Sunday Afternoon

Hello Sunday afternoon. We meet again.
Exhaustion, questions, reflections, gratitude, regret.
I sit at the piano and sing in the now alone church.
It is quiet again.
The black dog nips at my heels.
I relax and trust. And trust. And hope.
“What can I give back to God for all the blessings?”
Hello Sunday afternoon. We meet again.

Like an Arrow

I’m with a fantastic bunch of church leaders in Auckland at the third Arrow retreat. And it is Shrove Tuesday.

We take turns to share some of our stories for ten minutes and tonight was my turn.

At one level I feel I have nothing to say
Leadership has not had a terrible toll on me (yet)
I am still in one piece.

God has been remarkably faithful
And for that I am so grateful.

 

But yet there have been experiences that have shaped me.
Perhaps not big in any scale of life
But they are mine and I own them.

Some have hurt. Some have caused me to doubt myself. Some bring me shame.
God has been present throughout.

 

And so tonight, as I lie
Tummy full of pancakes and pistachios
Aching feet hanging over the end of this bed
I reflect
And I am grateful
And I dream of what has been
And I dream of what can be
And I long for more.

Please.

A reflection on Isaiah 30:15-18

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Calm down.
Quietly trust me.

Are you anxious about the future?
About ministry and partnership and vision and longevity?

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe.

Do you not think that’s am concerned about these things?
Do you not realise that I know what you need.

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe some more,

I will keep you safe.
Turn back to me.
The Lord always does right
And blesses those who trust him.

You know what happens when you try to go it alone?
To amass the numbers?
To embrace safety?

Failure. Vivid, lonely, spectacular failure.

Calm down.
Remain close.
Quietly trust.

Breathe deeply.

It will be ok.

The refrain continues to echo

Trust and obey
There’s no better way
To be happy in Jesus
Than to trust and obey

The gift that sustains

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A few weeks ago, as I prayed God’s blessing on the baptism waters in a special service in Eketahuna, I commented that with the dry summer we have had, we are even more aware of the extent to which water is a gift. People knew what I was talking about. They were living it.

Water is a gift that sustains, refreshes and cleanses all life.

As the drought has gone on the words of Psalm 63 have resounded close:

O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. (Ps 61:1-3)

The thirst for rainfall in this community has shown itself on the faces of those I talk to.

The desperation
the waking and looking to the skies
the longing
the waiting
the hoping.

I thirst.

The gift of rain today has been a blessing. For 24 hours we had little more than a gentle soaking. Tonight I drove home through torrential rain and a thunderstorm. There may be nothing more for a while, but we are grateful.

I heard one man at the blood donor centre today refer to the “miserable weather”
I wanted to jump out of my chair and shake him.
“This is a gift! This is the blessing! This is life!”
This is the answer to many desperate prayers.

And yet I thirst.
As farmers look to the skies
my soul thirsts for God
for more
for reality,
fullness.

Rain down.

Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well. He said “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst.”
I want that. I need that. Have I missed out on the real thing?

I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. (Ph 3:10-14)

New beginnings

Big changes. Pack up and left St John’s on Thursday and drove down the country with a fairly full car of most of my important stuff. I don’t like goodbyes – the word always seems so final. When it came down to it, there were lots of goodbyes, but still a lot of people I regret I did not get a chance to farewell personally.

Was welcomed as curate at St Peter’s Pahiatua on Sunday. I look forward to visiting the Eketahuna community in the next few weeks too. It’s exciting and daunting. A huge privilege and an honor.

This week it’s straight into a week of holiday program at church and hanging out with the diocesan youth camp in town. I look forward to the rest of my gear arriving on the truck this week (hopefully). The place feels like home already, and will moreso once everything is in place.

The last night prayer at St John’s completed our reading of the book of Romans. The words “pray for me” (Romans 15:30) continue to resound in my ears.

End of an era

This is the email I sent to the St Johns College Community after my final day today…



Dear college community,

Firstly, thank you for the farewell today. It was a splendid occasion and I have appreciated the opportunity to put a marker in the ground, to farewell this place.

I know I mumbled something today at lunch, but I wonder if you would grace me with me the space here to say a little more. (If not, feel free to stop reading immediately.)

Genesis 28:16-17 “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, ‘Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place!’

I spoke of the importance to me of being aware of the call of God to be at St Johns. And God has not brought us here as some sort of cruel joke or punishment. God is at work, in us and among us. We can trust that. Sometimes faith is a matter of hanging in there, trusting the process.

I know that God has been at work on me during my time at St Johns. I know I have grown. At times that process has been painful. At times it has been very dry. Other times it is pure frustration.

But we hang in there. Because God has called us here. And God is at work.

But more than just hanging in, we pursue God’s work. We break bread together daily. We speak words of life to each other. We listen to scripture together. We pray for each other. Sometimes in our despondency it can be easy to ask, “What’s the minimum standard I can give at St Johns?” I implore you to pursue the ways of God – energetically, expectantly, relentlessly. If God is at work in this place, I don’t want to be the one dragging my feet.

