I am putting the ‘PS’ up front – so you all see it! As we are returning to larger gatherings from Sunday 5th July (just half of the congregation each Sunday) we decided to make that first Sunday with our Covid Safety Plan a little more straightforward by not having communion that day. Instead we are celebrating communion this Sunday – so please have some bread and juice ready at home this Sunday, 28th June!
Last Sunday I was very fortunate to have the chance to reflect on the story of Hagar in the desert with Sarah Bearup as she told us stories of her experiences with refugees, landmine survivors, and women and children who had suffered severe human rights abuses, as well as those who have helped them, and to hear Francisco and Dinora reflect on becoming refugees and being welcomed in a new land. (If you weren’t able to Zoom in to church last Sunday morning, you can watch the YouTube recording of the service here: https://youtu.be/GcQz-gPTRtw)
One thing Sarah said that has stayed with me was, “Overcoming our fears, I believe, starts with acknowledging our own brokenness and trauma, and our own personal triggers that are set off when confronting poverty and displacement. It is important that we pause to put ourselves in the shoes of refugees and remember how much we have in common, and how privileged we are.”
There is a lot in that statement. Yes. We do have so much. We are incredibly privileged. We are living in our own comfortable homes and have enough to eat and it is wonderful that this church has responded out of thankfulness for those blessings and with a desire to share them in our Thank Offering this year, raising $31,279, for Baptist World Aid’s work in Bangladesh among people who are living far more precarious lives than we are.
But, as Sarah says, we are also, at this time, “acknowledging our own brokenness and trauma and our own personal triggers that are set off when confronting poverty…” (there are those in our church who financial futures have been severely impacted by Covid 19) “and [for all of us] displacement.” We are putting our feet into the well-worn shoes of refugees, not only as we reflect on our privilege, but as we come to the hard realisation that our lives are not and will not be for some time, and may never be, exactly as they were before.
How do we deal with this hard realisation? There are certainly “wells of water” to be found in spending time with God, reading the Scriptures, spending time in prayer, gathering for worship on Zoom or in slightly larger groups under our Covid Safe Plan at church. This reaching out to God and this time with each other is important. And there are other “wells of water” we can draw on – getting out to take a walk or spending time observing nature or engaging in some creative and restorative activity. For some of you that may be as straightforward as reading a book, but there are plenty of other expressions of creativity in this congregation too.
But somewhere in this desert experience we may have to also simply acknowledge that we are lost, and that being lost is hard.
I dipped into a book, An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor, this morning, and ended up reading a section I didn’t intend to read (I got a little lost) but it spoke directly to this experience. She writes of needing to shake up our routines from time to time for:
If you do not start choosing to get lost in some fairly low-risk ways, then how will you manage when one of life’s big winds knocks you clean off your course? I am not speaking literally here, although literal lostness is a good place to begin since the skills are the same: managing your panic, marshaling your resources, taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you.
In my life, I have lost my way more times than I can count. I have set out to be married and ended up divorced. I have set out to be healthy and ended up sick. I have set out to live in New England and ended up in Georgia. When I was thirsty, I set out to be a parish priest, planning to spend the rest of my life caring for souls in any congregation that would have me. Almost thirty years later, I teach school….While none of these displacements was pleasant at first, I would not give a single one of them back. I have found things while I was lost that I might not have discovered if I had stayed on the path. I have lived through parts of my life that no one in her right mind would ever willingly have chosen, finding enough overlooked treasure in them to outweigh by projected wages in the life I planned. These are just a few of the reasons that I have decided to stop fighting the prospect of getting lost and engage it as a spiritual practice instead. The Bible is a great help to me in this practice, since it reminds me that God does some of God’s best work with people who are truly, seriously lost.
As we engage with the spiritual practice of being lost, of finding ourselves feeling displaced, even though we are in familiar places, may God do some of God’s best work in us and through us.
Amen to that!
PS Going back to what Taylor says about ‘taking a good look around to see where you are and what this unexpected development might have to offer you’ there is an open invitation to be part of a series of conversations, starting on Wednesday, 22nd July on Zoom, to explore some of the questions facing us at the moment. Will we keep zooming? What new ways could we explore to worship together? What’s the best way to foster faith in children and young people? How can we creatively build inclusive caring community in this time? What new opportunities exist for sharing God’s love and justice? This is an opportunity to respond positively and creatively to this crisis, so we can move from survival to flourishing. If you would like to be part of this conversation, please email the office or contact me directly.