One of the things I love about our retreats to Holy Island is that people have books I haven’t seen. One of these was Bounce – Living the Resilient Life which my wonderful friend Jo has lent me so I have a bit more time to reflect on it. One of the quotations which stands out to me is when Wicks quotes Albert Schweitzer:
I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know, the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve
I grew up with a version of the gospel which emphasized this and see that as integral to any Christian calling, one of my deepest joys is seeing how my service releases others into the fulness of what God has for them.
Robert J Wicks Bounce Living the Resilient Life Oxford: Oxford University Press 2010 p85.
I love my early mornings when I am the only person up and it is peaceful and I am alone in my prayer place. I have been reading Eugene Peterson’s Where Your Treasure Is and he writes about the difference between solitude and privacy:
Solitude in prayer is not privacy. The differences between privacy and solitude are profound. Privacy is our attempt to insulate the self from interference, solitude leaves the company of others for a time in order to listen to them more deeply, be aware of them, serve them. Privacy is getting away from others so that I don’t have to be bothered with them, solitude is getting away from the crowd so that I can be instructed by the still small voice of God, who is enthroned on the praises of the multitudes.
I enjoy posting from things I have read as it helps me to reflect on them further too. This is a kindle book and it is location 76!
One of the things I love is being introduced to a book I would never have otherwise come across. Gillian Ahlgren’s The Tenderness of God (Fortress Press 2017) is one such book. Our Vicar Al Barrett has been talking about this book for a while and some of it helped shape his sermon on Sunday (http://thisestate.blogspot.com/2018/07/dividing-walls-home-making-and.html). On Sunday evening there was a discussion about the book and the contribution the spirituality of Francis and Clare may make to us today. I missed the conversation which was very frustrating as I had read the book and would have loved to hear what others thought, however, there were other things I needed to do Sunday evening.
I want to share the introduction to the book:
Difficult times are always tender. They expose our fragility and make us wish that we were other than human. They put us in direct contact with our vulnerabilities and our fears, but they also reveal the strength, resilience and possibility that reside beneath the surface of our lives. As I read the signs of our times, they qualify as ‘difficult,’ and we stand to lose a great deal. But it is possible that the very challenges that we face have the capacity to call us to a different way of experiencing our humanity? If we succumb to the posturing and violence that feed our anxieties, we stand to lose access to the very tenderness that sometimes frighten us with its beauty and potential. Is it time to try a different way?
If you read this blog regularly you will know that I have been thinking and writing about vulnerability recently and this book leads on well from that. My main focus professionally is work with children and young people and this introduction particularly resonates when I think about the world they are living in. I am also very aware at the moment of the fragility of life and the way that those among us who are elderly are treated sometimes. All of us need to be treated with tenderness, but somehow the old and the young often present as particularly vulnerable for many different reasons and I grieve when I see or hear about cruelty – a 3 year old having acid thrown into their face purposefully or an elderly person conned out of their money, for example. I have for a while thought a lot about being kind, I am now pondering how being tender illuminates that. I look forward to the continuing conversation…
I rarely travel with a dog collar on. On Sunday I was travelling back from an ordination service wearing one of my brighter clergy shirts! There was a group returning home from a stag party on the train and one of them engaged me in conversation quite regularly, largely apologising if they were disturbing me. It was a little bit noisy but nothing offensive. At one point one of his friends came and sat down and started sharing some of his recent life story. I was very deeply moved and got a tiny glimpse into the work Paul does. They were saying how sometimes it is so much easier to talk to strangers than people you know and I was glad I was that stranger that day. But I don’t think they would have been talking to me if I wasn’t wearing a dog collar and it made me reflect on whether I should do it more often. I was then wearing one on Monday on a different train journey – not a word or a comment from anyone! I wonder what will happen next time I travel in my priestly garb.
I was familiar with Henri Nouwen’s phrase ‘the wounded healer’ but then I came across a book which talked about ‘the wounded storyteller’. It apparently is found in ancient Greek literature in Tiresias who reveals to Oedipus whose son he is. The biblical story of Jacob who was wounded when wresting with angels (Genesis 32.22-31) is offered as another example of the wounded storyteller.
The book is about encouraging people who are ill to tell their stories and challenge an often dominant narrative of a person being a ‘victim’ of illness. Frank writes ‘the ill person who turns illness into story transforms fate into experience; the disease that sets the body apart from others becomes, in the story, the common bond of suffering that joins bodes in their shared vulnerability’ (pxix).
Arthur W Frank The Wounded Storyteller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.
Yesterday we said goodbye to our third year Midlands Institute for Children Youth and Mission students. I am always proud of each group that leave, the journeys of growth and development they have been on but this group have overcome more adversity than most. Some from way before they ever started on the course, others from things that happened while they were on the course and some in between those things! It is the personal achievements I am proud of, there is some amazing academic work accomplished (which is not all about grades) but there are many lives changed because of the work these students have done.
I am so grateful to God for allowing me to be a little part of their journey and for the wonderful staff team I work with who offer so much support and encouragement to enable students to fulfil their potential.
Love the picture with the empty front row – some things never change!
It is not easy writing a booklet on vulnerability – the stories I have been told trigger all sorts of thoughts in me:
Faced with our own vulnerability, we often experience extreme fear (McFadden 2008:133).
I have increasingly realised that early experiences in hospital as a young child which I don’t fully remember mean that I am overly fearful anytime I think I may be ill or something happens. My body is vulnerable. A tear in my retina this year brought that back to me – apparently I did nothing to bring it on – it happens to some of us with age – and not even old age!
What I have also increasingly realised is that my vulnerability is less of an issue if I share it with and allow myself to be supported by others (and God):
In contrast to fear, compassionate love – or agape – ‘links empathy, understanding and justice, promoting interdependence’ (Rumbold 2006:41).
McFadden, S. H. (2008). Mindfulness, vulnerability, and love: Spiritual lessons from frail elders, earnest young pilgrims, and middle aged rockers. Journal of Aging Studies, 22, pp.132-9.
Rumbold, B. (2006). The spirituality of compassion: A public health response to ageing and end of life care. In E. MacKInlay (Ed), Aging spirituality, and palliative care (pp.31-44) New York: Haworth Press.