13th December 2022
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls”
The collective voices of many saints gone before as well as those still present with us has taught me that regular times of solitude and retreat are key to being able to live with authenticity, vulnerability and grace in community with others.
I find the solitude and retreat quite easy. The other part, not so much. It is a topic God and I return to again and again and just when I think I have finally learned vulnerability, God shows me another protective layer I have placed over my heart and soul. Maybe you can relate?
I went on retreat this past September at the lovely Sannox Centre on Isle of Arran. Walking aways creates a greater attentiveness within me to the voice of God so on one of my days there, I set off on my own sort of wee pilgrimage, walking the coastal path along the northeast side of the island from Sannox to Lochranza.
It was beautiful weather with sunshine mixed with atmospheric clouds settling in the hills, birds singing, seals playing in the sea, the temperature perfect to make paddling through a couple of wee burns a delightful experience.
And then I reached my first real boggy stretch of path.The weather that week had been glorious and so in an effort to pack light, I mistakenly hadn’t packed my walking boots, just my far from waterproof trainers. However, Scotland being Scotland it had poured rain the night before and now I faced the consequence of my packing decisions.
My eyes ran across the terrain before me, trying to find a way across with the least amount of bog. I started to go one direction, then noticed something. Places where grass had been flattened by feet come along before me. Blue marks on stones. As I followed the marks and the footsteps of other “pilgrims” gone before me, I was able to cross the bog fairly quickly and arrived at the other side with dry feet. I realised as I looked back that had I tried to forge my own path, I would have had to turn around half way to then follow the course just taken.
This continued the entire way. In every boggy bit, I chose to follow in the footsteps of others rather than create my own path. And I finally arrived in Lochranza with aching but minimally damp feet and in plenty of time for my bus back to the retreat centre.
As I paused to add my stone to the cairn along the path, I reflected on how this is what community in Jesus is all about. This is the community of the saints – those gone before who are that “great cloud of witnesses” and are cheering us on together with all of us in the here and now.
The journey of this life is filled with beauty and joy and mystery but it is also long and precarious. Why would we chose to walk alone, forging our own path? I think we chose that because it feels less risky than vulnerability. Because to receive the help of others requires acknowledging we are not better on our own, acknowledging our own weakness, it requires asking for help, trusting others with our deepest selves, it requires releasing control.
Yet we know, deep within, that it is there in community that our best fruit lies, our healing awaits, that the fullness of life is experienced.
I love what Henri Nouwen says about community:
‘Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide their joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other as a gesture of hope.
In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs – but we do not have to live it alone. We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care.”
He goes on to say, “The basis of community is not primarily our ideas, feelings and emotions about each other but our common search for God“
I wonder, as we journey towards Christmas this Advent, where might you sense God inviting you to make yourself vulnerable to others as a “gesture of hope” in our “common search for God?” Where might he be inviting you to drink that cup of joy and sorrow, of the ups and downs of life, with others rather than on your own?
Is it possible that healing is waiting for you there? Is it possible that another’s healing is awaiting your presence?