The beginning of a new year is an opportunity to reflect on what is past and set some goals for the coming year. In New Zealand this is particularly appropriate as New Year occurs in the summer holidays, when most people have time off, so meetings are few, and even if you are working (as am I this week) tasks are focussed more on the important than the urgent. So when I started thinking about my first posting for 2010, I planned to write something public and accountable about my desire to read the Bible more, to eat less junk food and to get more exercise. (same goals as last year!) I noted that in my work context, setting goals is much easier now that I have a specific role and a job description, though much of my ministry and family life is still flexible and responsive to the needs of others. It occurred to me that after a few years of asking God "Are we there yet?" in terms of my vocation, I now feel more settled and hopeful, though of course I will never "be there." Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. (Philippians 3: 12)
As I mulled over possible New Year goals and resolutions in my personal life, I met with a faith community in Whitianga, with whom I have a connection through our holiday home in the area. The Epiphany sermon was about the journey of the Magi, about our journey, about the unknown future that faced those travellers from the East, and that faces us as we enter a New Year. They invested resources of time and goods, hopefully, without knowing where they would arrive. We are the same, for even though we too are hopeful, we cannot tie down the future as if it were a trailer tarp. Our life is more like a canvas tent; the wind of the Spirit tends to swoop in and pull at the ropes and may even lift the roof over our heads!
It was with this sermon echoing in my mind that I read a section of Brian McLaren's book on Ancient Practices. I had skimmed down the chapter headings the other day, looking for an idea for a Bible Study, and been intrigued by a chapter called "Faithing our Practices." This week I picked up the book again, to read that chapter, as I had a feeling it might relate to my intention to post some resolutions for a new year when anything might happen. And I was right.
McLaren has been writing in the earlier chapters about faith practices, especially ancient contemplative and contemporary missional practices, and I still need to read those chapters. But in Chapter 19 he tells of a New Zealand nun, Sister (Dr) Elizabeth Julian, who says that instead of practising our faith, we might be better to "faith our practices". In other words to bring God into the activities we already do and enjoy on a regular basis. McLaren includes a short quote from an article by Sister J: "I believe that there is a liturgy of the landscape, waiting to be experienced." She invites us to look at the practices that are meaningful to us - tramping, boating, birdwatching, exercise, sport - and "imbue these practices with meaning derived from faith."
This was a bit of an 'aha moment' for me at the beginning of what will be a busy year filled with uncertainties. Perhaps, says McLaren, instead of "adding something new, something more (more prayer, more Bible study, more witnessing, more ...), we need to start counting what we're already doing." He takes morning walks, notices birdsongs, the seasons, the weather. What do I "practise", that I could imbue with faith? Yes I too walk, and notice seasons and weather far more than I did in times gone by. Even as I look out my car windscreen or bedroom window, I observe the patterns of creation. But there are other more mundane everyday practices that I sense could be faithed more deeply.
As I cook, I could pray for the people, including my husband, who grew the vegetables, and invite the Spirit to grow "fruit that will last" in me. As I iron our clothes, I could acknowledge my need to be shaped and flattened from my unruly spiritual and psychological wrinkles. As I enjoy my hobby of scrapbooking photos of my grandchildren, I can thank God for them, and their gifts of spontaneous fun and forthright opinions. As I watch TV or read books. I can notice "glimpses of glory" in the stories, and give thanks that God is at work in the world in myriad ways. As I cross-stitch a series on "interesting houses" of San Francisco, I can not only bless my family who lives there, but also give thanks for the pattern God is weaving in our lives, despite there being many loose threads and misplaced stitches! And as I "trudge unwillingly" to the gym, I can confess my tendency to laziness, and ask God to give me more joy in my ageing physicality. So that's my New Year resolution - not just to practise my faith, but to faith my practices!!
In a sense, that is what this blog has been about all year. I thought it would evoke more interaction than it has, but many of you tell me you read it regularly, even if you don't post a comment. Perhaps readers mistakenly think a comment is to "stroke" me, and affirm what has been written. To the contrary, I would love a robust debate about these issues, that's how we expand our horizons! But as it is, a somewhat solitary discipline of ruminating about issues in my own developing of a "godshaped life," I have found this digital journal to be a vital growing edge. God may well be teaching me that there is value in something even if when it is a solitary pursuit. Faithing my Practices will likely be something I share only with Him.
May this New Year also bring new hopes and joys to you.
From our New Year service at Whitianga:
Light-giving God – we are magi on a caravan of lumbering hope,
traveling through grinding wind and glaring sun,chill clear nights and skin-baking days.
We come to seek Your light.
We come lumbering in hope, each of us on our own life’s journey
– traveling through times of loneliness and fear,
through heartbreak and anger,
through grief and loss,
through economic uncertainty,
through fear for loved ones caught up in war,
through our own private crises,
through the extended shock of horrific images of hurricanes and genocide,
through struggles with the mental illness of a child,
the disintegration of a parent,
the simple letting go of a child more ready to be an adult
than we are ready to allow their growth,
through the changes in a new marriage,
the welcoming of a child,
the completion of a degree,
the vision emerging in a new work of art.
We come lumbering in hope on a journey of joys and sorrows.
We come as magi to seek Your light.