Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Greenbelt 2010 Soul Space Meditations

So another Greenbelt has come and gone and hopefully we've all returned home with new ideas and new challenges. Thank you to those of you who asked me to put these up on line. These are the meditations from Soul Space on the theme of the Art of Looking Sideways. Please feel free to pass these on but please reference back to this page. Many thanks.

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number One
Looking Sideways at Chaos

There is an on-going battle, it seems, between order and chaos. One might argue that wars have been fought over it. Order sometimes means, ‘What my country thinks is the right way to govern’, and you might even wonder whether both the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were the result of the democratic ruling powers perceiving the alternatives as being chaotic and trying to impose order.

It happens on every level. Have you cleared up after someone, or been cleared up after? Converting chaos to order seems to be a human drive.

The battle between order and chaos is also a continuing theme throughout the Bible. In fact it’s there right at the beginning, and is only resolved right at the end. For the Jew, and for the early Jewish Christians, chaos was represented by the sea. If you read scripture carefully you can get an idea of the understanding of the universe that the early Israelites had. To them, (and you can read this in the first creation story in Genesis 1), the world was flat. Over the world, God had created a dome across which the sun, moon and stars moved. That dome kept in check the waters of chaos, the blue behind the sky. Underneath them, the earth kept in check the waters below, which sometimes bubbled up, and were seen in the seas and oceans. God’s judgement, seen in the flood story beginning in Genesis 6, was to allow the waters of chaos access to the world. So in Genesis 7:11 you see the ‘...fountains of the great deep burst forth’ - the waters of chaos coming up through the earth, and ‘...the windows of the heavens were opened’ - God letting in the waters above through the dome. Altogether this chaos, permitted in by God, destroyed much of what was present so that a new beginning could ensue.

This battle between the waters of chaos and the ordering of God continues right through to the end of the Bible until the penultimate chapter of Revelation, chapter 21 verse 1, where the new heaven and earth were created, with the very telling line, ‘... and the sea was no more.’ In other words, chaos had been wiped out; the battle was won, and there was no longer any threat.


Is it is all really quite as clear as that? Might it not be possible that chaos is a tool of God, not his (or our) enemy? Chaos keeps us on our toes, and more importantly chaos provides us with the space for wisdom to grow. It challenges us to see things differently, and that, I believe, is the point.

There is a lovely passage about this in Proverbs 8:22-31 concerning the creation of wisdom by God.
The passage describes how wisdom was the first thing that God created, before there was any physical creation. The most telling line, in this context, is verse 29:
“...when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command... ...I was beside him.”

This refers to the waters of chaos, as well as to the physical oceans, and what it suggests is that God permits chaos, not so that it will reign, because that would be unholy. No, he sets it strict limits, something that any scientist will tell you is the only way in which we can have stability and life, but nevertheless chaos is present because it keeps disturbing the order so that wisdom can spring afresh.

So what, then, does this have to say to us? Well I think it speaks volumes about change and movement. It is possible, up to a point, to hold chaos completely in check, eliminating anything new and keeping ourselves as safe as possible. Does that sound like a policy statement? And yes, we will feel safe. But we will also stagnate. We will have lives that are about as interesting as a brick. We have to try new things in our lives in order for there to be disturbance and a stretch towards a new equilibrium. If we don’t do this, then we give wisdom no occasion to grow. I’m not saying that it will be comfortable, and nor should it be the permanent state for anyone to exist in: chaos is a place we cross through, not somewhere we reside. But unless our equilibrium is disturbed from time to time, and unless we take steps to ensure that happens, then we cannot grow and become more than we are. God has determined that our wisdom shall grow through risk, not through safety. Far be it from us to ignore this underlying principle in God’s creation.

Does your life feel chaotic at the moment? Have you wondered whether that’s because God is taking you into transition or offering a new perspective?
(Or maybe you’re just too busy!!)
God bless us and disturb us.

The Art of Looking Sideways : Number Two
A sideways look at church purity, unity and division

Are you an artist?
Can you mix colours effectively?
Or maybe you completely understand the frustration children feel when mixing different paints always seem to result ultimately with the same shade of dark brown...

One of the most amazing things about colour is the way in which all colours, shades and hues are derived from pure white. I’ve never forgotten an experiment we did as school children with dividing up a circle of card into seven equal portions. Into each portion we painted the different colours of the rainbow. We then pushed a pencil through the middle as a pivot and set the circle spinning. To our amazement all the colours blurred into white demonstrating some basic physics to an astonished group of ten year olds. This, of course, is fundamental to why rainbows appear when sun shines through rain, as the almost white light from the sun is split into its component colours by the water droplets in the air.

