Following Jesus – Finding the Space for God

Preface and Invitation

The seed idea for this came about several months ago in conversation about ‘Space for God’. Since then, in the midst of so much, and with so much in the midst of me, it has proven to be one of those ideas which has born much fruit, not least in my own walk with Jesus.

As I’ve been preparing, words from a John Bell hymn go round and round in my head. Will you come and follow me?

Will you go where you don’t know, and never be the same?

An invitation from Jesus?

Perhaps The invitation from Jesus 

Perhaps it has been the last year which in so many ways has thrown the world into radical uncertainty, as foundations were tested and many have failed. Perhaps it has been the unknowns my family has faced in many ways. Yet it is in this moment, when things fall apart, dimly glimpsed, light comes through the cracks.

In this moment the gentle light of an invitation pierces the wall of noise and confusion, of fear and uncertainty. In this moment the sound of a silent voice breaks the glare of a million screens with their incessant demands –  ‘Look Here!’ ‘Look There! ‘This is what you need to pay attention to  . . .’  –  that sound of sheer silence – ‘Follow me, where you do not know, and never be the same’

Will we go where we don’t know? In the midst of so much ‘uncertainty’ this perhaps sounds like an invitation to ‘the last journey we want to make’; or perhaps it’s an invitation to discover something in the last place we’d think of looking . . . In a sense it is both

And never be the same? We look outwards towards what we call ‘the world’ and see so much that needs changing, and of course so much in so many ways is changing. Some people have called this age that of The Great Acceleration

All of this reminds me of the hobbits in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. They leave a place they know so well. A place marked above all by comfort and familiarity, a place they know and love. They embark on a journey, they know not where, and upon their return to The Shire, they are so changed that they are almost unrecognisable.

I wonder. If they had known what lay ahead of them, would they have ever set out? The Shire. Comfortable and Familiar. Change . . . hmmmm . . . Yet it is precisely unsettling stories from around the edge of their idyllic world which summon them forth on the journey. The world is not as they understand it to be.

Where are we in our journey of faith? Are we surrounded by the comfortable and familiar? Or perhaps do we look around in anxiety? ‘Fewer people these days . . .’ – ‘things don’t seem the same’ Jesus says ‘Follow me’, but do we anxiously cling to the known?

Jesus walks on. Do we let go and go with him?

We love to hear the words ‘God is with us!’, and ‘The Lord is Here!’, yet the God we meet in Jesus is perhaps less than comfortable? He calls us away from the familiar place to . . . Where? “Follow me!”, but where?

Vaya con Dios – ‘Go with God!’ is a Spanish blessing . . . and an invitation. There is perhaps a whole world of difference between ‘Jesus walks with me’, and ‘I walk with Jesus’

As I’ve pondered the material emerging in front of me, I’ve noticed more than once that phrases can have subtly different meanings. ‘Will you go where you don’t know?’ This might suggest ‘an invitation to an unknown place’, or it might further suggest a place where we find we don’t have the answers.

Life can present us with this, and it’s not a place in which we feel comfortable. Perhaps especially as Christians, ‘not having the answer’ can be an uncomfortable place, yet is our Christian life about having the security of answers?

We like answers. Having ‘The Answers’ keeps us secure, but like hobbits, if we step out on a journey beyond the borders of the Shire, beyond the borders of the familiar, beyond the borders of our own understanding . . . there are perhaps more questions than answers, many more. And perhaps also a sense that it is not our questions of God and the World that are remotely as significant as some other questions.

A friend once went to live as a hermit high in the French Alps. After a while the solitude and quiet and boredom got to him. He had expected a rich spiritual time with God, and cried out into the void ‘Who are you?’ only to hear the question echo back to him, ‘Who are YOU?’

Who Are you?

You might like to sit with that question in Silence

Silence has a special role to play in our lives. Without it words would be just a meaningless string of noise. Silence, space between words brings them to life. Thinking about this for a moment suggests ‘God’ to me . . .

Without the Silence, nothing can be distinguished from anything else. In a world dominated by noise, and endless words do we find confusion, or the delightful order and harmony which sprung from the Silence of God?

So there is much silence, and perhaps this material might draw us deeper into silence. But what about groups? As you may be aware, I have struggled to communicate how this material might work with groups—which we tend to meet in for Lent  🙂

Journeying alone, together.

Jesus goes ahead of us, alone. He went on a journey at Passiontide, and upon his return his disciples had trouble recognizing him.

Lent is a season when in preparation for the Passion of Jesus we make a little space for God in the midst of our busy lives.

Often this has been through studies in groups. I wonder how many of these we might have participated in over the years. How many questions we might have answered together and how many words spoken? How were we changed? How did our groups change?

Not long after I arrived here, someone said to me, ‘oh, we don’t talk about ‘that’ here’. ‘That’ was an issue which has proved to be divisive in the wider Church. 

Perhaps what it has done for the wider church has revealed that our sense of unity was mere words. But is there a different Unity which is not frightened by disagreement, which does not need the security of ‘being right’

Difference and Uniqueness . . .

From time to time I’ve found myself in situations in the church where those who desire unity will lament, ‘there is more that unites us than divides us’ Yet, when asked to say what it is that unites us, often little if nothing of substance seems to emerge.

Making the journey, following Jesus, we might discover how vast is that which unites us, and how little which divides us. We are far more alike than we tend to think in a world which values diversity. We have a tendency to confuse ‘Difference’ and ‘Uniqueness’. We are at the same time each utterly unique, yet also the same . . .

Insofar as a group will assist in the study it is largely in sharing silence, and yet also having the gentle courage to share from what arises within us. Not ‘what we think about the material. But what thoughts arise . . .

We think ‘about’ and talk ‘about’ a lot. But this is all ‘about’, it is indirect. Do we seek something which comes directly towards us out of the depths of Being?

 ‘Deep cries to Deep’ says the Psalmist

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

I haven’t set out where this course leads, not out of a sense of trying to be clever, but because in truth I don’t know. The material has sort of emerged over the past few months. Where it leads for each one of us, where it leads for us as a local body of Christ, I don’t know. All I know is that God is Good, and if we Follow Jesus we will find the Space for God

Eric

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