The last day of 2016, and like many others I am reflecting on the year. I have much to be thankful for, but to be honest I am still feeling a bit turned upside down and inside out. For me it was the year of the big move, late 2015 brought about the decision to curtail my appointment in the Blackpool Methodist Circuit and to move, when I decided to do so I had no idea where I would end up, though I have to smile because I can remember clearly crying out to God in prayer, which finished with the strange ending “I just want to go and live up a hill somewhere! So here I am in Sheffield, the city built around 7 hills, and living a good way up one of them!
That may sound flippant, but underneath the joke there is the story of a huge step, and a decision that needed to be made, albeit with a heavy heart and a good deal of trepidation, not least because it was the first decision that I had made for me, and only for me, for over 30 years. Before that the question of family needs etc. always took priority.
I am have often been asked over the last couple of months if I am settled and happy here, and while I can in some senses say yes I am hesitant to do so because the truth is I am still finding my feet, and still getting to know people. I have been blessed with real caring from colleagues and church members alike, and I am very thankful for that, but while my house looks pretty sorted; I am practised at moving, I sat and added up all of the moves I have made in my 54 years to discover that it comes to 23! Some of those were impermanent short stays, and others longer, but that is a crazy amount of moving. The longest I lived anywhere was in Tollesbury in Essex for 9 years, so there is a bit of me that is not sure what settled is.
I think I have always tried to be settled, tried to make a comfortable home, and when I look back that has meant everything from hiding the patchwork element to a carpet under a suitable chair, to creating a coffee table out of a chess board and a cardboard box, to actually buying new furniture! Yet none of that seems particularly important now. Being settled I think has very little to do with things, and much more to do with a state of heart and mind, something until now I am not sure that I have grasped particularly well. As I reflect upon that I wonder if the greatest challenge is to be settled with who I am, and that means accepting myself with all of my faults and flaws, and perhaps even more, to accept that this faulty and flawed being is accepted and loved by the God who dreamt her up, and who is calling her out into the spacious possibilities of life in all of its fullness.
Tomorrow I will be preaching, not on the Epiphany as I suspect that will be done the next week, but instead on the presentation of the Christ-child at the Temple, we will hear the words of Simeon and Anna, who saw the potential and possibilities of God presented to them in an ordinary and vulnerable baby, and will ponder the mystery that somehow through the life and teaching of that child we too are called to enter into that potential and those possibilities.
Simeon and Anna recognised in the child Jesus the Christ-light, the God spark, the light that brings life to all coming into the world, the creative word made flesh. Throughout his ministry Jesus led a nomadic lifestyle, and yet he was settled with who he was and whose he was ( just read the beginning of John 13). As I meditate upon this I wonder if this is the deeper question that I am seeking to answer, am I settled with who I am and whose I am, am I content to allow the blessing of God to permeate my whole being with life and light, even my faults and flaws, with divine and unstoppable love? To accept, and the late Leonard Cohen penned “that there is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in!”.
I guess my issue is that I struggle with my own sinfulness, with those things I know that I do that separate me from divine love, and sometimes because I choose a lesser comfort, because when I pause to consider it the offer of love is just too overwhelming for me to take! How can I be loved so perfectly and so completely.
In her famous thirteenth showing Julian of Norwich asked Jesus:
“In fear and trembling “O good Lord, how can all be well when great harm has come to your creatures through sin? and here I wanted, if i dared to have some clearer explanation to put my mind at rest”, and he said ” since I have brought good out of the worst-ever evil, I want you to know this; that I shall bring good out of lesser evils too.
Perhaps I might ask, how can I be settled when I see all too clearly my faults and flaws, to receive the response “I will bring good from them, but first you must offer them to me…” That of course is Gospel reconciliation, it is something I preach and know with a gut knowing to be true. It is love in action calling forth love, and it is ultimately I believe what we all long for, to quote Augustine of Hippo:
“Thou hast made us for theyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
So, as I reflect on my move, and reflect on the many changes and upheavals there have been in my life over recent years, I can say that I am more settled now than I have been for a long time, perhaps more settled than I have ever been, but that has nothing to do with geography but is about recognition and acceptance. It is about accepting that I am accepted and have nothing to prove whilst still striving to be the best that I can be, accepting that discipleship will not be without stops and stumbles, but also that I walk and work with the one whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. I am settled that I am not perfect (far from it), but have no need to wear a mask. I am settled that I am loved, though sometimes I struggle to live out the implications and truth of that. I am settled that I am a part of the Body of Christ in whom the fullness of Christ dwells, and that is a wonder and a mystery and a terrifying truth, and it is one that I must tell myself, and tell others, as I so often say, quoting Isaiah, “you are precious and honoured by the divine”, or Psalm 139 ” you are fearfully and wonderfully made…”
In a world that seems intent on erecting barriers and creating outsiders the love that we who are settled in Christ are called to share has no place for them, for it sees no boundaries and seeks to create a place for ALL.
Anna and Simeon saw the possibilities and potential of such love in the tiny Christ-child, they also saw the cost and the pain of it, but more than anything else the saw a love that wins, an overwhelming, overcoming love, a love that will if we let it, settle our souls.