But what has this to do with church?

Remember all the snow we had in February? When we think of snow we often think of white, and the phrase ‘...as pure as the driven snow’, because bright whiteness always reminds us of purity. Indeed there are pictures all through the Bible of God as being clothed in dazzling white, so intense that we can’t look upon him.

Then there’s the church and the call to be pure as the Bride of Christ, also dressed in virginal white. However in order to understand this call to church purity we need to recognise what I’ve shown above, that white is a compound of many colours. If we ignore this we miss out on what shape the church is supposed to take. For example different types of people tend to gravitate towards different types of churches according to their personal preference. Is that really helpful? Should we give in to that part of human nature that only wants to be around people like ourselves? Ultimately that turns into a very lonely existence because everybody will disagree about something.

What might it be like if there was less choice in where to worship?
Would we manage to cope with a far more diverse array of people?
Or would churches still tend to be just as monochromatic with everyone still expected to conform?
Could charismatics, liberals, evangelicals and traditionalists exist as one community of worshippers?

What would a church be like if no tradition was allowed to feel that theirs was the ‘right’ one?

This would be hugely challenging because it would mean being actively welcoming of diversity and never just slipping into simple grudging acceptance. This would mean accepting the noisy children, the loud opinions, those who can’t sing in tune, those who sing loudly, those who dress in a style very different from our own personal preference, those whose politics are different from ours, and so on.

Shouldn’t we celebrate those differences as a sign of a healthy church?

If we ever get to the point where everyone present is genuinely satisfied with the church services, will we truly have failed?

Might that not mean we will have become monochrome?

If we do not celebrate the multicoloured nature of society and styles of worship, then we will quite literally lose any hope of purity, because pure white only exists when one blends all of the colours together.

How rainbow-coloured is your church?

What could be changed? Might it be you?

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Three
A sideways look at good news

Why are we so fascinated by bad news, and should this be different for Christians? For an earlier generation it used to be said that everyone knew where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. For us it’s more likely to be that you remember where you were on 9/11.

Sandra and Dave (not their real names) were on holiday in Spain, waiting for two friends to fly out and join them. They knew nothing of the events taking place in New York but it just so happened that their two friends were in the air at the time of the first jet hitting the Twin Towers. Had their plane been a later one they would never have made it since international airspace was rapidly closed down. As it was, when they arrived the news was all over the airwaves, except that Sandra and Dave were on holiday and had no idea what had been taking place until their friends landed, a little late and rather flustered, and began to explain the events. The next few days were strange since, having not taken the slightest notice of the news on holiday, they were now clamouring to find out anything they could. But with no TV they had to rely on trying to get English newspapers. And so they bought anything that they could to find out what had happened? Why was that?

Partly, I suppose, it was to do with the concern about getting home if flights were still grounded. Those of you who knew someone trapped on the continent by the volcanic dust cloud a couple of months ago will understand. But that wasn’t the only reason...

One reason, I believe, that we are attracted to bad news rather than good news is simply down to threat assessment. All animals maintain an awareness of their environment because we all fear the unexpected extinguishing of life. Watch the birds in your garden when they’re on the bird table. There will be a quick peck and then a look around as the bird assesses the current threat level, then another quick peck followed by another look around. All animals are doing it all of the time, and so naturally we are attracted to bad news because when something bad happens to someone else we want to know about it in order to assess whether what happened to them is a threat to us too. I imagine that the modern cultural obsession with safety has heightened this awareness amongst westerners. However, that is only an evolutionary biologist’s view, and that is not, I believe, the whole story. There is also a deeply spiritual side to it too.
Paula Gooder translates 2 Corinthians 4:4 likes this:
In them the god of this age has blinded the thoughts of the unbelievers so that the light of the good news of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, might not shine forth.

Who is the ‘god of this age’. Some might interpret that as meaning the devil, but Paula pointed out how unlikely it was that St. Paul would have referred to satan as a ‘god’. It is far more likely that this refers to the same kind of things as we colloquially refer to as ‘the gods of the age’, such as money wealth, power, status etc. You see the idea of threat runs far deeper than a threat of death. I think we have also become very concerned with the threat to our money, our status, our power. Maybe we are concerned about bad news because we have become spiritually blind. All we can see are the material trappings of life and our greatest fears revolve around losing those material trappings. Perhaps good news doesn’t concern us because we’re more worried about losing what we have than we are about celebrating anything good, and for this reason we persist in seeing the bad news despite strong scientific evidence that if we have a positive outlook on life then we will be in a better state of mind and health too.

