Trying to think about life and how God makes it full

Retreat on the East Coast

101_59691.JPGFor the past 3 days I’ve been staying at Tollesbury, doing the spiritual input for the combined Retreat of 3 Christian Outdoor Centres: Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust (FACT), Christian Youth Enterprises (CYE), and St. George’s House (SGH). The 3 Centres try to get together twice per year for mutual learning, encouragement, and relationship building. There are real synergies that develop where groups doing similar things in different contexts get together in intentional ways. They’re all such good people too, friendly, open to new learning, passionate about the outdoors and the Creator of the natural playgrounds that are also their places of work.

Naturally, there was also sailing to be done (my foot handled that very well, I’m pleased to say), along with 5-a-side football competition (won by FACT), quiz, and the usual FACT abundance of good food. The weather


was fabulous, and the photos are taken on Thursday morning as I sat on the deck of one of the accommodation boats enjoying coffee and sunshine while the tide came in – bliss!

Below, I’ve put the note I did for the 3 sessions I ran:

  1. Contemplative worship, centred around Ps 40:1-3, and helped with Johnny Cash and U2.
  2. Group Discussion questions prior to the input session.
  3. Input session on Liminality and Communitas, based on Luke 8:22-25.

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March 9, 2007 Posted by | communitas, contemplative, culture, Environment, god, jesus, liminality, mission, religion, wisdom | Leave a comment

The Wilderness, Part 4, Luke 4:1-13

As I think on all this stuff, I keep being reminded of someone’s words to me a few years ago: “You’re a very powerful person”. That surprised me, because I don’t consider myself as such. And I don’t try to be. But as I reflected on those words, perhaps I am – more than I think.

I know that I have a sense of ambition about me that wants to get on and do things, to see things change. I also know that I keep finding my way into influential circles, with some powerful people. So, do I like power? Am I manipulative? Am I destructive to others?

On the positive side, I do try to be pastoral with the people I work with and serve. I do take notice of their feelings, and take time to encourage them as they deal with the changes I may be bringing in their lives. I am keen to see change happen where its necessary, am willing to work hard for it, to argue for it, and to bring it about. I do try to treat with respect those with whom I don’t see eye to eye. Lord, please keep me clean and humble. At least I recognise my tendencies…

I know that I need to keep scripture and the example of Jesus always before me, and to ask the Holy Spirit to keep my ear open to him, and to be about to recognise the voice and tactics of the devil.

I’ve just been reading some of Thomas Merton’s ‘Thoughts in Solitude’. He was talking about the desert being created as a place of no use to mankind, and so it was a place supremely valuable in the eyes of God. That’s what the Desert Fathers thought. The desert offered mankind nothing, and so it could not be wasted or exploited. It was just to be itself.

It was a place, where to go, would be to become totally dependent on God.

But it was also a place of madness, and refuge of the devil.

And now the deserts of today are not immune to the encroachments of technological mankind who seeks to uncreate what God has blessed. The cities that spring up in them are full of corruption, vice, death, and madness – just like being in the house of the devil.

Merton says that the desert is no longer a place to go and fight the devil as Christ did; but the cities in the desert are the smiles of the devil, and the desert itself moves everywhere.

Interesting thought that: mankind used to go out to the desert, but now the desert comes to mankind. The despair of the desert fills mankind.

The Christian task, says Merton, is to live facing despair, but not to consent. To trample it down under the hope of the Cross. And in our fighting, we will find Christ at our side.

Solitude then, it seems to me, is like a place of desert where one can go, be dependent upon and sustained by, God. A place where some perspective can be sought and found.

When I go on Retreat, I go to my desert.

I also wonder whether there is some truth in the thought that the madness of the desert is also in the city where I live and work; hence, I am a continual wanderer in the desert.

I can see why Merton talks about the reality of despair, and why he says that the Christian must not succumb to despair. Christ has defeated despair, as he defeated the devil and his temptations in the desert.

February 22, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, liminality, merton, religion | 2 Comments

The Wilderness, Part 3, Luke 4:1-13

Of the 3 temptations, the devil only wants to be worshiped in 1 of them. I’ve not noticed this before. Of the other 2, one would be done in private, and the other would be done in full view of Israel’s religious leadership; and Rome would hear of it, too.

The one the devil wants to be worshiped for is the middle one, where Jesus would rule the whole world. With that one, the devil doesn’t challenge Jesus with, “If you are the Son of God…”. Why is this?

How did Jesus know the difference between the Holy Spirit and the devil?

It would be interesting to go back through the bible to see the nature of the questions God asked Israel, and how he spoke to the prophets and other heroes of the faith.

