“Following Jesus and Discovering the Space for God”.
Lent study 2021
Introduction and Part 1
Where creature stops, God begins to be. Now all God wants of you is for you to go out of yourself in the way of creatureliness and let God be within you. The least creaturely image that takes shape in you is as big as God. How is that? It deprives you of the whole of God. As soon as this image comes in, God has to leave with all his Godhead. But when the image goes out, God comes in. God desires you to go out of yourself (as creature) as much as if all his blessedness depended on it. My dear friend, what harm can it do you to do God the favour of letting Him be God in you? Go right out of yourself for God’s sake, and God will go right out of Himself for your sake! When these two have gone, what is left is one and simple.
My hope is that something in our Lent Study will open a door for you; or rather that Jesus will open a door for you, and invite you to explore what lies within.
You may well find it helpful to keep a notebook and pen handy. If you are not used to journaling, perhaps now might be a time to start. In any case, each session leaflet has some spare paper for notes . . . but don’t allow this to be ‘just another Lent course’. Not because in one sense it is ‘just another lent course’, but because every word from God is that which we live by, and is an invitation to walk further into Life. We never come to the end of it . . .
A word on this study material
‘Study’ Sounds a bit heavy, no?
‘Study’ originally meant to have an affectionate attention towards. In this old sense it is different from what we might call ‘scientific’, or ‘objective’ study. True study risks losing itself in its subject for the sake of Love, for the sake of Knowing the Truth which might therefore set us free.
This material can be used in a group, but should first be used alone. The questions are given to lead us into silence and waiting on God and your own truth and within the confines of a set time this isn’t possible.
The material isn’t given as it were to be ‘kicked around’ in conversation and ‘many words’ [Matthew 6:6,8]. Often study, even amongst Christians becomes ‘analysis’ – literally taking apart.
But we are in the business of Life, and Life will not allow herself to be ‘judged’ in such a way.
When we analyse, we are rather like a child who having seen a toy taken apart to find how it works, decides to apply the same idea to the family cat! (We murder to dissect – as Wordsworth said of the spirit of analysis)
Imagine this Life, this Truth as something delicate, humble, not wishing to parade herself and not given to ‘show herself off for our inspection and judgement’ [Matthew 16:4, John 7:1-10].
It will come to you in its own time if you are patient and desire it. If however we just want answers to our questions, then it will not show itself. (Perhaps the book of Job is in part a warning about ‘easy answers’?). There is a Knowing, the goal of our Christian Life, which does not know, and is quite content.
If you are part of a group make sure you leave plenty of time in the week to sit with the material.
It may be that you find it difficult to share some of the things you discover. Seek out someone who can listen to you if that is the case.
Jesus says ‘when two or three gather in my name, there I am in their midst’, not ‘when twenty or thirty . . .’ Intimacy with one another is where we find Jesus amongst us . . . Beyond a certain number that intimacy becomes impossible. Indeed Jesus himself had an inner circle of three disciples with whom he shared the most intimate things, and warned against great disclosures to those whom we do not know well.
A word on ‘not carrying on’
There may be moments when you want to stop. Do.
Although these studies have a direction and I hope will help us deeper into the life that is offered to us in Jesus, it may be that God has another agenda with you at this time. If a question sends you on a different journey, then take time to pursue that.
This study is about the beginning and the end, but it is not the beginning and the end.
A word on Silence.
‘to have the wellspring of silence inhabit us is the source of true happiness’ Maggie Ross (Anglican Solitary)
“Stay in your room, in the silence of your heart, and it will teach you everything” Saying of the Desert Fathers
All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone,”
Silence is the wellspring of Life. Yet in our mechanical age Silence is so very hard to find. Silence can seem strange, threatening even. Which means we can always find reasons not to avoid her. God is Good. If our desire is for Him, then there is nothing to fear from any thought that arises within us.
Perhaps further questions. Challenges maybe. Things we wish we hadn’t noticed. Trust God in silence. Even, perhaps especially it is the difficult things which are shown us for his good purposes with us. (Luke 5:31) Eternal Life springs up, when we are silent.
On the use of scripture.
Try as we might, we world we inhabit trains us in reading scripture off the surface, literally. Some folk demand that the truth of scripture is the literal truth, others who may be uncomfortable with this, find difficulty with scripture precisely because they read it literally.
Throughout this study scriptures will be found, but in an older way. Indirectly. If we will allow, Scripture is not given as an answer book to our questions; rather, as God appears to Job, Scripture questions us.
