Friday, September 11, 2009

Suburban Wilderness

Colorado Springs, a sprawling suburbia at the eastern feet of the staggering Rocky Mountains strikes as an image of a modern America which has robbed itself of community by worshipping privacy, space and the automobile. And yet, with a paradox which also rings true in a country which plays home to the incredibly relational, generous and visionary people that I have met in kitchens, overseas, on public transport and spread over the pages of paperbacks, it is a place where, for a short time, I found real community, love, grace, inspiration, support, reality and the stuff of a broken humanity all too often hidden from view by the space between us.

As I left Africa I revisited a thought which had been important to me as I left Ireland. God does not change. He is the same everywhere and so the One who has always proved to be reliable would and will continue to be so, no matter where I find myself. The richness of his person and the reach of his influence would not diminish. I thought about that as I lamented leaving a place where I had been inspired almost every day by a story or a child or an event or a landscape. I was struck by the subtle difference between two thoughts:

1 - "You have changed my life" A phrase so often repeated by departing visitors to our children. Massah you have changed who I am. Mary you have ensured that I will never be the same. Phillo you have altered me. Samuel you have made an indelible mark on my heart.

2 - "God has used you to change my life" A phrase less commonly uttered though perhaps implied. Ngardy, by introducing me to you God has inspired me to a different life. Angie, through our relationship God has called me to a changed way of being. Musu, God has used you to get to my core and go to work.

The difference is subtle but utter. Because if my children were the ones who affected a change in my life, that influence would lessen with every day we spend apart. But if that difference was instigated by an omnipresent Father who works through the people, things and situations around us, then the process does not have to ease off. There is no ending. There is just a journey. Because no destination has been reached and what was important was not left behind.

At a conference in America recently some of the great minds of American Christendom were asked to sum up the Christian experience in one word. This is kind of a futile exercise given the complexity of the experience to be described but it is food for thought at the very least and the word that they came up with was 'Wilderness'. It is a great word to suggest, albeit limited in the way that any single word must be, with a big problem being that it fails to speak to the 'abundance' of a life with God. What is sums up perfectly however is this reality - we are sojourners who have trouble in a world we are in but not of, stumbling in the darkness of our journey home with a fragment of the light. The Son of Man has no-where to lay his head. The journey continues.

In Colorado God made it clear that he has a whole lot more to show me and many more questions to pose. I feel like I have always been someone who is comfortable with the questions which drift around our heads and our hearts, whether acknowledged or not. Indeed I can quickly be uncomfortable in the midst of people with too many answers. Colorado was a place of true fellowship, a word which the church has reduced to mean pot luck dinners, cinema trips and 'fun' of a shallower type, but which here looked liked people sharing the brokenness of their souls, the depth of their questions and the loneliness of their wilderness. Sharing and laughing and rejoicing and encouraging and crying together in a way which the Church has always had the capacity to do. It was the Church with its masks torn off and what was underneath was painfully beautiful. Being a part of that for a few days has left me with a dull ache for all that we could be.

1 comment:

Amy said...

I am glad you were able to scribe so perfectly in words the way my soul has felt since I left the very same place. Miss you.

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