Back to my favourite question from St Francis of Assisi, ” who are you oh Lord and who am I?”, or perhaps as Rachel Held Evans asks it in her book Inspired (1), “Why Christian?”. Why am I a Christian, why am I choosing to try to walk the path that I feel called to by an unlikely man who was born in questionable circumstances, upset the authorities and made friends with the excluded, the outcasts and the downright strange. A man who told stories rather than giving straight answers, and who revealed the teachings of the ancients in a new light, a man who calls to us through history, inviting us to weave our stories into his-story and to find life there, bread and wine re-membering us as we remember him, living water to flow from our souls to refresh the dry parched places, and to flow through us into a thristing world.
Why am I a Christian? Perhaps as I begin to turn myself around to prepare to return to work after a sabbatical, a work that calls me as a Methodist Minister and Superintendent to live and tell the story of Christ, of the Godly kin-dom, of love and hope and freedom to others, to seek vision and to continue to enable Spirit-led mission to flow through the church(es), that is a good question to ask! As I read that last sentence back to myself I am met by an overwhelming certainty that I cannot do it, and the only way forward is to give myself, my whole self, to something bigger, to someone more expansive, to a story that refuses for all its’ conundrums, frustrations and confusions refuses to let me go, not that I can let go of it for it has become a part of me. I am no longer my own (2), nor do I wish to be.
I am no longer my own, but that does not mean I no longer exist, I am still me with my history, my quirks, faults and flaws, I am still me with the gifts that I bring. I am me capable of huge self doubt, that as I turn to return to work is screaming rather loudly at this moment in time. So I am asking those questions, “Who are you O Lord, and who am I? and Why Christian?
One of the first things I will do on my return is to lead a Cafe Church to look at the Methodist Marriage and Relationships Paper, “God in Love Unites” Us (3), engaging with the people who will be there on the nature of our human relating and living. It strikes me that engaging with the stories of the person of Jesus is a good place to start, Jesus who often met those who came to him with the searching question “what do you want/ want me to do for you?”
To answer that question for myself I have to take myself to a well in Samaria (4), where a woman has gone in the midday heat, being there at this unusual time (most women would have gone in the cool of the early morning ) tells its’ own story, she was ostracised by her community. Here the woman runs into Jesus, and in the ensuing conversation he reveals her to herself, he knew everything about her and yet he did not condemn her, in fact he freed her from her shame!
As I prepare to engage with the contents of the Marriage and Relationships Paper, and with the Scriptures, and with the Spirit who brings life, I can only do so as myself. I am the woman at the well, my past is relevant here. I am the child of divorce, after a turbulent few years my parents divorced when I was 12 , I was a confused teenager who muddled love and sex and got lost in the search for love! I was the pregnant 19 year old single mother, I lived with my partner before getting married, I had 5 children before I was 30. ( Deep breath). I am divorced myself, and in recent months have allowed myself to acknowledge the truth about my own sexuality. I could be the Marriage and Relationships Paper’s poster girl!
In all of this, and through all of this my deepest need is met in Christ, in the story of Jesus who accepts the woman at the well how she is and for who she is, who frees her from her own shame and her questions of correctness stating that true worshippers worship in spirit and in truth. God is not contained within the parameters of a building or a book, but working in her world, and in her people, whispering to those who have ears to hear that we are precious and honoured, fearfully and wonderfully made (5).
We are precious and honoured, fearfully and wonderfully made, I am precious and honoured, fearfully and wonderfully made, you are precious and honoured, fearfully and wonderfully made….
Just let that sink in to your life a little deeper….
We are called by love to love because God loved us, and loves us first (6), we are connected with the glorious diversity of the whole of creation to the one who slipped into human flesh, walked the dusty pathways of this world, hungered, thristed, laughed and told stories. Connected to the one whose challenge to the authorities and powers of his day ended in a gruesome death, an execution, on a cross, flesh torn and ripped, side pierced, experiencing lostness and crying out in the agony of the whole world. Showing us God in total vulnerability, calling us to follow, to die that we might live.
