When I was training to be a minister they made me do something that they called ‘theological reflection’. Each week I had to choose an experience I’d had in the last seven days and write a short reflection on it. I had to ponder over what had happened, how I’d responded, whether I’d do anything different and so on. Part of this process involved thinking through what the event and my responses revealed about God, the Bible, human nature and the like. I didn’t look forward to this enforced weekly introspection. It’s an odd way to live, having something major happen in your life and be thinking, “Oh good! I’ll have something to write about this week.” But, like many unpleasant disciplines, it achieved its purpose. After a couple of years, the habit became ingrained. Now I couldn’t stop theologically reflecting on stuff even if I wanted to.
After a few years of living in Australia, I returned briefly to the UK for a winter pilgrimage of sorts. I did a whistle-stop tour of most of the places that I had lived, or had been significant in some way, and took the time to stop, listen and reflect. At each location I asked myself a question: “What did I learn about God while I was here, and how did I experience Him during this stage of my life?” It was an excellent use of a plane ticket.
I’m telling you this because I am an advocate for reflection, in whatever form it takes. Reflect on your day-to-day life; reflect on significant, epoch-shaking moments; reflect on how you live and what it says about your faith; reflect, and make a habit of reflecting. ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’, and all that jazz.
And a final word to a few of you – you will know who you are. After 27 years, the Canowindra campus of Cornerstone is closing down. On the 18th November the community there is setting apart some time to share stories, reflect and say goodbye. If you had a significant experience at Canowindra, and if you’re able to go, then take advantage of the opportunity. It can be hard to grab time for pilgrimage and reflection, but it’s good for you.
My post last week got me thinking about some of my own experiences in leadership. Sometimes a leader needs to be a good negotiator, a good speaker, a good manager, or a good accountant. Sometimes there are things that can only be done by a good person. Read more
I believe in Thin Places. I have two favourites. One is old and one is new. One is inside and one is outside. One is here and one is there.
Canterbury Cathedral is old, at least in terms of this country and its identity. It’s been rebuilt several times over the years, but for nearly one and half millennia it has been a site set apart for the service and worship of God. As you wander around it, you can be thinking about the excesses of the established church, the corruption and insipidity of the Anglican faith at its worst, but why should you not be awed by this building? By the size and the beauty. By the devotion that its construction required. (The idea that God cannot be glorified by good old fashioned ingenuity and hard work is nonsense by the way). Even in this enlightened day and age, hundreds of visitors are daily looking at stained glass windows and reading Renaissance graffiti. There is something special here. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy? That has to leave a mark.
I will stroll down into the crypt and amble to the Chapel of St. John. I may pause to look at the prayers that people have written to be placed on the altar. I will sit and look at the window that shows the harlot drying Jesus’ feet with her hair. Even though there may be tourists, I can be silent and listen. I can meet with God. Fifteen hundred years of prayer and song and liturgy, and I add mine to become part of something greater than myself. A blink of the eye for God, but an eternity of praise.
The second place is on the other side of the world. On a small farm on the Belubula, in a place called Canowindra. Many of you won’t have heard of it, or of a missionary couple named Ian and Irene, who gave part of their farmland over to Cornerstone. Over forty years ago they planted a grove of poplar trees on that farm. I believe that the plan was for the trees to be sold for matchsticks. That was the plan, but those trees are still there, dead and dangerous, and still very flammable. But that grove has seen more than twenty years of prayer and worship and weddings. I have been involved in all three. Australia is a beautiful country, yet so alien compared to England’s green and pleasant fields, and I have sat in the silence of that grove on many a summer morning. I have shed tears and sang songs. I have sat with kangaroos and sheep and birds. I have heard God in some very specific ways, and He and I have wrestled in that place many times. He usually won, but not always.
Thin Places, the Celts called them. Places where the boundary between this life and the next is worn and frail and the freshness of the Kingdom bleeds obviously into the mundane beauty of this world. These places are real, and so is the God who can be found in them.