Making Obedience Count

The last line of Brendan the Navigator’s prayer is,

Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

It is so easy for our spirits to be tuned elsewhere:  our own wisdom; common sense opinion; whatever suits our comfort and sensibilities; whatever is easier; or, whatever makes us just a bit less of a ‘radical’.  And yet, no one who seeks abandonment to the elements like Brendan and his companions, heeding the the wild call of the missionary God, could ever really be a safety loving bod.  The legend of Brendan suggests that his little band of followers made it from the shore of Ireland, all the way up to Iceland, Greenland and down the coast of North America.  That’s a long, ardous and maybe foolish journey in a wee boat.

But why?  Why the compulsion to move from the safety and comfort of where you are?  Why forsake the comfort of home and the familiarity of your present settled surroundings into the unknown?  You can call it stupidity, or you can call it obedience.

Truth be known, God doesn’t need us.  Yet, he choses to need us to further his mission.  There is something about bowing the knee to the Lordship of Jesus that says ‘your will be done, your Kingdom come.’  That, in my experience, ultimately moves you beyond your comfortable place into the ‘stormy sea’ of the unknown.

My longing is that, in whatever small way, that my submission to Jesus will be just once piece of the mosaic of God’s Kingdom.  My longing is that my surrendered life, when I actually get to that place and all the steps in-between, can simply mean something and count for something in the task of raising high the name of Jesus.  What we need is a heart tuned to heaven.

Another of my favourite spiritual writers, Oswald Chambers, in my reading from ‘My Utmost for His Highest’ this week said,

‘We need to rely on the resurrection life of Jesus on a much deeper level than we do now. We should get in the habit of continually seeking his counsel on everything, instead of making our own common sense decisions and then asking him to bless them.’
God, help me dig deep, set sail, and find the peace that comes with submission to your purposes.
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Dreams

Reflecting on the idea of what we sometimes do with our dreams, hopes and vision for our lives, inspired by Brendan’s missionary voyages, I’ve put into poetic form an idea of how we sometimes treat our dreams. What hope is there of unleashing them? The poem is called ‘Dreams’

Dreams
I laid you to rest, my dear ones.
Wrapped in the pages of yesterday’s hopes,
I watched you lying there before walking slowly away.
Thoughts of what might have been
fluttering across the mind like images
from the inspiring film adaptation
of my life.

These days I have mourned you
as I live the next best reality,
haunted by the tolling bells of conformity,
holding on to the dignity of a respectable life.
Yet, your spectre looms, haunting at first,
but then taking form as an inkling of opportunity again
as my mourning sloths on.

Yet, you are not dead, it is simply I who
have turned my back for comfort’s sake.
Lack of daring, lack of hope, red minus voices
telling my head to beat my heart.
Dare I resist the enemy, fear, and
find the vivid source of my being
awakening as I unwrap my dreams
and set them free?

Even now…

In many ways, I’m thankful that my path is far from smooth.  I am glad there is nothing to lull me into a complacent security behind self-built walls.  I’m glad for a heart pre-disposed to weakness and brokenness.  It is through the cracks of my own suffering that I can begin to enter into the suffering of another.

Brendan the Navigator says:

I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Those are some of the truest lines.  To recover something that is in the dark you need to step into it and win it over with light.  To know that, even when the way ahead is obscured and filled with seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, that my life is in his hand, gives a firmness to life that I wouldn’t want to be without.

‘Even now’ calls me to realise so many things.  I suppose, generally, I still feel a sense of being adrift.  I remain so far from the picture of how I thought my life would turn out.  Feeling displaced, homeless, and exiled, there are many times when ‘even now’ feels like a lonely place.  But that’s the point of the Navigator’s prayer.  He is articulating the cries of the heart that come from any who leave the comforts of home and safe harbour.  I can know in my ‘even now’ the familiarity of his presence.

feetIn my prayers this morning I was talking to God about this question of security and ‘home’.  His response was straight to the point:  ‘Home is where you take off your shoes, embrace vulnerability, and in the process, show others that the place you are standing is holy ground.’  It wasn’t what I wanted to hear, but its what I needed.  The call to follow Jesus is a barefooted walk.  Every step leaves the softness of the soles of your feet vulnerable to the pain of the walk, and yet, it is in the willingness to walk in a strange land that reveals the very heart and presence of God.

And so, far from home, away from all that is familiar, I discover that there is nowhere I can venture where his presence does not reside.  In him, I am always at home.

