I did wonder what St. Brendan would think of my journey, which I had spent days planning and organising? He would probably ask about space and spontaneity -had I created such a ridged programme that I had not left God the space he needed to move?
Then I thought about my car, cramped full of my clothes and things for the journey, and wondered if he would point me to Luke 10 where Jesus says: “Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10.4)?
I wondered too if perhaps I am too reliant on trusting in my own resources rather than trusting in God’s provision. I remember when I was about eight and got my 25 meters swimming certificate I swam the width with a foot remaining on the bottom of the Poole, just to ‘feel safe and in control’ -yet sometimes taking a step of faith means taking our foot from the bottom and trusting that the water will hold us, the same is true in our walk with God, it is about taking our foot from the bottom and trusting that God will hold us.
The Church planter John Wimber famously described faith as being spelled R-I-S-K, yet the problem is we are all a little risk adverse, a helpful piece of advice I once heard was that “we all feel scared sometimes, but even so do it scared!”
Perhaps a series of visits and activities might not feel as dangerous as floating off to an unknown future on a boat especially when it was only for a fortnight, but for me it still felt a bit scary, although this has come on the back of leaving the security of a stable job with housing within the Church of England and was terrifying as was moving to a new place without a defined role and discovering what God has for us in this next stage of the journey. In doing this, I realised how much of my identity and self-worth was tied to my vicar-y role rather than who I am in Christ).
I wonder whether we all crave comfort which makes us sleepy, and yet the Holy Spirit is calling us to wake up and build up our faith and spiritual resilience?
This new season does feel like chasing a wild goose, it feels unpredictable, hard and at times lonely -feeling mis understood and it never feels like “I’ve arrived and can build a base camp” but rather a continual on-going journey. I used to say that becoming a Christian is not a once said prayer of commitment to Christ, but rather a daily/hourly/moment by moment “yes” to God.
This call has led me to some unusual places, a small United Reformed Church with a small congregation but a building buzzing with people Monday-Friday with a friend whose exploring what is being called New Monasticism and learning from the insights of people like Brendan, Francis, Benedict as well as more modern saints such as Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa and Shane Claiborne; what does it mean to be both an activist and receive deeply from God in contemplation.
The Celtic Christians talked of the Ancient Art of Breathing whereby we receive from God (the inward breath) and live out God’s calling in the world (outward breath), if we just breath in with a faith that may look contemplative but is actually just consumeristic we won’t flourish, nor will we flourish if we are simply activists trying to do everything on one breath! Instead we need to learn how the breath afresh from the breath of life, receiving (inhaling) and living it out (exhaling) as a life of obedience, saying “yes” to God in each moment, every time oxygen touches our lungs we are reminded of our own need and dependence on God.
Brendan is a great picture both of activism and contemplation, someone who went but someone who when the winds dropped, he landed on an uninhabited island took time for rest and nourishment.
The call has also led me to begin a small vision of a School of Mission. Our grand Vision is to “to encourage every Christian in the UK to feel comfortable and confident in talking about their faith in Christ Jesus through actions and words with wisdom and sensitivity under the guidance and leadership of the Holy Spirit”. A grand vision, but how do we carry it out in practice?
A small team have come around me, and we have done a couple of events, and are dreaming of some more.
This vision started with a launch to explain what God had laid on our heart (which is actually nothing short of seeing revival in the U.K!) and with this tour (which grew) and which I am seeking God for the next step of the vision. Somewhere (and I can’t remember when) I began to believe that God was calling me to do a tour from Cornwall to Carlisle.
Initially I called this “a mission tour”, but I felt I had lots to learn rather than all the answers, and felt like “hit and run” evangelism turning up without relationship “preaching to strangers” and then leap in the car and drive off. Instead I wanted something more relational wanting to bless and support those faithful Christians who are already ministering in the context already.
I worry that with too much of Christian and Church mission we have considered ourselves to be Saviours of community, rather than realising that there is only one Saviour -Jesus Christ- and he calls us to go in his power but to “walk humbly before him” (Micah 6:8)
I began to think of an African expression about “insiders and outsiders” -it is only an insider who ‘knows where the shoes pinch’ but often it takes an ‘outsider’ to point out the roof is leaking as everyone has just got used to how it is!
As I thought of God is always at work in mission in his world, in every context, both knowing ‘where the shoes pinch’ and seeing ‘where the roof that leaks’ I wondered whether this journey was about blessing other people, or about learning and growing myself, perhaps it is both?
I began to think of the word “pilgrimage” where the physical journey is also matched with an internal journey; with the expectation of meeting God in other people and places and being changed oneself.
Yet, opportunities arose to join in with things, and Pilgrimage to me sounded very passive and spectator-like. Also visiting and ‘looking at’ things/people sounded a bit like they were exhibits in a zoo, rather than brothers and sisters I longed to partner with and become friends with. I wanted to roll my sleeves up and serve and so the phrase: “activist pilgrimage” was coined: to listen, love and learn to seek to see God at work, but also to join in and get my hands dirty and serve, encourage, bless, share and help in any way I could.
A call for us all, where-ever we go, to be activist pilgrims, we do not go through lives merely as spectators but called to bless whenever and where-ever we can, stepping out with confidence and humility, with wisdom and a teachable spirit, to see to encounter Christ in others and for them to encounter him in us by what we say and do.
Perhaps an “Activist Pilgrimage” is a picture not just of a fortnights tour but actually a call to how we should as Christians live our everyday lives.