From a spiritual perspective that sadly means that it is possible for people simply not to recognise the glory of God pouring forth into this age. We need therefore to be the ones who do see it and point it out to people. We’ve become well trained by our animal instincts and cultural influence to see the bad news because of the threats to the trappings of western life. This is why we need to be transformed, or to put aside the ‘...ways of the flesh’ as St. Paul puts it, which contrary to popular thought isn’t all about sex but is basically about what I’ve just said; the concerns for material life.

So here’s a challenge: Put this down and think of ten positive things that have happened in your life today or very recently. Then give thanks to God for them. In this way you are seeing the glory of God, and you have some good news to share with someone else. Try it again tomorrow. And the day after. We can be changed into people who see the good news and give thanks for it rather than those who persist in worrying about losing what they already have. We can become ‘good news’ people because we are content with what we have.

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Four
A sideways look at marriage

Love sets us free. Yet marriage is all about commitment. How do these two go together? If anything, people assume that being married actually ties you down.

You know.... ‘the old ball and chain’ ....

So if marriage is all about commitment, how can it set you free?

We collect baggage as we go through life. All of us. It happens. For some this can be a heavier load than for others, but it’s true of all of us. Mostly it’s to do with trying to figure out who we are and trying to live with what other people say about us, or how they react to us. Everyone has an opinion about you, and that ties you up, putting boundaries on who you can be.

The result? Maybe we feel insecure about who we are and who we should be, and we can often feel like we’re walking a tightrope, or treading on egg shells as we try and work this one out. So other people’s opinions of us can bind us up and stop us fully becoming the person God invites us to be.

But marriage changes that, because here is someone who promises us that they will love us for the person that we are, with no strings attached. In the arms of our God-given lover we do not have to try and be anyone else. We can get on with the process of becoming free to be the person God created us to be, and when that begins to happen then the whole community benefits.

Marriage should set us free because we are loving and being loved unconditionally for who we are. This kind of loving for each other, with passion and commitment, should be a genuine reflection of the love that God has for us...

...which is why it sets us free!

When you love someone like that, you’re learning to love them like God loves them.

1 Corinthians 13 contains these phrases:
Love is patient and kind.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love bears all things. Love hopes all things. Love endures all things.

That seems like a tall order for love doesn’t it, but the reason that St. Paul can say those amazing things about love is because of the kind of love he was writing about.

We only have one word for love in the English language:

I love jelly and ice-cream. I love my car. I love my wife/husband.
Definitely not the same ‘love’.

St. Paul, writing originally in Greek, had a choice of words for the different kinds of love, and the word which he used, agapĂ©, was for the type of love that chooses always to love, no matter what happens. It’s the kind of love that rises above emotion and feeling and depends instead on decision. That’s why it’s so important in marriage.

We all know that there will be days when we won’t feel all that loving towards our partner, but this kind of love can still say, absolutely and positively, “I love you, for who you are, not what you’ve done, and regardless of how I feel today.”

Committed love like that... It sets you free.

One more thing. As love sets us free, it also calls us back again and again into commitment to the person we love. Over the years you will grow and change, and who you are in twenty years time will be different from who you are now. Remember that the love St. Paul writes about can cope with and actually rejoice in the changes that love brings about, because it’s based on commitment and promise.

Love sets us free to be who God calls us to be, and that will help you to love each other even more as love’s roots grow deeper and deeper, binding you together like two mighty oaks growing side by side in such a way that, as their roots entwine, it steadily becomes harder to know where one ends and the other begins.

If you’re married or hoping to be soon, is your relationship setting you free through commitment? If not, what needs to change?

Do you love your beloved for who they are...
...or do you want them to be someone else?

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Five
A Sideways look at the idea of Religion as a Crutch

Have you ever broken a leg or injured yourself in such a way as to be unable to walk unaided?

I saw an elderly woman on a beach clambering over rocks using crutches, not just sticks, but crutches for support, and then going all the way down to the beach for a paddle. Her family were obviously worried but she had determination, you could see it written all over her face. I could imagine her as an athlete in her younger days and wondered how much she must mourn the ability to stand unaided on her own two feet. Without her crutches she could not have got far.

