Ric and I went to a movie on Saturday night. The catalyst was the fact that both of us were free (in Ric’s case this means no compelling game to watch), and after we bought our tickets, we found three other people from church sitting in our row!! All baby boomers, and clearly late adopters, because we were there to see Slumdog Millionaire, which has been on in Auckland for several weeks now. It is a great movie – inspiring but also galling, because the setting is a closeup experience of the lives of slumdwellers of Mumbai/Bombay as it was ten years ago. I don’t think I am disclosing anything secret when I tewll you a young man called Jamal wins a huge prize on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” - the Indian version. The questions to which he surprisingly knew the answers are played out over 120 minutes of a romantic melodrama which includes child slavery, race riots, corruption and murder.
Putting aside the film’s appeal to me – in the drawnout romance – and Ric – in the gangland action – I have found myself reflecting on the metamessage to me as a person of faith. The story made connection after connection between a painful – at times traumatic – incident from Jamal’s past, and his need to know an obscure piece of information for the purpose of the gameshow. Pondering on this, I noticed that in my own much less dramatic experience, seemingly pointless occurrences from years before have also turned out to be a critical resource for wisdom and knowledge in my ongoing journey of life and faith. As a simple example, ten years leading the children’s singing as mother helper at a rural Playcentre meant that, as a minister, I responded positively to the opportunity to start a preschoolers music and movement group at church; I then ed that wonderful Mainly Music group for twelve years. And over the years there have been many more examples of connections – some call them “providential” – though most are too personal to air here. The prophet Jeremiah heard this in God’s promise of a future and a hope, and Saint Paul’s take on it is found in Romans: “God causes everything to work togetherm]"> for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” My Ryrie Study Bible makes the point that the “good” of which Paul speaks is probably the ”likeness of Christ” he describes in the next verse. (See last week’s blog below)
That’s why it’s important to take time and space every so often to ask of God some open questions about difficult or painful times. My spiritual director encourages me to enquire of God: “What are you saying Lord? Where are you taking me? How can I see your hand in this?” Faith means expecting there to actually be some point – although hope tells me some of the answers won’t be clear until I have finished my sojourn on earth. Slumdog Millionaire reminded me that God is often at work in the details, weaving a wonderful tapestry that looks messy from the back, and only makes sense when viewed from the other side, eternity’s perspective.
Jamal was by all accounts a Muslim boy, although the only sign of religious practice I saw was an incongruous prayer of his brother’s (if you’ve seen the movie you’ll remember that one). Muslim people often use the slogan Insha’Allah to finish a conversation. It means, roughly, “if God wills it,” but usually indicates something the speaker wishes to happen. Some years ago I attended a course in Jerusalem where a Muslim teacher explained this notion. He said it is often misused by his students, who say Insha’Allah when he asks them why they have not studied for an exam. They use Insha’Allah to mean, if God wants me to pass, I will pass (without studying). He challenges these lads by reminding them that they do not rely on Insha’Allah to pass their driving test; they are much more motivated, and know that preparation is needed, even it if is God’s will for them to get a licence. As a Christian I can and do at times pray Insha’Allah, because I believe in a big God whose purpose is relentless, and I want that will to be done. (In the Middle East, Arabic-speaking Christians often use phrases like insha’Allah (God willing), and masha’Allah (as God willed it), because in Arabic, Allah simply means God. However some are now finding that internationally “Allah" can be problematic).
The other day someone was praying a thanksgiving for me in my new role on the ministry team at our local Baptist church. I was a little taken aback when he thanked God that I was a person “with a few wounds”, referring to the inevitable painful experiences - often friendly fire - that beset a person in Christian leadership. As I have reflected on these words – and thought too about Jamal’s serendipitous accumulation of the answers to some very hard questions - I do thank God for the trials and troubles of my faith journey. I am not worried about passing a final exam – Christ has done that for me – but I see that a spiritual life that includes challenge and testing does provide some perspective and insights into the big questions of who and why and how. Over these weeks of Lent, I intend to give this notion of the Wounded Healer particular attention.
To chew over: Can you discern connections that testify to God being at work in your life over time, giving you “answers” to questions you never expected to be asked? Can such signs of God’s providence give meaning to current difficulties?
My prayer for us this week is taken from Mother Teresa who with her sisters in Calcutta spent hours of each day in contemplative prayer, before going to work with the poor and needy. She reminds us to spend time in silence, and to find in God, the true source of faith and hope:
The fruit of Silence is Prayer.
The fruit of Prayer is Faith.
The fruit of Faith is Love.
The fruit of Love is Service.
The fruit of Service is Peace.