Encounter, Call and Struggle

The week began with a retreat. The clergy from Dunedin city gathered with me at the Holy Cross retreat centre in Mosgiel from Monday until Wednesday. It was a way of helping all of us reconfigure our relationship, and also for me to emphasise the place of spirituality in our future life together. All the people present had at some stage encountered God; they wouldn't be there otherwise. All of them had felt and struggled with a sense of call and it is those elements - encounter, call and struggle - which meld to form the basis of all effective ministry. I hoped Dunedin's clergy would re find and deepen those elements in their lives; that they would forget about programs and objectives and tasks and recognise that they themselves in all their vulnerability were the Diocese's great asset; that what people most wanted from them was their own sense of God. I think all of my objectives for the retreat were met and something else happened besides: at the end of the three days I think we had all grown in our liking for and trust of one another, So I came home on Wednesday evening pleased but unrested, feeling still daunted by the task ahead. I knew that in the coming week I had five separate sermons or addresses to deliver and no space left in my schedule to prepare them.

On Thursday morning I had supervision. Paul, my supervisor lives at Portobello at the far end of the harbour. There is a twisting half hour drive along the waterfront to his place, so there is a sense of journey before we even begin. The lovely house he shares with his wife Valerie is old, unpredictable and filled with intriguing pieces of this, that and the other thing. There is a conservatory with a grapevine growing inside and a large espresso machine installed on the table. We made coffee and began the winding trek through the house and up the stairs to Paul's consulting room. On the way we passed Valerie, emailing her grandson. He is five and apprehensive about swimming at school because he has to wear dorky goggles. Valerie was sending him a picture of herself wearing a wide happy hey don't I look great smile and the dorkiest swimming goggles you could ever find. It was a beautiful picture and certainly made me want to rush out and don a pair of unflattering specs, and somehow it set the tone for what followed. I had in my mind a litany of the endless tasks ahead and the exhaustion that ensued from just thinking about them. But Paul wasn't playing that game. He is trained in appreciative enquiry and began by asking me about the retreat, and what I had brought to it, and why it had worked so well. He coaxed me into admitting that what people wanted from me was not programs and objectives and tasks but my own sense of God. That what I had to re find and live with was my sense of encounter, call and struggle and that when I found that, the rest of the stuff would all just fall into place in its own sweet time.

In the last few minutes he also introduced me to the poet David Whyte.

I went home with a sense of reassurance and calm, stopped worrying about what lay ahead, downloaded a David Whyte audiobook onto my iPhone and drove to Cromwell, where I was due to speak at a Theological Nest. I had somehow constructed the idea that a theological nest was a dozen elderly people sitting in a circle in a dingy room somewhere, waiting for me to lead them in a chummy discussion. So I was a bit nonplussed to find that a Theological Nest was in fact 65 very smart, very expectant, very lively folk gathered around a delicious pot luck dinner in the Cromwell church hall, expecting that I would address them for a half hour. It was fine. I forgot the program and spoke for myself. I spoke, as requested, of where I saw God at work in the world. I think I managed to convey something of my own sense of God; I felt calm and unstressed and energised by being there. Paul would have been proud of me.

I left at 9 pm and drove home with small insects and raindrops hitting the windscreen in about equal measure. The car was comfortable and stable and fast and with my iPhone plugged into the stereo, I travelled through the sweet darkness listening to David Whyte. He used his own and others' poetry to speak of midlife, and of the need to get in touch with our sense of encounter, call and struggle.

Sweet Darkness

When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.

When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.

Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.

There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.

The dark will be your womb

The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.

You must learn one thing,
The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and
the sweet confinement of your
aloneness to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

- David Whyte


Elaine Dent said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elaine Dent said…
Thanks for the introduction to David Whyte and the reminder, especially in holy week, that it is not about program, but about encounter, call and struggle with the Holy One.
Richard Johnson said…
Hi Kelvin, this is just for you! "I forgot the program and spoke for myself. I spoke, as requested, of where I saw God at work in the world. I think I managed to convey something of my own sense of God; I felt calm and unstressed and energised by being there." Please do just this on Monday night at All Saints!
Alden Smith said…
Well I have now discovered another poet whom I demand that I read - Thankyou.
Verna said…
Kelvin, I have just cruised through all the photos on your blog and have been reminded, yet again, of just how far you have journeyed over the last two years, and how privileged we have been to be able to share so much of those physical, mental, and spiritual journeys through this site. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself. May the journey be ever interesting and satisfying and inspiring.