Ever since I first met the words ofOscar Romero “we are ministers, not messiahs” I’ve tried to keep that truth before me.
Generally my temptation is to believe that it’s up to me to fix the ills of at least my small corner of Charlton Kings…but I can see exactly how one moves from that delusion to wider and more dangerous ones.
Here’s the process as outlined by Peterson…
- “Pastors enter congregations vocationally in order to embrace the totality of human life in Jesus’s name..[Check]
- This necessarily means taking seriously and in faith the dull routines, the empty boredom and the unattractive responsibilities that make up so much of people’s lives. It means witnessing to the transcendent in the fog and rain (I love that bit) [Check]
- But in these everyday obscurities in which we work…we often have the sense of being genuinely needed... [Check]
- Even when unnoticed…we are usually sure our presence makes a difference, sometimes a critical difference, for we have climbed to the abandoned places, the bereft lives, the “gaps”…and have spoken Christ’s Word and witnessed Christ’ mercy...[Check]
In other words, get yourself out of the way again, woman! So, the question is, as always, how to achieve this...*
When you tell the story of Jonah to a group of children, you probably don’t proclaim the belly of the whale as the place of safety,-and of course in one respect, it represents rock bottom, the worst part of his whole experience.
But it is also the place where he begins to learn obedience, and where he prays with honesty and integrity, from an awareness of his over-riding need. So Peterson suggests that it is in fact the healthiest place to be, for it provides the spring-board to Jonah’s resurrection in ministry.
It is a place where he is completely aware of his dependence
A place with no distractions,- and every opportunity to listen and reflect.
A place where he (and we) can confront our own realities,
A place, in fact, that is tailor-made to promote spiritual growth.
While I’d not previously thought of the retreat experience as equivalent to time confined within the great fish, suddenly I found myself longing for more “whale time”.
One of the loveliest things about being on retreat is the way I re-learn intimate prayer, which too often gets lost in the business and busyness of praying in the parish…and I’m hopefully excited that it may be possible to build some “whale days” into my routine, so that it doesn’t feel as if everything rests on a retreat once or twice a year. I’m so distractible,- maybe the only place I can ever hope to really focus on God is when I’m safely enclosed…
(*The image is a detail from Jonah in the Whale's Belly by Annie Lucas, paint & thread on fabric.
If I were in the U.S, and had more spare cash than I currently do, rather alot of her work would be finding it's way home with me. Visit here to enjoy more)