So far 2017 has proved an interesting year. It has been the crossing of the threshold into myself. Over the past few years I have really entered into acknowledging, accepting and letting go of, the things that once wished hadn’t shaped me. It has been a time of deeply accepting the limitations of who I am, and coming to the beautiful freedom which emerges.
It has also been a year when I seem to have made more mistakes than ever before. I have failed in friendship, I have let down my colleagues, and I have precipitated pain among those I love.
It has also been a year, where I have been invited to speak in so many new communities about things of faith.
This afternoon I begin a journey of pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I will get to stand in the places where Jesus stood. But perhaps more importantly, I will follow the journey which so many people of faith have taken before. And as I embark on this journey, I come as I am, so aware of the blend of giftedness and failure that I am.
I carry with me every person whom I know I have caused distress this year.
I’m spending the best part of the week at the Winter School hosted by the Faculty of Theology at Stellenbosch University. The overarching theme is on ‘Reforming the church, society and ourselves’. It is interesting to see a strong thread of ‘reconciliation’ woven through some of the talks in the parallel sessions. I happen to have chosen to go to these.
It has been inspiring and eye opening to hear of some of the work that is going on. But I am left with the comment made by one participant. She said ‘We cannot reconcile. Reconciliation is for those who know one another. Our task is to get to know each other’. Her point was very clear, in South Africa today, in no small part because of the physical separation of communities along racial lines, we don’t know one another.
It is such an important and powerful point. How do we begin to cross divides? I am deeply challenged myself on this point. How do I step out of my corridors of comfort?
A couple of the conversations over the last little while around faith and truth and discernment have got me thinking. It has made me realise that I operate out of what I will call a hermeneutic of uncertainty. (For the non-theologically trained a hermeneutic is an interpretive lens).
I use the word ‘uncertainty’ here in way that is loosely analogous manner to the way it is used in science. So uncertainty is not a synonym for doubt. It is simply an acknowledgement of limitations of system. Within the frame of human consciousness I don’t this we can be sure about what is truth. The best we can ever do is to refine the probability of being in the zone of truth.
I think there is wisdom in the traditions which have been handed down. As a church goer and Roman Catholic, I do think that there is a lot in the tradition which points us in the right direction. But I cannot cast that in any absolute way.
My trust is in my relationship with God even though I am fairly certain that the image I have of God is still a crude approximation of who God really is. I know my discernment needs a healthy dollop of what William Barry SJ once called a hermeneutic of suspicion. And so I subject my judgement to scrutiny by my spiritual director and a few people very close to me. I know I am going to get this wrong from time to time, but I know God will be with me all the way. I know God will throw in opportunities to rethink poor trajectories – I’ve had to correct my course sufficiently often to trust this. And I know that my image of God will be refined from time to time.
I realise how thoroughly I have been shaped by my ministry of spiritual direction. For more than 15 years I’ve been polishing these two lenses. I think they have served me very well. It is hard for me now to see how viewing my world in any other way would be desirable.
I got notification that a paper I made a minor contribution to has been accepted for publication. So I opened up my cv to update it. I was struck by the reality of the way in which it just takes time to develop a reasonable academic cv. It requires steady, consistent effort over a number of years. As I am in my 8th year of my independent career I now have a track record. It isn’t the record of a superstar but it is quite solid.
I’ve been gently pondering that all day, and it has got me thinking about the things I do habitually that through doing them for 10, 15, 20 years have really shaped me. And I am pleased with the shaping.
It has also got me thinking about other things which I could have been doing over regularly over these years, and if I had where I am in my career might be a little different. I am not sure yet whether those are real regrets, or just an acknowledgement that the choices I have made, whilst almost inconsequential on a daily basis, have added up to a particular trajectory.
I don’t think it is so much a sense of regret as it is just a little sobering. Even ten or twenty minutes dedicated to one task on a daily basis can really shape your life over time. I want to be sure the shaping that is to come is helping the right trajectory. A choice made once, doesn’t matter at all. The same choice made a thousand times becomes who I am.