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Archive for March, 2010

‘Slow,slow, quick-quick, slow.’
“England’s football team is ‘too pedestrian’,” a leading sportswriter wrote. It has good players but must improve on its ‘one gear’ play. “Slow, slow, quick-quick, slow” he commented, is the ideal recipe for success.
It is interesting to see Victor Sylvester’s rather dated dancing catch-phrase applied to football, I believe, however that it says something to us about spirituality. The Christian life has to be lived out at different speeds.
The Christian Year
The Christian year provides a framework of different ‘tempos’ for the Christian life. Advent, the beginning of the Christian Year is a time of preparation. We are absorbed in ‘taking in’ and waiting for the coming of Jesus and His Kingdom. Christmas celebrates the excitement of His birth which precedes the wider significance of His appearing as expressed in ‘Epiphany.’ Holy Week leads up to the Cross, and the victory of Resurrection. Ascension reminds us of the glory of Christ ‘beyond’ human experience. Pentecost confirms the Spirit’s coming amongst God’s people, and the need to work in His power in our daily living.
Lent is a time of preparation
Lent however is the time in the Christian Year that is considered the most important time of spiritual preparation. We look at our own calling and obedience as Christians alongside the forty days that Jesus himself spent in the wilderness.
For many it is a period of ‘slowing up’ which leads to a quickening of ‘the spiritual’. Just as the pace of our lives is affected by the inter-action of our ‘being’ and ‘doing,’ so the stages of our lives and experiences have to be lived out at different ‘speeds’ of spirituality according to who we are, and the situations that we face.
Sometimes we may spend a great deal of time in prayer and meditation and see little for it, at other times we need to act, think and get involved quite rapidly. The Covenant Service reminds us of this when we pray: ‘Your will be done when I am valued and when I am disregarded, when I find fulfilment and when it is lacking, when I have all things, and when I have nothing.’
The thoughts and insights we have learned as we live out our faith in Christ are at the best of times partial. We must not feel intimidated by our failures however, but rather be thankful for the insights we have received through life and worship experiences. Whatever happens to us will in some way be relevant to our own personal needs, and situation.
‘The guidance of God.’
One thing we have to rediscover I believe is to recognise God in the minutiae of our living. Nutritionists advise us to have five bits of fruit every day. Spiritually, it is a good practice at the end of a day to recall five ways in which God has ‘fruitfully’ blessed us.
Generally speaking however, God’s purposes for us, either in ‘waiting’ or ‘action,’ become known through hindsight. If we work only through foresight – believing that God always clearly shows us the way foreword, faith can be very naive and unrealistic. Jesus’ ability to ‘recognise the signs’ had grown out of the times of prayerful meditation and reflection. They were not just wild visions for the future.
The value of a journal.
The keeping of a journal or diary may help us find a sense of perspective. Here we might map out ideas for the future, but for the main part reflection on past things will give us the basis for going forward. One person who considerably helped and encouraged me on my pilgrimage in this direction was Bert Bissell who regularly kept a spiritual journal. He frequently felt a sense of the ‘guidance of God’ in a remarkably striking way. Climbing Mountains for him was an analogue of the Christian life. There was meaning in the descent however, as well as the going up! The climbing up being the slow part, and the coming down always quicker: but the valley below, he used to remind us, was where you related more to the needs of your fellow human beings. We cannot stay on the mountain top.
Careful thought needed.
What we do in Lent calls for a great deal of careful thought. We must never attempt too much change at once, but rather break it up into smaller portions, so that we may make real progress, even if it is only an inching forward along the way of faith. This change might only be very small, as big as a grain of mustard seed in fact! Change, and aiming for what John Wesley would describe as Christian perfection, and what Charles in many of his hymns called ‘quickening’ is slow work. Aiming for ‘perfect love’ by the very nature of things must be hard work because of the human condition in the first place. We only make real progress through the grace of God although we all need to be reminded that ‘faith without works is dead.’
Preparation leads to healthier ‘spontaneity.’
The Christian life cannot be made up of ‘quietness’ and passivity all the way. ‘Slow’ and careful thinking however can lead to a fuller sense of spontaneity at the ‘quicker’ times because we have been well prepared for it.
Don’t be surprised if the way for you is: Slow, slow, quick- quick, slow!’
David
( Published in the Methodist Recorder on Thursday March 4th 2010)

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