When I arrived at St John’s I had in my head that I was arriving to work through a degree and a diploma. But that’s not accurate. We are here to be formed more into the people that God is calling us to be. While being formed we might do some academic work. Hopefully both feed into each other.

My goal at St Johns has been the same – to leave this place even more in love with Jesus than when I arrived. Loving Jesus is not a destination we arrive at, but a journey that we embark on. It’s glorious.

Philipians 1:9 “And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight…”

So please pray for me as I head to Pahiatua as I commit to pray for you. Please do feel free to drop in and say hi. There is a spare bed waiting for you.

And may God’s transforming presence continue to guide you, to inspire you and to draw you close as you journey through this place.

Chris

Not long to go now

Two thoughts from a few minutes I spent in the library today before chapel:
  1. I had reflected a couple of posts ago about jigsaw puzzles as a bit of a metaphor for our calling. I said to trust the quality of the puzzle. The library staff have befuddled me by putting out now a puzzle of very dubious quality. It is very poorly made and the pieces do not fit well together. What do you do when you find yourself in a scenario where you don’t think you can trust the quality of the puzzle? You examine each placement even more carefully, you approach each step with certain uncertainty. It makes the puzzle process less pleasurable for sure. It is very tempting to throw your hands in the air, to announce that I am too good for such puzzles. But perhaps therein lies a challenge.
  2. Overheard a comment in a conversation in the library as I searched for edge pieces. “Thank you for your company this week.” What a great compliment. We thank people for their actions. We thank people for the things that they do for us. Such thanks are difficult to know what to do with. But being thanked for just being there… there’s something in that that is incredibly appealing. I think it is (for me) the top level of compliment to anyone.
I spoke at the Life Course at St Pauls on Wednesday night. After 29 months living in the Christian bubble of St Johns, speaking to a room full of non-christians was a scary prospect. Think it went ok. My slides were pretty at least. Positive comment afterwards. Still find it hard to take. Were they just being polite?

Things I’m noticing:

  1. I’m so hungry right now.
  2. Had a presentation in class that didn’t go as well as I hoped. Felt like a fool. Spending some moments this evening noticing my reaction. I think it is good to name and identify the feelings that come to the surface.
  3. Same class, related item. Someone asked me (being kind to my tech skills) why I don’t have a computer job. “You should work with computers.” I know it is a compliment, but something inside me wondered “is she saying I shouldn’t be a priest?” Was a very small voice, but one that identifies the fact that I have been thinking a lot about ‘calling’ lately.
  4. Switching to ‘getting ready for Pahiatua’ mode. Looking at cars to buy, warmer clothes to wear, thinking through what I take with me…
  5. So much work to be done before the end of semester. It’s tiring and exhilarating. 

Finding the fit

I spent rather longer this afternoon (after a three hour lecture) finishing off a jigsaw puzzle in the college library. As a puzzle, it has taunted students for a while now – it has been quite a challenge. I think working through the puzzle was somehow therapeutic though… I have been thinking a lot about the nature of my own call to ministry – how do I recognise God’s leading in my life?

I thought about the challenge of finding the “right fit” for a piece. There are many places that a particular jigsaw piece could be made to fit. Sure, it might jiggle a bit, but it fits, right? There’s nothing quite like the snugness and satisfaction of the right fit. Persisting with something that doesn’t fit will only make make things more difficult as you move onto the next piece.

Finding the right fit sometimes comes as a surprise. It’s not always the piece that you thought would fit there. But as the fit happens, it is an immense “aha” moment and the picture becomes more clear.

Knowing the difference between a right fit and a wrong fit means trusting the quality of the puzzle.

Making some key finds unlocks some other pieces to be placed with confidence.

Sometime you make quick successive moves. Other times nothing seems to fit. Have patience. Keep trying and looking. If necessary, just work successively through all the options. Sometimes it’s much more about persistence than some imagination of personal brilliance.

Sometimes you encounter serious doubt that all the pieces are present. Trust the process.

Sometimes there is nobody present to cheer you on when you place your final piece. Appreciate the feeling of personal satisfaction. But not too much… many other people also did good work in getting this puzzle completed. Placing the final piece is really no more important than placing the twenty-seventh piece.

Genius from a genius

Have not (yet) had a particularly productive day. But I have had my spirit enlarged by this quote from Albert Einstein:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle. 

But without deeper reflection one knows from daily life that one exists for other people; first of all for those upon whose smiles and well-being our own happiness is wholly dependent, and then for the many, unknown to us, to whose destinies we are bound by the ties of sympathy. 

A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life are based on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving. 

A human being is part of a whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest -a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. 

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. 

Only a life lived for others is worth living. 

Now, where do essays fit into that description?