I've spent most of today filling in the forms for a course in spiritual direction, which SuperstarBishop suggested I should pursue a good year ago. It felt a bit odd, since the last time I was filling in this sort of thing was before I went to my Selection Conference...and I do rather want to get onto this course (not only because it runs from January, so would fit round my trip to India in November). Over the past two years people have begun to invite me to share their journeys, and that is such a great privilege, but leaves me feeling more inadequate than ever. I have been (and am) hugely blessed in my own spiritual directors,- which not only means that I know how helpful the relationship can be, but also (of course) makes me more wary of charging in with my size 9s, trampling on everything in sight and jumping to conclusions left, right and centre. I've so much to learn.
The forms were not really too alarming, but they did ask for an outline of my faith journey on one side of A4. As someone who always says EVERYTHING, that was disturbingly challenging, so in the end I edited, abbreviated and otherwise amended the final assignment from Vicar School. Some of it I've already posted, but I'm going to put the whole lot here, partly at least because I have an awful feeling that in presenting myself thus I've maybe confused the issue...but I really REALLY didnt feel like doing a time line or similar tidy account of my faith journey, because that has not been the reality.
The journey so far,- a personal reflection using words borrowed from poetry as stepping stones along the way.
Though chronology is of course linear, my faith journey is perhaps more of a kaleidoscope than a clear pathway, with shifting fragments falling into patterns that can only be discerned when held up to the light. For each stage, poetry has given me glimpses of the numinous, a country `faire and farre beyond all telling’, and I’ve included some of these glimpses to give an emotional flavour of the time. I find this sort of “patchwork” writing a huge help in my spiritual journey, as I work out where I am and where God is in my experience through journalling and (latterly) through the spiritual aspects of my blog. In a kaleidoscope, the patterns are circular, like our journey from God to God, and so at the centre of the pattern some words of John Donne represent God’s presence in my life
“Thy firmnesse drawes my circle just
And makes me end where I begunne.”
Early childhood, a time of energy and security for me, is represented by lines from Browning’s “Pippa’s Song”
“The year’s at the spring, the day’s at the morn
Morning’s at seven, the hillside dew-pearl’d.
The lark’s on the wing, and the snail’s on the thorn
God’s in his heaven, all’s right with the world.”
An only child, secure in the knowledge that I’m the centre of my parents’ universe, I learn early that their security stems from a love that’s even greater than the love they lavish on me. My mother’s health is poor, the future may be uncertain, but it’s made clear to me that the facts are kind, that all will be well in some way that I can’t really grasp, but am content to accept, because all experience supports this.
Teenage years see the growing awareness of God in the beauty of music and liturgy, as I’m head chorister in a school which takes its worship, above all the Eucharist, with the utmost seriousness. Confirmation at 13 has little impact, but three years later I meet Herbert’s poem “Love bade me welcome” and recognise its truth. “So I did sit and eat”.
At 18 comes the abrupt transition from child to adult following the death of my parents. Returning home from school on the day of my father’s death, I’m revising for an A level the next morning. As I read, in a railway carriage somewhere near Pevensey Bay, the words on the page become solid, as God meets me, hugs me and holds me.
I have a sinne of feare, that when I have spunne
My last thred, I shall perish on the shore;
But sweare by thy selfe, that at my death thy sonne
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore;
And, having done that, Thou hast done,
I feare no more.
The direct knowledge of that love has stayed with me through everything that has happened to me, ever since.
My twenties, the period of falling in love and early married life, of childbirth and miscarriage, bring me up against God Incarnate, in all the mess, pain and joy of birth. The experience of birth and death, touching each other in miscarriage, is profoundly important to me; looking to blame God for his cruelty I find that he is there in the situation before me, as vulnerable baby and as suffering parent. It’s at this point that my faith becomes an integral essential of every day, as I realise that I can only share it with my children if I’m immersed in it myself…“And the word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
Busy years of motherhood, at home with small children, the days an endless welter of playgroups, tumbletots and music workshops…At a Family Service in Great Rissington one St David’s Day, I listen to the first ordained woman I’ve encountered. She has invited the children to search for crosses all round the church and now they are clustered at her feet as she talks about Celtic crosses. Suddenly a child’s clear voice begins to sing,
“God’s love is like a circle, a circle big and round
For when you draw a circle, no ending can be found
And so the love of Jesus goes on eternally
For ever and for ever…God’s love for you and me”
The voice is my 5 year old daughter’s and before the service ends I hear another Voice saying “You could do that for me too, you know”. It takes me almost 10 years to discover what this means, and arrive at the point of obedience, but as the kaleidoscope is held up to the light, the pattern is clearer. Training for Reader ministry, and then for Ordination…the excitement of new ways of thinking, of praying, of being with God and meeting God in other people. Ordination, with the huge sense of Gift about this calling and its possibilities . + M anointed our hands, which felt like the most powerful thing that's been done for me, ever. It has turned them into a sacramental sign in themselves, so that whatever I do, I use them and am reminded of my priesthood, a non-negotiable part of the person I now am. It means that when I stand at the altar saying those HUGE words, confronted repeatedly by my own inadequacy, the mismatch between aspiration and reality, I can look at my hands and remember the Grace that had been prayed down on me, the Love in which I live and move and have my being.