This morning I got up nice and early, around 07:00, because I really felt the need to get back into a regular rhythm.
I find the period between Advent 4 and Epiphany quite disorienting. For the other 50 weeks of the year Sunday is still my reference point from which the rest of my week’s activities are built. If I’m preaching, for example, that affects what I do during the week and when I do it.
But between Advent 4 and Epiphany the focus moves from Sundays to the feast days: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Hogmanay, New Year’s Day, Epiphany, and I’m left wondering “what day is it today?”
After morning prayer I read a chapter from Richard Rohr’s book Simplicity: The Freedom of Letting Go (Crossroad, 1991), in it he writes:
All spirituality is about letting go; how to let go of our security, our good reputation, our identity and our self-image. (p.107) …
You have to leave the world where you have everything under control, where everybody likes you, and head into a world where you are poor and powerless. And there you’ll be converted despite yourself. (p.113)
The irony didn’t escape me that while the spiritual path is about letting go, Christmas has become a time for acquiring more stuff.
So much of our identity and security is tied up in our things, our belongings. We often seem more comfortable defining ourselves by what we wear, where we live, what we own, what we do, than in simply who we are.
When meeting strangers the first question we often ask, after “what’s you name?” is “so … what do you do?” My former flatmate Jonny and I at parties in London instead used to ask people what their favourite cheese was.
We moved house twice last year (2006), three times if you include moving out of our holiday cottage Kadesh. I became the most pragmatic and utilitarian that I’ve ever been during that time and threw out or gave away a load of my stuff. Things that I’ve not used for years.
The reason that I know I did the right thing is that I now can’t remember what I got rid of. I didn’t need it.
Last year I also moved out of full-time parish ministry and into non-stipendiary ministry. A “minister without portfolio” one of my friends calls me. I moved out primarily because of my health (kidney disease) but also because I felt that God was calling me to let go of my familiar, relatively-safe position/role within the church. I needed to go out into the unknown and witness to the resurrected crucified Christ “out there”.
It’s exactly what Rohr was writing about:
You have to leave the world where you have everything under control, where everybody likes you, and head into a world where you are poor and powerless. And there you’ll be converted despite yourself. (Rohr, op. cit. p.113)
I can’t tell you how afraid I was to let go of my life and work within the church structures. I cried about it, day after day, for months. “What if I can’t do anything else?” I used to ask Jane.
Jane believed in me, God believed in me, I didn’t.
It took me months to slowly build up the belief that I was able to do more than I was able to do in the parish, that my gifts and skills extended beyond presiding at liturgy, preaching and meeting people.
It was a long and dark path at times. But it was all about letting go. Letting go of my false self-images, letting go of my pride, my self-identity (as a full-time priest), letting go of the Church job that I both loved and at the same time found to be a terrific burden.
Two years later …
And now, almost two years after finally saying to God “Okay … I’ll do it, I’ll move out of full-time parish ministry, I’ll trust you…” I find myself in a position that I couldn’t have dreamed of being in.
Every day I wake up feeling blessed that God has brought us here, and each day I ask God to reveal where he wants to lead me next, to keep my eyes open to where he is already at work in the unexpected places.
I believe that religion is the safest place to avoid God, because God wants to lead us to self-surrender, and all too often religion teaches us only self-control. (Rohr, op. cit. p.122)
But then, I don’t believe that Christianity is meant to be a religion. But that’s for another post.