One of the beautiful things I and many enjoy through out the year is the rhythm of change we see in the seasons. As one season gives way to another it brings a change of temperature, colours and clothing! Change is normal, sometimes exciting and wonderful, sometimes unsettling and challenging. However, some change brings such levels of anxiety, that it can destabilise our sense of hope for the future. This year witnesses our nation embark on one of the most challenging changes it has encountered for over forty years as Brexit will finally happen. That alone sparks uncertainty in the hearts of those thinking seriously about its implications. However, added to this are the burdens of grief, bereavement, ill health and changes in circumstances that people manage daily.
The question I wish to present, and in part hope to answer, is how do we wait upon God through such change? Throughout the 100 Days of Prayer that we embarked on earlier this year I presented several resources that allow us to read Scripture slowly and prayerfully, creating stillness and thus giving God the opportunity to speak His words into our hearts. The stillness that such practice creates has facilitated Christians down the ages to be a source of wisdom, stability and the right kind of change throughout the centuries.
One of my favourite ways of being still before God is by using Imaginative Contemplation. The practice was developed by St Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th Century. It requires us to take a narrative passage from the Bible, usually one of the gospel stories, and then to read this slowly two or three times. Having done this, I then close my eyes and imagine myself into the scene of the passage, making a series of observations. First, I notice the environment of the scene; the weather, the clothing people are wearing, the general atmosphere and the quietness or busyness of the scene. Then I move more specifically to concentrate on who is in the scene, what do I imagine them doing? What is the expression on their faces and what does their general demeanour appear to be? I then start to concentrate on Jesus, again imagining what He may be doing, what He may look like, what He may be wearing and the expression or gestures He may be using in the scene. Finally, I seek to identify where I am in the scene and this part is crucial, because it’s at this point that the passage often becomes personal and I start to see things about myself, or the way Jesus is seeking to relate to me that I otherwise may not notice without such a time of stillness and reflection. During this period of reflection what’s important is to give one’s imagination the freedom to flow, not questioning the thoughts too much, and to notice my emotions as the scene develops. This method has provided deep insight into my own preconceptions of Jesus, insight into the way I see myself and often reorientated me to God’s voice over my life.
Change is inevitable, and I cannot avoid it. These tactics that I have described are not ways to avoid change, but they are ways to help us remain in a place of receptivity to the word of God at any given moment. Abiding in God’s word to us at any time, but particularly through times of change, creates a place of refuge for us and allows us to be orientated to where we are, that we are not held by the hands of circumstance and random chance, but firmly embedded in hands scarred by His love for us.
May I take this opportunity to wish you all a blessed 2019, and no matter what we face, expected or unexpected, may we be a people who abide in God, both in and out of change.
Martin Makin (Ordinand)