Journey Beyond the Familiar

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.  – TS Eliot

As I continue to spend some time with the Prayer of Brendan the Navigator this Lent, I remembered these lines by TS Eliot, words which speak to the very heart of journey and breaking new ground.  I am sure there are many worthies who have waxed lyrical on the meaning of this quotation.  I am not proposing that I have anything new to say, other than share the times when I have known the truth of it myself.

I’ve learned over the years that new places are not necessarily the things that teach us.  I’ve lived in several places and experienced many new things, new people and new opportunities.  It is quite possible to travel many miles and yet learn nothing.  If that is true of life experience, it is true of the relationship between me and God.

Coming into the presence of God as a young teenager was like a discovering that I’m not alone, that I’m loved, regarded, and seen.  As I grew, to come to God was to come into the presence of One with answers, direction, guidance and revelation.  The temptation, then, is to continue to try to come back to that place again and again, but God, whilst always the same, is never the same.  When I think I’ve got him pinned down, he reminds me he is Other.  And so, journeying on, I begin to learn to know God’s presence through patterns and forms, the rhythm of prayer and discipline, obedience and trust.  I discover that through the discipline of seeking him, he delights to dance around and enliven my human regularity.  I find him there, and then, one day, the forms empty, the patterns fade and all that remains are the questions in the silence.  The pursuit continues.

Stepping into the void, I fall into the arms of the God of Questions who causes me to search deeper within my own self, to wade through the driftwood and blockages of life which clutter up the divine flow within.  God becomes elusive but ever present, real but beyond reach.  I open myself to his mystery, fumble in some darkness until I come to the acknowledgement that ‘underneath are his ever lasting arms.’  Having got to the bottom and found him there, I’m released once more to approach him in simplicity, to know him again in all the ways I’ve experienced him in a new way!

Breaking new ground in faith is what comes through the determination of refusing to make God in my own image; in freeing him from my own limitations; and, in trusting him to be the one in whom all my exploration can take place. My guide in all this?  Jesus of Nazareth, whose knowledge of God is unsurpassed, but whose life shows me that God can be found, trusted and known as much as he can be lost, questioned and remain mysterious.

If, like Brendan, I am to  ‘leave the old ways and break fresh ground’ with God, then it is a commitment to permanent travel.  It is a commitment to always take a second look.  It is to see God’s presence and influence in places I looked before but didn’t find. It is the joy of being surprised, delighted and thrilled with the familiar, and to know all things again for the first time.

Lenten Resistance

I’ve been dreadfully unprepared for Lent this year, and whilst thats not the end of the world, I feel a little careless about it.  Having said that, being unprepared for Lent has brought me up close to some key questions around the idea of resistance.

I think I could easily make the excuse of an early Lent, so close after Christmas, an excuse, but I discern in myself a resistance to any sort of disciplined focussed.  Now, I can fairly easily talk myself out of that and straight into something a bit more rigorous, but I’m interested as to the reason for the resistance.   I’m interested in staying with the question at the moment.  How have I got to this place?

Again, it would be easy to apportion blame in all directions, but the real answer lies within me.  I have listened to a fear.  The fear comes in the shape of a sound which is readily heard from our current home, which is only a couple of hundred yards from St Albans Abbey.  The fear is that my faith in recent months has been more about ‘aligning to the chapel bell’ than it has been about ‘obedience to the voice of Jesus.’   Not a new phenomenon for me at all.  The line between following Jesus and leading in the church can become easily blurred in life.  It is a subtle line which can gently lead you away from the Bridegroom to focus on the Bride.

The call of Jesus, to my ears, has never been anything less than revolutionary.  And, whilst I’ve journeyed some way from the naivety of my Christian youth, I’ve always known that the Christian life is not one in which you can afford to settle.  There are always new questions, new explorations, and new realities to move into.  And yet, it becomes easy to quieten the voice of the radical Jesus of Nazareth for the sake of mediocrity, a tame folkish religion and a ‘more tea vicar’ life.

Don’t get me wrong, if any blame is to be apportioned here, it lies with no church, no people, no circumstance, but in ones own lack of watchfulness, alertness and focus.  Thankfully, long gone are the days of self flagellation that are so easy to slip into.  Instead, having received the ‘check’ in ones heart, you can then awaken yourself once again to the call, to the quiet revolution of the heart we are called to in Christ.

And so, Lent calls me again to that season of self exploration, refocus and renewing.  It gives me that opportunity to respond to the grace of God that continues to lap up on the shores of our lives and calls us out of safe harbour onto the sea of life and faith.

A prayer of St Brendon the Navigator:

Brendan Navigator
Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
 
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.