Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Library's and Lindisfarne

So my record and journal of sabbatical life has fallen somewhat by the wayside. In this post I'm organising some thoughts I recorded a few weeks back when a good chunk of my time was spent at the Belben Library, Cliff College and then unexpectedly on Lindisfarne.

In the unexpected spare time I had in May I began to put together a proposal for a PhD, working through Cliff College researching the relationship between the British Methodist circuit structure and growing Methodist churches. So I spent a number of days holed up in the Cliff College Library, reading and thinking about what it means for the Methodist people to express their ecclesiology (way of being church) in a way that is true to our heritage but relevant and appropriate to the missional context we find ourselves in. Being minister of a medium large, fairly self-sufficient Methodist church, struggling to fit into imposed circuit structures gives me a specific and particular lens with which I view the British Methodist circuit system - and it isn't favourable. Whatever the outcome, whether I end up embarking on a PhD or not, the space and time to read and think and pray was a welcome gift, and one that began to stir in me again the longings for the Methodist people to be renewed in faith and discipleship - a longing that had been so significant in my sense of call to ordination, but which had been somewhat lost over the last two years or so.

This time also reaffirmed to me how much I love study and reflection, how much I love wrestling with greater thinkers than I, and how much this energises me as a disciple and minister and how keen I am to ensure that in my return to full-time paid ministry, I want to guard space for me to read and think and pray. I'm sure this is part of the '...being transformed by the renewing of your mind' that Paul talks of in his letter to the Romans.

Secondly, after a few days commuting to Cliff, an opportunity turned up, quite unexpectedly to have some retreat time on Lindisfarne at the Open Gate retreat house.  This turned out to be another precious and wonderful gift. I found it hard to switch off and relax into the slow pace of life there but found it, as so many others have done before, such a 'thin place' where the presence of God seems so rich and close. Where in the library at Cliff I had begun to sense my mind being renewed and here I began to feel my soul and spirit creaking towards some semblance of restoration. In going I was somewhat anxious about how I would fill my time, what would I do? would i spend the time yearning to get off the island in a mild claustrophobic panic? Actually the gift of time and space was quite wonderful. There was time to walk and enjoy the spectacular sea views for what they were. Time to enjoy the wildlife all around. Time to enjoy the beautiful scenery, and time to catch up or, perhaps 'catch down' to God's pace.

Once again, I was left reflecting on the pace of life that seems in tune with God, and the pace of life, characterised by manic activity that I so often lead. This has been an oft-recurring theme for this sabbatical and Im realising how slow a learner I am! But I left committed to living a life, and finding a rhythm that had far more space to encounter and hear the tender voice of God speaking to my mind and my soul, for after all, that voice is surely life and health and peace.

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