Category: Reflections

Agree to disagree

Address Morning Chapel in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity

Every third week in January, Churches throughout the world participate in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It traditionally ends on 25th January, when the Church marks the conversion of St Paul, after his vision on the road to Damascus. I thought this may be a good reason to briefly think about unity and disagreement, particularly thinking about how we can disagree with each other in a way that is constructive.

disagreement

So let’s first see what Paul has to say about disagreement in his letter to the Ephesians:

Ephesians 4.25-end (The Message)

What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself. Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.

Did you use to make ends meet by stealing? Well, no more! Get an honest job so that you can help others who can’t work. Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift. Don’t grieve God. Don’t break his heart. His Holy Spirit, moving and breathing in you, is the most intimate part of your life, making you fit for himself. Don’t take such a gift for granted.

Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly and thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you.

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Expect the unexpected

expectationAdvent is not only the time to prepare for Christmas, it is also the start of a new Church year. On New Year’s Day, 1st January, my sister, my parents and myself used to go and visit my grandmother. She was not always a ‘glass-half-full’ person to say the least. One year, as we arrived, the first thing she said was ‘It’s going to be a difficult year’. It quickly became our family mantra on New Year’s Day.

Of course, the sad truth about a prediction like this is that it may well become reality for those who expectantly wait for difficulty to arise. Not always: we may be pleasantly surprised by that which lies ahead of us, but our expectations do colour our experience.

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A time to prepare

Advent is a time to prepare for Christmas.  As any celebration, Christmas needs those preparations. It is much nicer to receive or give a present which is just right for someone, rather than a last-minute bought gift, a bouquet of flowers from a service station, which was rather unimaginative, as we ran out of time really thinking about it.

clock

Also, there is a lot of fun to be had in the preparations themselves. Decorating the Christmas tree is often more fun than just looking at it, and who doesn’t like a shopping trip to one of the Christmas markets? However, particularly with the normal busyness of life, it can all become a bit much and we continuously feel that we are running out of time and getting more and more tired.  There can come a moment that not only the extra commitments become a bit much, but everything we need to do is one thing too many. I’m sure that many of us recognise this feeling, particularly in these dark days that mark this time of the year.

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Coming home

This fifth reflection concludes the short series of thoughts on my Camino journey. Those who have read the other pieces will recognise some of the themes. What I realised is that I was looking in the wrong place, and that my journey away needs to become a journey home. I am pleased to say that it was Augustine who set me on the right path!

Coming home

The day I arrived in Santiago was a beautiful day. A clear start with the moon giving enough light to discern my shadow, but still giving the opportunity to see hundreds of stars against their black backdrop. It made for a beautiful sunrise too, and by the time I reached the cathedral square, the sun had gained enough strength to enjoy a few moments to sit down and enjoy the busyness of pilgrims arriving to their destination.

IMG_0368However, as soon as I arrived, I also knew that this was not, and would never have been, my final destination. A small part of me had hoped to receive a revelation that would put everything in place, that would possibly change me forever, but I knew deep down that this was not what I was looking for. Before I set off, jokingly I said to a colleague: “I may come back a different person”. His reply was: “I hope not”.  It was precisely this truth that I needed to discover, but it was only the journey that had made me realise that I wanted to know what I already knew, and was looking for that which I already have.

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Where is the Church?

In this fourth reflection after my Camino pilgrimage, I will share some of my thoughts on the Church and its challenges. One of the hopes I had as I set off what to find some clarity on my relationship to the Church and a renewed sense of belonging. I don’t think that I found any answers, but the questions have become clearer, and bigger …

Where is the Church?

IMG_0305I had every intention for my journey to be a true pilgrimage, preparing myself not only practically, but also spiritually. I went to Confession beforehand, prayed for a blessing upon these two weeks and decided not to take any books apart from my Bible. Working as a school chaplain means in many ways finding yourself at the fringe of the Church community, so I felt that this pilgrimage was an opportunity to focus on my inner spiritual and religious life.

People walk the Camino for all sorts of different reasons, but for most it includes elements of searching, reflection and transition. The vast majority of people have embarked on this journey intentionally: it is not really a last-minute holiday destination. This meant that, as I already said in an earlier reflection, that encounters with others were meaningful and profound, whether people had  religious intentions for their journey or not.

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On whose terms?

The third reflection after my Camino journey is maybe particularly ironic as I am working at a school. As Santiago came closer, more people joined and the roads got busier and the group of walkers more diverse. It made me think about those times when we believe that our way is the only way.

On whose terms?

Quiet, please? was one of the headlines in the Daily Telegraph on Monday. Steve McQueen’s new installation in Tate Britain, Year 3, features over 3000 class photographs with the faces of about 76,000 children. All these children have been invited to visit the gallery to come and have a look. It will probably be a bit noisier than on an average day in the art gallery.

IMG_0364This was more or less what I experienced too, when on the penultimate day of my journey to Santiago, I was sharing the roads with a group of about 40 Spanish teenagers, and remarkable what seemed only one teacher. By this time I had got used to the hours with little noise and the relative isolation whilst walking. So this many people at once was a shock to my system in the first place.

Having been on enough school trips now, I was not surprised that the young people did not walk quietly two by two, but congested the paths whilst chatting, singing, smoking and vaping. Of course they had also at least one loudspeaker between three, each playing a different type of noise, which I am sure they will have called music – my initial annoyance, I am sure, is evident. How could these people disturb the last couple of days of my spiritual and religious journey? They weren’t even carrying their rucksacks, and probably hadn’t walked the hours I already had.

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Behind the scenes

This is the second of five reflections following my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella. As I was walking, I quickly realised that I was not only part of a community of walkers, but also of a community that extended far beyond.

Behind the scenes

Even before I set off on my pilgrimage, I already felt part of a community of walkers (and cyclists): friends who had already been and were ready to give me good advice, both practical and spiritual. Walking the Camino gives you something in common very quickly.

IMG_0316This sense of belonging to a community was also my experience as soon as I arrived in Madrid. At the train station I met an Italian walker, who was also heading to Leon to start her journey there. We talked a little, and then made our way to our allocated carriages. I saw her again a few times in the following week. Although I did not set out to make great friends, the conversations and encounters on the way were moving and profound, whether we shared a common language or not.

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