Thursday, April 23, 2015

What's so special about four days in Hertfordshire?

Home from another extraordinary, wonderful week at On Fire.

How do I explain, to people who weren't there, why I value this so much?
It's really not my sort of thing - or at least, that would be my dispassionate analysis.

Yes, the speakers were excellent...I've listened with delight to pretty much all that Dave Tomlinson has had to say whether at Greenbelt, in print, or anywhere else that I have encountered him for well over a decade now...Nick Baines was the first bishop I was ever on tweeting terms with...and Margaret Sentamu was a wonderfully wise, steady, calming presence at my Selection Conference back in the mists of time...but though they said all sorts of things I needed to hear, it wasn't their presence that made the week so good.

Perhaps it was the worship? It is a delight to be somewhere where catholic liturgical practice is offered without the slightest vestige of ponce...beautifully, joyfully, because it just WORKS! 
Benediction is, quite simply, a process of immersion in total Love that has brought me to my knees since I first encountered it as a chorister at St John the Divine, Kennington, when I and the world were young... 
but despite this, and even though I am (slowly!) growing out of my rather snobby Cambridge-chorister "if it's not Thomas Tallis I don't want to sing it" mentality, I'll never find that style of worship music my first language when it comes to praising God.

Maybe not the worship then?

OK - it must have been the people, surely! Friends with whom I can share things I don't really want to acknowledged in myself...people who get (and share) my confusion when the God who is sometimes more present than I am to myself seems to disappear the moment I turn away...people who rejoice when I am overjoyed and offer hugs that need no words when I am struggling...People with whom I can run the risk of vulnerability, present myself warts and all, and not fear rejection.
But no - they are wonderful, an immeasurable blessing in my life - but it's not really about them.

It is, overwhelmingly, about the experience of worshipping with a community that EXPECTS GOD TO ACT.
So often we allow God so many get-out clauses, pray in such extraordinarily vague or bland ways that we will never know if our prayers have been answered, if I am honest, behave as if we have no faith at all, rather than risk disappointment.

I'm rarely comfortable with the assumption that God will act in particular ways...I know from personal experience how it feels to be the ONLY child in the school SU not to find herself speaking in tongues on a windy Tuesday almost a life-time ago...but I am even less comfortable with those behaviours which seem to preclude any possibility of God's action at all.

And at On Fire I know that the vast majority are open to being surprised by God in whatever way God chooses...
When, during the more than wonderful final Eucharist today, I was allowed the enormous privilege of anointing some of my fellow pilgrims, I was TERRIFIED. All my anxieties about whether or not I was really experiencing the Holy Spirit in those moments of wonder that leave me unexpectedly horizontal...coupled with those which attach inevitably to an important preach...and then the extra twitches accruing to "Can I remember where I ought to be when, if we're celebrating Mass properly"..all of those had collaborated to create a very insecure and nervous Kathryn.

Until the moment when I found myself, oil pot in hand, praying for the first person ...and realised that actually I was being given the opportunity to speak God's love and ask for God's blessing on each one of them, trusting God to tell me whatever it was that they most needed to hear.

And - oh my goodness - it was EXTRAORDINARY.

Another reminder that once I can get my own silly self out the way, God really IS up for anything.
Isn't that reason enough to love On Fire?
It's somewhere that God teaches me things I am lamentably slow to learn - but always the process of learning is one of joy and delight.

Bless the Lord, O my soul - indeed.

No comments: