David Runcorn on Spiritual formation and the life journey

We are asked to consider how we got here this morning. Well, I travelled up the A52 in a blaze of sunshine, with the moon still out and a purple streaked sky, singing as I went with the roads free of traffic. Hoorah!

We begin this session with a powerpoint liturgy and by that I mean we pray for the powerpoint! And laugh, of course. David Runcorn is very funny. We bless the powerpoint equipment.

David draws our attention to Louise van Swaaij, Jean Klar, and David Winner's 'Atlas of Experience (2000)'. This is the book this morning's spiritual reflection is based upon.

The how 'we got here this morning' is actually a much bigger question than it at first appears.

Bill Bryson actually reflects on the odds of us being here at all - we are 'only one possible sequence of hereditary combinations' that could have been.

What is the geography of my life? We need to be aware of our biology, life stage, psychology, family networks, personal history etc. There is an official and an unofficial script - a theology of the guts rather than of the liturgical text. Even 'the critics' need to be there. What is driving us? God ultimately but there are other people too. Critical voices spur us on too whether we like to admit it or not. These voices have the potential to be destructive but God can use them. These people can sharpen up our self-identity - these people in the hinter-land have been both for good or ill. It all depends what God would have us learn.

The proliferation of ministries now means that many of us do not have a defined pathway because nothing is off limits. There used to be defined roles for each stage of life, these have gone. There used to be defined roles for the genders but there aren't now.

We look at a poem about a woman who wishes that she had loved more, eaten more ice-cream, swam in more rivers etc. What would your poem contain? What will they say about you in a eulogy? How will you have lived?

Rather than thinking chronology, consider what season you are in. Growth implies a season. Summer doesn't happen unless there's been a hard winter. There will be a time for all things and there is a rhythm.

On the wall there are demoninations written up on pieces of paper and we are going to put footprints up of an appropriate colour by labels that are appropriate to us. It is quite interesting to be real about the fact that we are all different here. Are we going to somehow redeem our divisions by recognising that they exist and coming to see what we can learn from one another? We will rate these labels in terms of how significant they are in our lives.

The labels of definite significance for me were Charismatic, Pentecostal, Church of England, Orthodox. Of moderate significance: Methodist, Roman Catholic and of minor significance: New Age, Islam and Baptist.

What we are not told is what the framework is for making these judgments. I have thought about those of most significance being the ones which define me, of moderate significance being the labels I have rubbed up against and the minor labels belong for me to conversations I am bound to have or have had with people who are defined more obviously by these labels.

We discover as a community that we group ourselves most heavily under Charismatic and Anglican.

We are then asked to create a timeline of our lives with significant events or people on it. We are also asked to consider how we would draw the terrain of our lives. Where are there tough journeying places, swamps, mountains, deserts etc. The language of journey is rich in metaphor for these purposes. The other way to capture our life journey is to draw a map 'London-underground' style with different lines for different parts of our lives: Education line, career line, family line, significant people line etc.

I guess we do not want to make inorganic something that is very holistic. God looks at the whole of our lives and there wouldn't really be a line that is more spiritual than another, for example. There is nothing that is not sacred to God apart from sin.

So consider where your lines cross into one another.

We finish with Psalm 139

Psalm 139

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,"
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God!
How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.
If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

Finishing with Psalm 139 redeemd this exercise for me. There is at time something which feels akin to self-indulgence when we embark on exercises like this one. As someone who is I suspect becoming more confessional as time goes on, (I actually want  to check my thinking on this), I want it to be all about God and not about myself but this God, whom I worship knows me completely, he knows all my ways, I can not hide from him. If he knows me so completely, he will also know at times, that I am questing to know myself better so that I might more fully glorify him, to see my weaknesses, my needs, even my depravity if you like. The more I know myself perhaps the more obviously I will come to rely on him amd prayer this morning was all about repenting for the times when we have done things in our own strength and not in God's.

I also suppose that part of our formation is this growth of self-awareness, so I will create my map, my rocky landscape and wonder whether when I get stuck in the swamps it will be God whom I look to to pull me out, I hope so.

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