Friday, June 09, 2006

The Response (Thoughts from Part 2 of the MU day)

Perhaps you think you might have begun to hear the faint murmurs of a call from God?
If that’s so, I wonder how it has made you feel.
Fear not if your first reaction is not one of unadulterated delight. You are in good company.But nonetheless, a call demands a response…be it "behold the handmaid of the Lord" or "Ah, my Lord, I am only a child"...
Sometimes it seems that there we are left with no room for manouevre at all..Perhaps after all we don’t envy Saul his unmistakeable call. In his position, we’d really rather there was wiggle room,- it’s so much easier to hide if we’re not entirely sure that we’re being called at all.
Actually, when all is said and done, in all the Biblical stories of call God seems to get rather too close for our comfort, and it becomes very clear that it is indeed a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Awe is, then, an entirely appropriate reaction…
Listen to the way in which Isaiah describes his own experience of call…This is no encounter with a cosy God, or gentle Jesus
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

“Woe is me” can indeed feel like the only possible answer…but in fact God always offers us a choice,- even though it sometimes seems that our choice is a foregone conclusion. We know about the stories of call in the Bible, because these are the ones who said Yes…but who knows what other stories remain untold,- the stories of those who decided to dodge the issue, to protest their unworthiness so conclusively that they even convinced themselves. The Holy Spirit is an enabler, and not a dictator. God does intervene, in order to make us “fit for purpose”, - that’s the message of Isaiah’s burning coal,- but if we are too frightened to open our hearts he won’t force us to do so…and it seems to me that very often we are ruled by our fears.
Who knows where we’ll end up, or how different our lives may look if we let the Spirit in to our lives, as individuals and as a church. It’s scary stuff.
We might need to jettison things that we really value, might have to put our selves on the line, risk the sort of changes that will make us stand out from the crowd.
That's possibly a bit too demanding. I want to be used by God, but still keep something in reserve, hang onto control of my own life. I'll go with "Yes, BUT.." for the moment...if I can't think of a pressing reason to say No.
In fact, my Biblical patron could well be Jonah, who travelled hundreds of miles out of his way to evade his mission to Nineveh…and then, perversely, was thoroughly put out when God revealed himself as the sort of God of mercy that most people would welcome with open arms. Jonah, though, enjoyed being miserable! It’s surely evidence of God’s sense of humour that salvation from himself, as much as from the raging storm, is to be found in that unsalubrious place, the belly of the whale. Jonah is not good at loving himself…crouching inside that great fish, he is the very embodiment of what John Bell describes as “the you you hide”…
You see, poor self-image is another huge barrier that can hinder our response to God.
We’re brought up, I think, to believe that it’s a very thin line between self-belief and egotism, that it’s somehow praiseworthy to be self-deprecating, to constantly run oneself down. While this can make human relationships run more smoothly, it really isn’t going to work in our conversations with God. After all, he knows each of us far better than we know ourselves. As a wise priest once said to me, as I wrestled with the implausibility of my own calling
“God calls you as you are. It is up to him to oversee what you will become”
but even in the raw material there are always those precious gifts which God has given you, the gifts that will enable you to sing your own unique song for him.
Listen to these words, quoted once by Nelson Mandela
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves
“Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be.
You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine as children do…And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”

I love that...If we shine, so will others. That sounds very much a God-thing, doesn't it?
Despite ourselves, God is always calling to us. He may speak through other people, he may speak through his creation, through his word, or in a host of other ways…but call he does. It is our responsibility to place ourselves where we may hope to hear him…There is a story about the rabbi Zuscha, on his death bed, responding to a question about his expectations of the afterlife
I don’t really know. But one thing I do know. When I get there, the Lord won’t ask me “Why weren’t you Moses? Or why weren’t you David? I am going to be asked
“Why weren’t you Zuscha".


Ruth said...

This is another amazing post. I have read much on how to identify one's self and find a vocation, but your recent posts top everything I've ever come across. I am pondering this:

"It is our responsibility to place ourselves where we may hope to hear him…"

I wonder if this is what I am not doing - I'm just soooo busy being a mum and then watching TV to "relax" when the children have gone to bed (oh, and blogging...) that I don't think I'm giving God enough space in my life. I shall reflect upon this and endeavour to change it. (This evening I sat in the garden for two hours and watched the day turn to night. I had so many thoughts pass through my head. I definitely think I need to do less!!! - hmmm, there are those who are close to me who'd disagree with that, esp. where housework is concerned but...)

Thank you so much for these posts.

sally said...

Ruth's comment echoes the thoughts in my recent blog post entitled 'doing' versus 'being.'I agree, msot of us are far too busy doing (though with the state of my house and garden, I can't imagine what...)