else, so that together they make something new.
I don’t have sermons right now. I have fragments.
And my instinct as a priest is that we are being called to live with these fragments: of hope and fear, friendship and loneliness, rest and anxiety, silence and reaching out. We have to sit with the mess of them, and not impose meaning too soon. But meaning will come. We are still part of God’s story. It is a fundamental part of my faith that God doesn’t do dead ends: there is always a bend, a turn, a way to begin again. And even a barren season is usually just a matter of time.
What is giving you life right now? Which of the fragments sparkle? If we take time to sit with them, something will emerge. We will join in creation, the work of God, creating still.