Do you wonder whether the same is true of our beliefs? Many people do, and maybe we fear that we only believe to get us through the hard times (even though we’ve got a bit sick of the ‘Footprints’ poem). Some think that Christians can’t stand unaided; that we’re too weak and feeble as people and that we need Christianity as a crutch just to get through life.

Is that true? Or is it actually the other way around? I find myself wondering whether that’s just an excuse for not engaging with the real challenges of life through their spirituality. I wonder whether, far from being a crutch, our beliefs drive us to take responsibility rather than run away from it. Take the sacraments for instance, and I think the best way I can describe this is by imagining the old British Railways logo of the two interlocking arrows. Now turn them through ninety degrees so that the first one points down and the next one points up, and then keep on adding down and up arrows. This is how sacraments work. For example let’s think about the sacrament of confession. Now this is not something that we do terribly often in the Anglican church as individuals (although we all do it together on a Sunday), but it is available here and many Anglican priests are happy to offer this ministry. Now in worldly terms the idea of coming to a priest so that he or she can listen to your confession and then tell you that you are forgiven sounds like a real crutch for the weak so that they don’t feel so bad about themselves. The reality, however, is that confession is perhaps the ultimate in taking real responsibility. First there has been the down arrow, the gentle conviction from the Holy Spirit that something needs to change, that something needs to stop and be put behind us.

Then comes the act of responsibility, of going, in confidence, to a priest and explaining what has been done wrong, or bringing an awareness of it to church on Sunday, taking responsibility for it, and recognising that forgiveness is needed. That’s the up arrow, of reaching towards God. There then follows another down arrow in God’s willingness to forgive and restore, and this is then followed by another up arrow as we give God thanks for his grace to us. Can you see that in asking for God’s forgiveness this is absolutely not a crutch. In fact it’s quite the reverse, it’s throwing away the crutch and taking responsibility for what was done wrong and seeking God’s forgiveness. I should add that sacramental confession to a priest is not a requirement of the Anglican Church, and also that it is not the priest who is forgiving the person. The priest is simply affirming to the person that God forgives them, and in so doing the person receives in themselves forgiveness which can be helpful for those struggling with guilt and for whom confession on their own has not allowed them to sense God’s forgiveness. It is most definitely not intended to be a way in which the priest takes power over someone and it is quite possible for people to seek God’s forgiveness without the aid of a priest. Regarding confession, Anglicans believe that, ‘None must, All may, Some should.’

A similar thing takes place at the Eucharist. We come to God acknowledging that we need his sustenance (and corporate confession is a part of this). Once again it might be thought that this is a crutch, but instead it is taking responsibility for ourselves. It is responding to the Holy Spirit’s invitation, (there again is the down arrow), and approaching God, the up arrow, recognising that to live as Christians we need his spiritual sustenance which we receive through the sacrament of the Eucharist. As we take the bread and wine into us, so we are making God more a part of who we are. Recognising our need is a mark of honesty, of responsibility and responding to God. It’s not about handing over the reins so that we don’t have to make decisions for ourselves. After all no one who eats normal food is accused of using their morning cereal as a crutch to get through the day! Making breakfast is an act of taking responsibility for one’s physical needs and taking communion is an act of responsibility for one’s spiritual needs.

Christianity is not a crutch, it is a way of life that demands we are honest with ourselves and take responsibility. Do you?

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Six
A sideways look at routine

Some families go back to the same place year after year on holiday.
Why? Is it rhythm or routine?
I guess it depends on where they’re going and why.

Paul, David, Fiona, Ruth, Georgina, Simon and their families meet in North Cornwall every year. Partly it’s about being together, and they’ve done this most years for as long as they remember, but it’s also because they all love the sea, and in particular surfing. Some of the older members are too frail to cope with the rough and tumble of the Atlantic rollers, and some of the younger ones don’t dare go in beyond their knees yet. But for the most part they share a great joy in getting in there and being thrown about by the waves, testing themselves to see whether they can still catch the surf on their boards.

Their happiness is dependent on one thing, the tidal nature of the sea.
What makes the tides?

