Monday, August 29, 2011

to be a pilgrim

Here's the thing: I'm feeling pretty relaxed.

There's a difference between being good at something, and having to do it. You see, I really loved being a vicar, but it's a job that comes with no uncertain amount of pressure. I don't mean to compare it with running the economy during a major global recession, but there were always things that weighed on me that if I'm honest I never quite learned to handle. I loved preaching; I always felt the burden of it in advance, and regularly lost sleep over it the night before. I'd say the same for leading worship. It was a real privilege to comfort those in need, the bereaved, the dying, those needing Christ. But there were times I'd dread the phone ringing, or the door bell going because I'd be tired or in need of comfort myself and find that it was time to go and bless others again when it was far from easy so to do.

That's the job.

I think that ministry should be sacrificial. But this has to be held in tension with the knowledge that we serve a God of love who loves us!

So I stopped. Listened. And realised I had come to a place where (if I wasn't careful) I was going to be bigger on my sacrifice than God's love. All in all, that's the wrong way around. How can I show people God's love properly if it seems that (rather than healing me) this love makes me walk with a permanent limp? Blow my words, most people just pick up the vibe.

Even I was beginning to pick up the vibe.

It was time to find a cliff & jump off it. To put away the security blanket of the life I had known in order that I might really live. To let love triumph over sacrifice: and, of course, His love contains within it all the sacrifice I'll ever need. I don't have to earn spiritual kudos by the scars on my soul. It's OK to love myself too, sometimes; how else can I love my neighbour as myself?

And the thing is, I'm feeling pretty relaxed.

Sure, there are the occasional stress related dreams. Some of them still relate to St Catherine's. Most of them, actually. (Please - not that everything there was stressful for me; far from it. The balance had become lost between life and work, that's all.) And I am not so dim as to expect I have now walked into a stress-free life. Calverley's nice, but it's not Heaven...

You see, it would be easy to say that now I have a lovely house & nice neighbours, now that people are treating me far better than when I was a vicar (you have no idea), now that I am settling into a good job I am enjoying getting to grips with, I have all my prayers answered. But that's not the point. Don't get me wrong - I am loving all these things, and all these things are true.

But being a pilgrim is about being on a lifelong journey with Jesus. Knowing him. Holding his hand. Trusting him when it's tough and when it's great. Being grateful when you see the answers and when you don't. Being constant because he is constant. It's not about doctrine, it's about relationship, and walking on in the surety of that great relationship when there is no other certainty anywhere you look.

Some of you know the depth of my questions over the last year, and many do not; and those who do, know that every question I have asked has been asked in the context and truth of that relationship. I commend it. Not because I know the outcome; but because I know the journey is wonderful and unexpected and painful and glorious. And full of love, when the sun shines and when the rain drenches you to the skin.

In that context, it is indeed a precious gift to be feeling pretty relaxed.

There is a hymn I love, not because I can say every word truthfully myself, but because it inspires me and has the ring of reality about it. It feels like the truth. I long to know more of it. The words are Bunyan's, and the tune, Monk's Gate, is one of those English folk melodies that Vaughan Williams spent his life adapting and adding to the hymnody of the English language. It works for me.

Who would true Valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will Constant be,
Come Wind, come Weather.
There's no Discouragement,
Shall make him once Relent,
His first avow'd Intent,
To be a Pilgrim.

Who so beset him round,
With dismal Stories,
Do but themselves Confound;
His Strength the more is.
No Lion can him fright,
He'll with a Giant Fight,
But he will have a right,
To be a Pilgrim.

Hobgoblin, nor foul Fiend,
Can daunt his Spirit:
He knows, he at the end,
Shall Life Inherit.
Then Fancies fly away,
He'll fear not what men say,
He'll labour Night and Day,
To be a Pilgrim. 

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