A wise old monk should guard the gates of the monastery.
How do I remain committed to people who I might be leaving?
It feels like an eternity since I started waiting…
At the heart of my waiting is the call to “go” but not yet. Preparations for my departure may have started prematurely but for a year I have had people asking about and talking about what I will do after my curacy is over. Add to that specific waiting all that goes along with a vocation to ordained ministry; housing, friendships, wider commitments to projects, etc. Throw in a dollop of the waiting of a parish in vacancy and finally mix in the personal waiting for a potential lung transplant for my wife. For someone who does not cope well with uncertainty, it’s an ongoing struggle just to exist.
I have little authority in parish but feel the weight of responsibility. I have no power over the timing of lung transplant, and my future ministry remains a dream which may or may not come to fruition. All of this makes me feel all manner of emotions and I am daily facing my weaknesses when it comes to patience, obedience and powerlessness. Reflecting on the Benedictine vow to ‘stability’ is tough but has repeated over and over these last few months.
In this chapter on the role of a porter in the monastery is the picture of a monk who has dedicated his life to the way of the Rule; who better to welcome guests and introduce them to the life of the monastery. Here is a monk who bears the fruit of staying.
I have written about this vow to ‘stability’ and won’t repeat it here. What I will expand on is how I am viewing the call to stability in a season of great preparation for big change which seems never to come but is always beckoning me.
Esther de Waal tells of how Metropolitan Anthony Bloom describes the vow to stability in a life which had seen constant movement,
”we discovered that at the heart of stability there is the certitude that God is everywhere, that we have no need to seek God elsewhere, that if I can’t find God here I shan’t find him anywhere, because the kingdom of God begins within us. Consequently the first thing about stability is the certitude that I stand before God wholly, immobile so to speak – the place hardly matters.” (Metropolitan Anthony Bloom quoted in Esther de Waal, Seeking God: the way of St. Benedict (Glasgow:Fount, 1984) p.62)
My heart and mind tends to, primarily, dwell in the future. My personality means I am most comfortable focussing on possible plans for the future. When I become aware of my powerlessness to shape the future I become disheartened; that’s how I work best and if there’s no room for me to dream dreams and no hope of me beginning the work of constructing those in reality I feel useless.
Metropolitan Anthony brings me hope in this season. My stability, when all around me is, at any moment, going to change significantly and in multiple ways, is interpreted not just on my own faithfulness but more so on God’s. This is where a personal relationship with God is central. Practising regular rhythms of prayer wherever I am, working out how to live in different contexts with the same principles are the things that keep me rooted. In the chaos and change of life I remain clinging for dear life to a God who is stable and reliable.
How do I remain committed to people who I will be saying goodbye to at some point this year?
I am struggling with the lack of long term planning and vision. In a parish which has put plans and initiatives on hold during a vacancy and at a time when I might be leaving with in months I find myself ‘treading water’. I don’t find this easy or natural. In order for me to rest and ‘just be’, I need to keep my internal world exciting. I feed my internal mind with puzzles and problem solving but these can’t be divorced from the external world. The struggle comes, therefore, when I think I have worked out a solution to a problem and then the problem remains repeating itself over and over.
If I could just…
We just need to…
At these times I become withdrawn and emotionally distant from those around me. It is painful for me to sit amongst broken systems or incompetence unable to change or shape it so I don’t engage. When I am forced to engage and remain silent it takes lots of energy for me to resist; it’s unnatural to me and so takes concentration.
It’s tiring to stay put in these contexts.
I have begun to learn how to escape in my mind and heart to another place. At times when I am called to be present in a place I cannot change (and let’s be honest: fix!) I visual myself on Walla Crag or Cul Mor, I repeat Psalm 104:18,
The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the coneys.
If it’s possible I do puzzles and switch off.
This is deeply antisocial and in a vocation which is about people I seem, to others and myself, as if I’m failing at performing my calling. This has it’s own obvious problems but I try to comfort myself with the knowledge that it is for this season; I just need to wait for the change…
Welcome is important within a church. Having the right people on the door as visitors come in is essential to good witness. There are countless stories and experiences of when people first step through the doors of a church to be met with uptight, grumpy people thrusting a few books into your hand and grumbling about something or other in the hope that you’ll find it endearing!
The ideal, for me, is to put seasoned Christians on the door but not those of us who are cynical and skeptical. Cynicism is not pretty (particularly early in the morning when you’re unsure about whether you should be going to church!)
This chapter of the Rule should be used by churches as training for a welcome team. Imagine people at the door of your church saying,
Thanks be to God, you’ve come. Will you bless me before you head in?
When asked questions they answer with humility and charity; not too pushy in fear that it becomes about them rather than the guest and not too dismissive that it communicates that their world is more important than the other. If they need help to be given a young assistant, eager to learn and full of passion for God.
Full of practical advice, this chapter also gives us some guidance as to how to remain rooted to a tradition so that the fruit of it will be seen,
We wish this Rule to be read frequently to the community so none may plead ignorance and make excuses.
How do you encourage people to engage with the transformation of life demanded in the gospel if they never hear or see what it looks like. Teaching of the faith should be regular for all disciples so that all can continue in the conversion from the old life to the new.
Faithful God, you are unchanging and full of grace. Help us so to bind ourselves to you that in the storms and chaos of life we’ll remain steadfast in our faith and in the hope you have set before us.
Come Lord Jesus