It’s the gravitational dance between the moon, the sun and the earth, so that the waters are inexorably drawn up and down the beach, with the time of high or low tide gradually moving forwards by a little under three quarters of an hour each day. But which is it, rhythm or routine? You see those two words capture similar things, yet are quite different from each other. Without any shadow of a doubt there is a cyclical nature to the movement of the moon, earth and sun, and it’s totally and utterly predictable. But is it rhythm or routine?

When the leaves fall from the trees, as they soon will, it’s because the sun is dipping lower and lower on each arc (or rather because the northern hemisphere is seeing less of the sun from this part of its annual orbit). The trees need to conserve energy for the long winter ahead so the leaves have to be dropped. But is it rhythm or is it routine?

Next year, sometime in the early spring I can guarantee that I will wake up early every morning with the sound of birdsong as nature rises from its long sleep and territories are marked out by our feathered companions as they begin the cycle of life again. But is it rhythm or routine?

Contrast the different types of music we might listen to. Some dance (house) music is geared up especially to repetitive beats, with the ‘snare’ sound always on the second and fourth beat of the bar, or for even more intensity, it may be a bass pulse on every beat. Contrast that with a Latin American piece or an African Djembe-driven drum circle. Which is rhythmical and which is routine?

If rhythm is an engine of life, what is routine? Is it just what keeps our lives ordered when all creativity has broken down? Which is it that drives us; rhythm or routine? The difference, and being aware of it, is as vital to life as the rhythm of your heart is. A heartbeat changes. It never remains static under normal conditions but adjusts according to your needs. Run faster and the rhythm will change; sleep and it will slow down. It’s never routine because in routine there is no change, no creativity, no life.

So what are our spiritual lives like, rhythmical or routine? Are we like the Franciscans, following a daily rhythm driven by prayer, or has it become the dull monotony of recitation. What about church? What kind of services do you prefer? Some prefer the more liturgical whereas others are drawn towards services that are individually crafted. But is it their different rhythms that draw us, or has it become routine?

God is the God of life which means rhythm. It means change and movement is at the heart of our spirituality, or at least it should be. Do you feel excited about the future? That’s the joy of rhythm, but if you’re concerned that it will be more of the same old, same old, then that is the temptation of routine. We don’t need routine, we really don’t. But we all need rhythm.

Which do you have more of, and what will you do about it?

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Seven
A sideways look at sex

Ever wondered what St. Paul meant when he said that your body is a Temple for the Holy Spirit, and what effect a statement like that should have on sex?

In a bygone age sex was reserved for married people. In the West, childbirth outside marriage was deeply disapproved of, and with no reliable means of contraception, few took the risk. The public shame and possible dishonouring of the family name meant that most people thought twice about sex, or they married quickly if they got caught out, with everyone politely talking about the ‘Honeymoon Baby’.

But all that’s changed. Sex outside marriage is no longer a source of guilt and shame for most of the western world. And for those really looking hard for Biblical inspiration, there’s not a great deal to go on. St. Paul might have written, ‘Keep the marriage bed pure’, but that was simply to guard against adultery. The best advice you got was to get married because it was better than to burn with desire the whole time, but even that suggested that it was expected that sex took place inside marriage.

Is that still right?

How you answer that perhaps depends on what you think sex is for.

Is it just for fun? Then maybe it’s on a similar level to a new Wii game.

Is it an expression of desire? What for? The person or their body? (Is there even a difference or is one an expression of the other?)

Is it a social tool? A means of control?

What if it’s something else? What if sex isn’t just about physically expressing love or desire? What if sex is, or at least can be, sacramental?

OK, so what’s a sacrament? The standard dictionary description is that a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward grace from God. Or to put it another way, what we do on the outside is symbolic of what God is doing on the inside. Think about taking communion. You take bread and wine. You ingest them. Your body works on them and makes them into part of you. That’s symbolic of what God is accomplishing in your spirit. Jesus referred to the bread and wine as his body and blood, however you want to understand that, so as our bodies are making the bread and wine part of our physical selves, so on a spiritual level by taking communion we are making Christ a part of our deepest selves.

It’s impossible to talk about sex and sacraments without talking about marriage. In that service vows are made, rings are exchanged, hands are bound together and documents are signed. These are all outward visible signs of God joining the two together so that they become one flesh.

Joined to become one flesh? Does that sound anything like sex to you?

Is sex to marriage, what communion is to faith?

Talk to any Christian couple who have been married for years and ask them to describe what it means for the two to be one. Look for the old couples who finish each other’s sentences. Ask about the mysticism of marriage.