Remember what we said about Study and Love? Love is rich beyond imagining, and it is two way. Scripture can speak to us in ways we never imagined, as long as we allow it. Like the one who speaks through it, it is also gentle and humble of heart, not displaying itself . . .
Finally, just to say that both Lisa and myself are available for conversation throughout. Sunday evenings in Lent – 3rd Sundays aside – will be given over for those who are seeking help with the material.
But enough. It is time to open the door . . .
Part 1. “Hide and Seek“
“Seek God’s Kingdom . . .”
“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.”
T.S. Elliott – Little Gidding
“Shortly after that, they looked into a room that was quite empty except for one big wardrobe; the sort that has a looking-glass in the door. There was nothing else in the room at all except a dead blue bottle on the window sill”
C.S. Lewis, The lion, the witch and the wardrobe
Long ago, do you remember? When you were a child? Playing ‘Hide and Seek’? This may evoke many memories.
For myself, several are centered around my Grandfather’s farm in what was then North West Lancashire. In particular the large old farmhouse was a scene of much play with my brothers and cousins, when we weren’t being rebuked and chased outside ‘on such a lovely day!’.
The farmhouse, Bolton Manor, was splendid as its name suggests. Downstairs the entrance was though a narrow corridor into a spacious kitchen. The entrance to the pantry was on the left down some steps into the cool earth, and was surrounded by slate tables for the preparation of meats etc. (I can smell it to this day)
On through the kitchen, one stepped into a huge ‘living room’, the scene of many a New Year’s party, and full of furniture behind which one might hide. A particularly fine old oak Grandfather Clock stood in one corner. The door from that room led out to the right into a hallway, with other rooms leading off, and an oak paneled stairway above which loomed a brooding gilt framed copy of Landseer’s ‘Monarch of the Glen’.
It was up those stairs that so often we’d go to hide, in one of the many bedrooms or side rooms. The whole upper floor seemed to be pervaded by the musty smell of old horse tack, the days of working horses even then more than a generation in the past.
You could find many places to hide away in these rooms, some suffering from an air of neglect . . .
Take a moment to pause . . . enter your own childhood memories. Did you know such ‘Hide and Seek’, and perhaps a neglected room? What was the feel of that room?
C.S. Lewis opens a door to the hidden world of Narnia. A door through a wardrobe in a remote room in a large house. It is the children who find it, the adults long having abandoned it as the ‘real world’ demands crowd out time and space for anything else. Time and space for journey and adventure, for hiding and seeking.
When did you last give time to journey and adventure?
Do those words in anyway reseonate with your faith?
Perhaps in Lent, if we are not too ‘serious’, too ‘grown up’, we might give some time and space to such a diversion? After all, we are given permission to do something different at this season in the Church calendar.
Whether or not we have such memories of large houses to play in in our childhood, all of us have such a door close to home. As we take time in study this Lent, perhaps we might seek out the room, and find the door, and enter into . . . well where? Lewis was by his own description, a Christian Platonist . That is that ‘the real world’ partially obscures ‘The Real World’. Not that they are utterly different, but that as we allow our focus to lengthen, we might ‘gaze through’ the things that are seen. As St Paul puts it, ‘we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are passing away, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ 2 Cor 4:18 .
Put another way, For Lewis, Narnia is The Real World. A world everywhere present and at the same time, hidden away from the casual gaze of an adult or indeed a child who doesn’t pause to wonder . . .
The title of this study may seem a little odd. As if it is two different studies: one on ‘Following Jesus’; the other on “Finding the space for God”.
Take a moment to pause . . . What does each title suggest to you? What questions?
Each of the gospels in different ways begins with disciples following Jesus. In Matthew, Mark and Luke this following follows a direct command of Jesus to the fishermen by Galillee. In John it is the curiosity of the disciples who evoke Jesus’ invitation.
Furthermore, in Matthew and Luke there is a suggestive echo of that game of hide and seek. Jesus says ‘Ask, and it will be given you, seek and you shall find, knock and it will be opened to you’
Take a moment to pause . . . Ask for what? Seek? For what? What will be opened if I knock?
No answer is provided, just questions . . . Rather like an old wardrobe in the corner of a neglected room, something addresses us, with questions. Questions are like the door in the back of the wardrobe, they allow us to enter into a wider space. Answers close the door, Questions invite us in
Perhaps before rushing to many words, we might go into our room and wait for something to suggest itself . . . Matthew 6:6
“It’s all in Plato, all in Plato: Bless me, what do they teach them at these schools?” Digory Kirke
The Last Battle, CS Lewis
 See also Hebrews 11:3