Thursday, 24 October 2013

On not crashing the asterisk: the value of pausing

Last Monday a small group of us from Hodge Hill Church - in different ways either 'activists' or in positions of leadership, or both - paid a visit to our friends and travelling companions, the sisters of the Community of St John the Divine, just down the road from us in Alum Rock. Our reason for going was to explore where we go with our vision for a 'community house' after our recent unsuccessful auction bid (for some reflections on that moment of disappointment and 'bereavement', see here).

My experience of conversations with the sisters of CSJD has frequently been one of surprise: their attentive listening, to me and my companions, and to the 'deep currents of the Spirit', has often resulted in a response, a suggestion, a 'wondering' or a challenge that has seemingly come from nowhere, utterly unexpected or imagined, but has resonated deeply, 'rung true', stopped me in my tracks with its 'rightness'. On this occasion we witnessed another of those unexpected responses - an interruption of our forward momentum with a challenge to go deeper, a pressing of the 'pause' button to allow new possibilities to come to birth.

We went into the convent having lost the possibility of a community house. We came out with the invitation to consider deepening our commitment to community (house or no house), through exploring a shared 'rule of life' among those of us who live and/or work in our neighbourhoods here, which might just possibly prove attractive to other friends and travelling companions in other places. A 'rule of life' which is life-giving rather than life-constricting, inclusive and flexible, which yet enables us to shape together a sense of 'life balance', and deepens the spiritual, relational, earthed, foundations of our local (and sometimes more explicitly political) 'activism'. Emerging from that possibility, even more strangely, came the possibility of not one 'community house' but two... one as a place of hospitality to neighbours, at the heart of our busy, demanding, bustling, exciting estate; and one as a place more explicitly for 'retreat', with an emphasis on space, beauty, reflection and prayer - and hospitality to a much wider and more dispersed network of fellow travellers and explorers. There is much more to be reflected on, considered, explored, and decided, before any of this becomes much more 'concrete', but it was, as I say, a most unexpected turn in our conversation.

We finished the evening in the convent's chapel, saying Compline (Night Prayer) with the sisters. It was one of those moments where it becomes painfullly obvious who is practised at praying several times daily (the sisters), and who is awkwardly not (the rest of us, including the Vicar!). We were invited to say the psalms 'antiphonally' (that means one side of the chapel take a verse, and then the other, in turn), pausing in the middle of each verse, where the text has an asterisk. For some of us it's a familiar concept, even if we might have been rather out of practice. But there are few things more obvious, in a convent chapel in the quiet of a late evening, than half the congregation crashing unthinkingly through the asterisk, while the other half are pausing, reflectively, prayerfully, mid-verse.

Taking a breath, pausing with intent, listening for (and in, and to) the silence, waiting with our companions. It's an art that takes practice. But the interruptions it creates, make space for something new, unexpected, sometimes even unimaginable, to emerge...

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