Was the devil mimicking God’s voice to Jesus? Jesus used the words of scripture to reply. Why? How do I respond to the temptations of the devil, and to the testings of the Holy Spirit? Could it be argued that the Spirit was testing Jesus and those testings were interpreted as temptations of the devil? Doesn’t being in the wilderness do strange things to the mind anyway, let alone being alone and fasting for 40 days? Couldn’t Jesus’ lack of action be seen as theological dithering? After all, he had a chance to make a huge theological, symbolic, and very real messianic difference to the life of the whole world in an instant.

How did/could he tell the difference between the voice of the Holy Spirit and the voice of the devil?

The passage begins with the statement that he was full of the Holy Spirit. So, he would have known that feeling; he would recognise that voice. The voice of the devil would be different. Jesus spoke about knowing the shepherd’s voice in the ‘shepherd sayings’ (John 10). The trouble with humans is, there are loads of people throughout history who have been convinced they’ve known the voice of the Holy Spirit, been full of the Holy Spirit, and gone on to do hideous things in God’s Name.

Jesus kept referring back to scripture and the story of God’s dealings with his people. This must be a very strong clue in knowing how to tell the difference between the Holy Spirit and the devil.

Please Lord, keep me close to you through your word.

February 18, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, liminality, religion | 1 Comment

The Wilderness, Part 2, Luke 4:1-13

Bread seems obvious in the context of human hunger. Nobody would be around to see Jesus eat some bread – he could easily cheat on his fast without anyone knowing. Or, even if he had decided to end his fast at that point, why not end it with some instant bread? Anyway, the devil wasn’t asking Jesus to worship him, just to feed himself.

But he wasn’t the only one who was hungry. Hunger and poverty were as rife then as now. And if Jesus could make stones into bread, couldn’t he then turn the whole wilderness into a huge bakery and feed all the poor and hungry with everlasting bread? Later on, he was to call himself ‘the bread of life’ after he fed the 5000 people from virtually nothing.

So, why not feed himself?

“If”, said the devil; so prove it!

Then the devil shows him all the kingdoms of the world and promises them to Jesus if he will only worship him. What a great temptation! Jesus could have control of the world and put it all to rights. No more ‘out-of-control’ world. He certainly would be ‘King of kings’.

It’s interesting how Jesus didn’t claim his status as Second Person of the Trinity just then. In effect, the devil, a creature, was asking Jesus as God the Creator, to worship him. The Creator worshiping the creature. Ridiculous really! So, did Jesus realise his divinity then, or not? Whatever he may have thought, his reply was to make it clear that he would serve God only.

And finally, the devil takes Jesus to the Temple itself, the very place of God’s dwelling among his people. “Show yourself at this place of God’s dwelling that you are in fact God incarnate by doing this trick of throwing yourself off the top, let’s watch the angels catch you, and everyone will follow you – if you are indeed the Son of God”.

February 13, 2007 Posted by | contemplative, god, jesus, liminality, religion | Leave a comment

Liminality and Communitas

Last weekend, I spent a wonderful day with my friends of Fellowship Afloat Charitable Trust (FACT). These are the crew who taught me to sail, and over the seven years I’ve known them, have become an important part of my life. The reason I spent the day with them, was that they were having their annual Away Day and they wanted me to have some input into their development as an organisation.

There are three main groups that make up FACT on a day like that: the Trustees, the Staff, and the Year Volunteer Staff. So I needed to ensure that I was engaging with all three groups throughout my session. But that was really good, as it actually gave the impetus for what I wanted to do, and what I thought was going to be a helpful way for them to engage with what they’re actually doing.

I drew heavily on material from Alan Hirsch’s new book, ‘The Forgotten Ways’; in particular, the chapter on ‘Communitas, not Community’. Here’s a quote from Alan’s book that I think is a good summary of what liminality and communitas is about:

‘…maturity and self-actualisation require movement and risk, and that adventure is actually good for the soul. They all teach that a deep form of togetherness and love is found when we emabark on a common mission of discovery, when we encounter danger together and have to find each other in the process in order to survive. We find all these elements in the way Jesus formed his disciples as together they embarked on a journey that took them away from their homes, family, and securities (be they social or religious) and set out on an adventure that involved liminality, risk, action-reflection learning, communitas, and spiritual discovery. On the way their fears of inadequacy and lack of provision faded, only to be replaced by a courageous faith that went on to change the world forever.’ (pp.240/1)

I wanted the FACT crew to engage with the concepts of Liminality and Communitas as I think that’s what they’re intuitively doing as an integral part of who they are and how they operate. But I didn’t think that they had the concepts or the language to articulate effectively that that was what they were doing. Once you’re tasted Liminality and Communitas in how you live and operate, nothing else comes close to really living. I’ve experienced it myself in the work I’ve done in NZ, Australia, and in London’s East End. But as a curate I’m struggling, as curate life is too safe.

Below, I’ve put the notes that I used for the day, including the resources, in case you wanted to have look.

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January 27, 2007 Posted by | communitas, culture, god, jesus, liminality, mission, religion | 4 Comments