You see the other definition of a sacrament is that it effects what it symbolises, or in other words something happens on a spiritual level when you do something physical which is sacramental. Sometimes you’re aware of it; sometimes not, but that doesn’t make the mystical experience at the altar rail, or the oneness of the afterglow any more or less spiritual.

Is sex always sacramental?

In truth I don’t know. Maybe sometimes? Maybe not? And the last thing we need is more guilt. God knows the church has been too good at that over the last two thousand years. So much for being ‘set free’!

But this is about a sideways look at sex, and thinking differently.

If our bodies are Temples to the Holy Spirit, places where She resides and makes Her home, and if sacramental sex is the celebration of two people joined to be one, how should that affect what we do in our relationships?

Because if sex is always sacramental, then it’s always about two being made one.

The Art of Looking Sideways: Number Eight
A sideways look at power

This year has seen a shift in British politics. But the real question that I think we have to ask ourselves is how did we make the decision about who to vote for? Who did we want to be ‘in power’ and why? For me, the biggest question mark remains over that phrase ‘in power’, because as Christians our context must surely lie in these very familiar words:

“For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours...”
“For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory...”

Who’s ‘in power’ in our prayers?

So how should we feel about voting for an earthly political party to be ‘in power’?

I think that before we look at our potential local and national governments, (because it would be very easy to stand in judgement), we should perhaps begin by looking at ourselves since politicians are just flawed human beings like the rest of us. It’s likely that all of us pray this prayer at least weekly and possibly daily, but I wonder how much we mean it, for this is a ‘giving-up’ prayer. It says that all this thing called power that humans seem to want actually belongs solely to God, not to us, and to pray this prayer means that we are giving up our claim on the object of our desire: power. What makes this so difficult for us is that it goes against our instincts. I’ve just been watching a programme about a monkey sanctuary and the difficulties which the keepers go through when they occasionally have to introduce a new animal to a pre-existing and stable group. What maintains the stability of the existing group is the power of the dominant male, keeping unruly behaviour in check, and if a new male is introduced it can often require a power-struggle in order to establish a new order, or re-establish the old one. We cannot deny our shared common heritage with the other higher primates, and so this struggle to establish a power base and hold on to it is second nature to much of humanity (even if we don’t acknowledge it to ourselves), and whilst this may seem like a very male dominated argument, it’s worth noting that the alpha male is usually accompanied by the alpha female (and in fact in some species it is the alpha female who chooses who will be the alpha male!), so women should not think themselves to be unaffected by this drive for power. Yet to pray this prayer is to lay aside those claims; to declare that all power is God’s.

Now this is all very well, but surely there have to be leaders; people in positions of power? Are we sure about that? Or should we be saying that there are positions of authority that need to be filled? ‘Surely’, you might say, ‘we are dealing in semantics now?’ I would beg to disagree; there is a significant difference between power and authority. Power belongs to God alone, as we have prayed many times in the Lord’s Prayer, but God does give authority to some. However there needs to be a recognition that it is God’s power that some are given authority to wield, and I use the word ‘wield’ rather than ‘use’ on purpose. When someone thinks they have power, they are under an illusion. They may have been given authority but they have no real power. The difficulty is that those with authority often don’t seem to have the humility to realise that they merely have authority rather than real power. However when you meet someone who has been given authority and wields it in a Godly and humble power you rapidly become aware of the shallowness of the search for power.

I will never forget meeting Michael. He had a position of authority in the church.

But you’d never have believed it!

The contrast between him and some of the power-wielding businessmen and scientists I had dealt with in industry was very distinct. They liked their power and some seemed addicted to it and extremely protective of what they had, but Michael was different, and even now it’s not easy to describe. He was a very gentle man who was quite capable of giggling. He was also wonderfully fallible and quite capable at laughing at himself. What marked him out was the way he wielded the gentle and holy authority that seemed to flow from him in such a loving way. There was a sort of holy confidence about him. I looked up to him, not because he was powerful, but because God had trusted him with authority, and I suspect that was because he had given up his claims to power. He was a servant.

So we have no power really; none of us, whatever illusions our jobs or roles in society may have spun for us. But there are some, who recognise that the power is God’s, whom God will trust with authority. They don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be servants and to know where power really comes from, and that it is not theirs and that it should not be pursued.

What do you feel about power? Is it something you want? Did you think you had it?

Are you someone God could trust with authority because you are developing a servant heart?

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