Embracing Change…

I am not good with change. I get bored when things stay the same for too long. I take delight in innovation. I believe change is good for us. And yet I cannot say that I willingly embrace change.

So with rather significant changes in my work environment and a “big move” coming up at the end of this month (I hope to reveal more about this in future posts), I am feeling a little flustered these days and in need again (as always) of deeply connecting to the One who calls me His beloved child. One of my great allies in pursuing this connection is prolific author and humble priest, Henri Nouwen. I quote from his book, “Intimacy, Fecundity and Ecstacy”:

“For us to dare to live a life in which we continue to move out of the static places and take trusting steps in new directions – that is what faith is about. The Greek word for faith means to trust – to trust that the ground before you that you never walked on is safe ground, God’s ground, holy ground. 

Walk and don’t be afraid. Don’t want to have it all charted out for you. Let it happen. Let something new grow. That is the walk of faith – walking with the Lord, always walking away from the familiar places. “Leave your father, leave your mother, leave your brother, leave your sister. Follow me. I am the Lord of love.” And wherever there is love, fear will be wiped out. “Perfect love casts out all fear.”

You can go out and you will live. You will live eternally because Jesus is the Lord of life. That is the ecstasy. You can start participating in it every time you step out of your fear and out of the sameness. It doesn’t require big jumps, but simply small steps. 

Do you choose life? Or are you choosing death,that fearful place where you hang on to what you are most familiar with. Ecstatic living, real joy, is precisely connected with stepping onto unknown ground, trusting that you are in safe hands.”

What are you called to leave and step away from in small simple trusting steps in 2016? 

The Forgotten Act of Taking Off Our Shoes

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One of my favourite quotes of all times must be this one from Elizabeth Barret Browning:

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

So often I feel the Spirit gently reminding me that I am sitting around plucking blackberries instead of taking off my shoes and noticing what God is doing around me. Anne Edwards, a fictional character in Maria Doria Russell’s Sparrow, says that when faced with the Divine, we often take refuge in the banal…”as though answering a cosmic multiple choice question: If you saw a burning bush, would you (a) call 911, (b) get the hot dogs or (c) recognise God?” In our awareness of what is happening around us, how often do we interpret events as emergencies or opportunities for entertainment or self-satisfaction, rather than the presence of God?

Last week in South Africa, we saw the rise of the #feesmustfall movement. And I wonder how many of responded to it as an emergency…”Oh my goodness, see what is happening with this country!”. How many of us responded to it as an opportunity for entertainment by sharing posts making fun of the whole situation, or responded to it by how it would benefit us…”I wonder if I could also claim back my university fees from way back in the 90’s…”? And how many of us saw Jesus in the midst of those crying out for justice and equality? How many of us noticed the Divine hovering above, amidst and in people to oppose that which is not right in our world…and energising imaginative dreams of what could be?

Let us as South Africans be a people who can take off their shoes and notice God in the blackberry bush.

The Forgotten Act of Listening

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My husband and I agreed at the beginning of the year that we would each the other to read one novel this year that we have enjoyed and felt was worth the read. I have asked him to read “Cry, the beloved country” by Alan Paton (which for the record, he still has to finish…ahem ahem). To his credit I had a hard time making up my mind which one to choose… He asked me to read “Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver which I have done (tap on the shoulder…). I enjoyed the book tremendously and can highly recommend it. It is brilliant. Without giving away too much of the plot, I want to explain a particular scene in the book that got me thinking…

The story is basically about a very driven single-tracked preacher who takes his wife and four daughters to the Congo in an attempt to evangelise a small rural village. He preached his heart out week after week, but failed to understand many of the cultural imperatives that were hindering him from having a transformative impact in the community. Some of his daughters befriended the villagers and learned from them how and why their father’s efforts had failed. For instance they learnt that nobody wanted to get baptised in the river, because a crocodile had recently devoured a member of the village who stepped into the river…Also the nuances of the language could lend itself to terrible misinterpretation..and mean quite the opposite of what it was intended to mean. She could have only learnt that by spending time with the villagers, befriending them and listening to what they were saying, and in that way learning from their experiences and cultural beliefs. It dawned on me then that the first act of evangelism for the preachers should have been listening…

Evangelism is having influence over someone’s life. In Christian belief we equate the correct application of this influence to love. In other words, we can deduce that the first act of love should be to listen. So that made me wonder, “How well are we doing with listening to the world?” “How well are we listening to the pain and the suffering around us?” Because, you see, to be truly listening (not the kind of listening we mostly do – pretending to listen, but in fact already thinking of a response…or even worse…something else we need to be doing), we need to be patient. We need to make time…But more than that, we need to be present. We need to be there with all of who we are… and listen.

I recently watched a video clip in which Stanley Hauerwas speaks about suffering and death and being with those who are dying. He says that we need to be present with those dying. Our prayers when we are with those dying should not be petitions trying to manipulate God into doing something for them. Our prayers should be acts of listening, because when we listen prayerfully, we make God present. We make God present to those who are dying, those in pain and those who are suffering. 

When we listen to those suffering and in pain in the world around us, not only do we make ourselves present to them, but we make them present in our lives…and more than that, we make God present in the situation.

I watched a Ted Talk by Julian Treasure recently about communication and how we can use our voices to communicate. He is a great steward of his voice and of communication! He ended the talk by asking some questions, including, “What would the world look like if we listened consciously?” He answered by saying that it would be a world where understanding would be the norm. I most definitely think that we can do with understanding each other a little better in this world!

So may our prayers be acts of  listening…and may our listening make us truly, vulnerably, powerfully present as we become praying, listening curators of God’s presence in the world.