As I encounter this part of his-story I have to acknowledge that in asking who am I?, I encounter my fears, my pride and my ego afresh, I want to slip on the mask of capability and coping, of correctness and ability, but when I go to look for it, I find that it has melted away. I can only offer who I am, all of who I am to the task before me. If there is any hiding to be done, then I must find myself hidden with Christ in God (7), for only there is my true self revealed, and only there can I receive the life giving living water that I need.
I am the woman at the well, I carry with me my shame for who I am and what I have been, I am the woman who needs to encounter Christ on a daily basis so that he can look me in the eye again and tell me who I really am, and from that reality not my ego-centric masked reality, that is not real at all I need to live.
Who are you O Lord? I believe that you are the creator and sustainer of all that is, the deep mystery somehow revealed in the person of Jesus over 2000 years ago whose story still speaks in/by Spirit and in truth to us today… I believe that somehow you invite me to participate in your story as you invite all, with the wonderful message that none, not one are excluded from your love…. ( I could go on).
Who am I? I am a precious and loved child of God, fearfully and wonderfully made to reflect something of your image within the glorious diversity of the myriad rainbow hewn creation.
Why Christian? Because I am captivated by the person and story of Jesus, he is the one who has met me by the well, he is the one who best ( for me) reveals me to myself, turns me around and sets me free.
I return to work on Sunday to lead a congregation into praying the Covenant Prayer… “I am no longer my own but yours”, a prayer that ends with the deeply relational ” you are mine and I am yours”, we are intertwined. I am held by a love that will not let me go!
Inspired- Rachel Held-Evans pg 164 Nelson Books 2018
I am heading into the last week of this part of my sabbatical, people are asking me if I have enjoyed it, and I have to be honest to say no not really, I have benefitted from it, learned from it, enjoyed bits of it, but it hasn’t been fun, it has been work, deep reflective, different work.
I went to worship today with the people of Broomhill Methodist Church, it felt right, it was their last service as a worshipping congregation, they took the decision to cease to meet earlier this year, and have given the building into Circuit Trusteeship, it was a bold and brave decision, one not taken lightly, but one taken thoughtfully and creatively. It was a privilege to be with them.
They gave me pause for thought, the decision to let go was taken years ago when the church took ownership of their then new building, they have held it lightly, and that enabled them to do what they have done, hard and painful though it was.
Throughout my sabbatical I have been reflecting on our need to let go, on my need to let go, let go of my expectations of myself, my perfectionism and self condemnation, I need to let go, to let go of my inner critic who haunts me with self-doubt and fears.
I have not enjoyed my sabbatical, not in the way that people are hoping for, but I have received from it, I have received unexpected affirmations and encouragements from people who have walked with me through some of the difficult parts of life. Who still walk with me.
I reflect that so often we want to name/ describe our Christian journeys as neat and tidy, as journeys that make sense, as “good news stories” but in a brittle and superficial way, because if we told our whole tale and shared our doubts and fears we might not be the people others expect us to be, and yet we, as people of the book are people of a book filled with conundrums, light and shadow, laments, fears and more.
So why is it so difficult for us to speak out our truths, our insecurities, our realities, maybe we are uncomfortable with them, feeling that we must present a respectable front to the world, worried about being judged, criticised, unacceptable. As I sat with the people at Broomhill today I was hit by the fact that I have a responsibility to them, and to the community as the building is received by the Circuit where I am a Superintendent. I felt a wave of insecurity, of self-doubt and dare I say, of fear.
What if I fail them, what if we fail them, what if the things they and I hope for do not come to pass…?
It is so easy for us to tie ourselves in knots, and yet we claim to follow one who did not shrink from pain and hardship, who embraced the broken, who included the excluded, and the God who calls us fearfully and wonderfully made, and knows us inside and out, faults, flaws, quirks and brokenness and asks us to entrust ourselves to love, a love that overlooks all of that and works in and through is for our transformation, the God who calls us to work with and walk with her letting go of our expectations and allowing the Spirit to blow through our lives bringing life in unexpected ways.
I am not very good at letting go, and very good at beating myself up. As the end of this section of my sabbatical approaches I have to own that I have doubts and fears as I face the coming year, but know that I will be starting it with the words of the Methodist Covenant Prayer, placing myself into the hands of God; saying “I am no longer my own but yours”… letting go…
The chalk pastels are part of my sabbatical project, when I tell myself I have done nothing I must remind myself that I have created 60 of them!