The new dawn! A new year beckons, the horizons are clear, the pages untouched…
So we give ourselves a few resolutions which will shape and impact our experience of the future for the next few months. I think this is a good and healthy practice, especially when the resolutions are not cursory and throw-away but rather – well thought-out, with realistic and challenging tasks.
The basis for any resolution is the belief that the ‘doing’ of the resolution will make a difference. If we don’t have this, then the resolution barely gets past the first day! Yet if there is a real energy in the making of the resolution, if there is some inspiration in there, then it has every chance of making a discernible difference.
Not drinking any alcohol in the week-days, or attending a Pilates class once a week, or going to bed by a certain time each week-day night – all these just would make a positive difference to enjoyment, fulfilment and success of life on many various levels.
So it is a really worthwhile consideration – what are my serious intentions for 2018 – what can I put in place which will make discernible difference to the quality of my life. In doing this, and keeping with it, we are making a strong statement of taking control ourselves in a culture and society where we are often left feeling as though we are the behest of other people, outside events or just a roll of the dice in what turns up.
The serious intention of God is something very straightforward – the communication of His love for the whole world – despite what kind of mess we make of it. When Christians read the Bible or pray in the stillness of the night or early morning, Christians connect with this intention. In the saying of ‘Amen’, in the repetition of Bible verses, in the simple looking at an ever-changing tree – we allow the intentions of heaven to permeate our very souls. This can only do us good – no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.
As we do such things we give opportunity for God’s amazing love to drop in an ever more real way into hearts – no longer is His love just an idea, but now it is made flesh in us – it becomes something real and tangible – and this changes everything.
Our church is dedicated and named after Mary, the mother of our Lord. On 10th September we celebrate our Patronal Festival – indeed our ‘Weddings’ Flower Festival falls right on our Patronal week-end. Mary’s story is one of transformation as she carries the gift of God within her, and in the Bethlehem back yard delivers the Saviour of the world. Mary was there when Jesus transformed the water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana, and she was there at the foot of the cross as her son was crucified. In this brutal crucifixion Jesus transforms the very worst of life into something precious beyond words – salvation and forgiveness.
In our church worship we gather to meet with Jesus. Sometimes we call this a ‘sacrament’ of worship. A ‘sacrament’ is something which makes the invisible visible. We do things ‘as if’ what we can’t see is right before us. Children do this by second nature – they play ‘trains’ in the garden, with the garden bench as a station and the wheelbarrow as the train. The children know what these items – the bench and the barrow – really are and what they are used for – but in this period of the game they all choose to act ‘as if’ they really are a station and a train.
When a game of hide and seek is played : by Dad and his 4 year old daughter – again the ‘as if’ rule is being applied. Dad hides behind the curtain with a foot purposefully sticking out. The daughter knows only too well that dad is choosing to be incompetent in his hiding, yet takes great delight in the ‘finding’. Dad plays along with the befuddled role he has chosen to play – in this game transformation is taking place as the daughter takes on the powerful, competent role of ‘finder’ while Dad takes on the vulnerable and powerless role of the one being found. It’s a role reversal in a game of ‘as if’s’ and something important is being learned by both parties in the game.
Mary is a timely reminder for each of us of the power of transformation.
In church on a Sunday we take bread and wine and act ‘as if’ these simple items are not simply bread and wine but the very presence of God. We take what is ordinary and sing, pray and kneel ‘as if’ these items are divine. We give the ‘peace’ to one another in such a way ‘as if’ the other people in the building are our bothers and sisters – even though we might not have met them before. We are making ‘ritual’ out of the action of ‘as if’, and behind the ritual lies the spiritual (a title of a Van Morrison song).
Rituals are really important in life. We greet people on the street with a ritual of a wave or a handshake or fist pump – even people we don’t know too well and in this ritual something takes place and is stretched into existence.
It is imperative for us to consider how we can set up new rituals into our lives – how do we say hello to loved ones in the home, how do we greet people older than us in years, how do we say ‘thank you’ when something is done for us. All these are rituals which if we are not careful can become stale with little force of transformation – but when they are fresh and done with attention, even the most simple ones, carry a profound energy of change.
So why not look for the commonplace rituals in your own life – the ones taken for granted, the ones which could be re-freshed with a bit of attention, and the times and places where new rituals can be tried. As we do, we can watch and sense transformation growing within us as a sacramental way of living is practiced day by day.