On Sunday I’ll be renewing my vows as a Companion of the Northumbria Community – an annual occurrence for each member of our Community. It is a special time. Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, is a naturally reflective time, but this adds an extra dimension. It’s time to revisit our Rule…which isn’t about regulations, but about a provocative framework for life and discipleship. It’s not intended to ‘tie us in to a system’ but to shape our lives around key questions.
This last year, these questions, which the whole community live out, have been so poignant for me:
- Who is it that you seek?
- How then shall we live?
- How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
These are exile questions…questions from the desert. Questions that are asked between Egypt and the Promised Land, between the first advent and the second, and after Christendom…until whatever emerges next. I know that the penny hasn’t dropped for every Christian or every church, but we navigate a landscape where the Christian story is no longer dominant. Many live in such a way as to try and regain that dominance. Others recognise that Christianity has often been its most robust and healthy when it has occupied the margins of society.
My hunch – and it is a very ‘Baptist’ hunch – is that Christianity occupying a central stage this side of eternity is a compromised Christianity on the whole. Politics and ‘my rights’ take the place of humility, service and radical faith. By radical I don’t mean radicalised in the modern sense of the word, but radical in the sense of paying attention to our humble but significant roots. I guess this is why the questions are so significant to me in my own discipleship.
My answers to those questions aren’t so much destinations, but journeys…which sounds cliche, but that’s what open questions do. They’re questions that can be asked several times a day and yield different answers, priorities, realities and perspectives. They lead me far beyond ‘why’ towards the courage needed to adapt and move forward. I’ve found them to be the best companions.
The rest of the Rule seeks to make a corporate response to the questions, and to aid us in adding our ‘YES!’ to the core values of AVAILABILITY and VULNERABILITY, which, when fully embraced, returns us to risky living for Christ and the gospel. It has been these questions and these key elements that have called me back into life and ministry this year, in a year where every other resource seemed to elude me. It changed my ‘why’ to ‘and so, what next’ – and that is no small thing.
I still feel like I am inhabiting an ‘in-between’ place, like many of us are right now. I am trying not to resist or fear this, but to embrace it and find the joy in it. Easier said that done, but there but for the grace of God we go!