Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On writing your life

I think I've mentioned here before that writing a journal is something I've done on and off during most decades of my ministry. The first ever was a travel journal of our first visit to Greece in 1967. Most of those journals were intended to focus on the changes and chances of my inner life, as I came to grips with my vocation, went on retreats and pilgrimages, and so on. I can hardly bear to sample them retrospectively because they are full of agonising introspection, with occasional lines of insight and poetry, and all too rare narrative. But, well ... not nearly as interesting as the travel journals I kept on trips to Syria, Bosnia, Mongolia, when we lived in Geneva.

I finished my time there with a ten week sabbatical living and working in Jerusalem. I may well have written a journal (I must hunt through the dusty boxes and see), but more importantly, as I worked 'back office' for Sabeel, a Palestinian Christian NGO during those weeks, I had access to email, and wrote to family, friends and congregation about my daily life as the second intifada was tragically unfolding. Just doing that changed my relationship to keeping a journal and what I wanted to express through it.

Anyway it was really an early initiation into blogging. But, it was no longer the restless agonisings of a spiritual diary. It was a matter of telling the unfolding story, reflecting on it and my reactions to it, as much as I could at the time. Blogger was a twinkle in a programmers eye in those days. I guess I discovered it when I was ready, with the story of city centre ministry in a time of large scale redevelopment to tell. This is now my third year with this blog.

One day I'll get around to raiding my digital archive and re-reading those stories I told from Jerusalem which so deeply moved me and re-aligned me for the part of the journey which was about to unfold when I returned to a new job, which in itself brought me back to where I am now.

I started journalling before there were 'experts' giving courses on doing this as an aid to spiritual growth. So I never got around to attending and probably did it all wrong. Who are you writing a spiritual diary for? Well, it's true that it helps you to work out what you think, maybe to find some truth about yourself that you're hiding from, revealed as you write, or even as you edit and correct, as I have discovered since using a computer for this purpose, rather than a plain hardback exercise book in longhand.

Sometimes you write for yourself, sometimes you're writing to God, for God, as your inner focus changes. Perhaps the product is so cringe-worthy when revisited because it's obvious just how much or little one thinks about God let alone talks to God in 'spiritual' exercise. So, I learned how good I am at kidding myself, and trying to impress myself. So what?

The change came when I was telling the story to my email recipients, trying to be a genuine, compassionate, faithful witness, often angry and bewildered in the face of what was happening in the streets of the Holy City, while I was there. It revealed my prejudices. It revealed how easily I can be swayed, how quickly God can be left out of the picture painted, and yet, how useless is the language of religion and piety to articulate the first hand experience of the moment, yet how paradoxically that same religious language can emerge from seemingly nowhere within to crystallise accurately a small impression on the reality.

When I started blogging here, it was to tell this particular story, and to try and be the story-teller that I am, with my unique background a calling, struggling to work out what it means to be unashamedly a Christian in this very secular and materialistic environment, and how to live that and communicate that to my audience ..... audience? What audience?

I know there are people around the city, around Europe and other continents who dip in here from time to time - those I've known before and worked with, or am still working with - thanks for taking an interest in what I'm up to. It certainly helps to focus conversation when we get around to 'catch-up' time. My life is so full and varied, not least my moods and reactions during this final period of my public working life in an institution in which I think I know my place, but have never been sure that I really belong. Through this writing and reflecting, never terribly pious, not as pious as I am in my deepest privacy, for sure, the story I tell is about what's going on around me, that I'm able to engage with. God may not get full-on mentions, nor get addressed directly too often in what I write. But what makes this situation writeable about for me is that God is present in the hopes and creativity and caring that are the warp and weft of daily life.

Rudolf Steiner's mantras offered to teachers (told me by my wife) - "I am peace - I am in God : I am love - God is in me", for use night and day, underwrite my desire to tell this story the best I can, to value this situation for all that it is worth.

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