At the start of this year, I set myself some goals. These goals were to do with being refreshed and ready for what is to come. I set these because the past couple of years have been a bit of a red herring for me, and no doubt many others. I’ve found the rituals, habits and ways I had learned to find purpose, rest and direction weren’t quite working like they used to. So, I decided to find some new ways of doing things, to help me find a center and a direction with God.
One of those goals was to take a couple of days, as time to spend in spiritual reflection with God. So, a couple of weeks ago I reached out to Rev Ron Bundy, a retired priest of this diocese and asked him what he might suggest. I was lucky enough that the very next day, there was a “Lenten Quiet Time” with the theme of, “A Walk on the wild side with Jesus” – Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days was the focus. It was a 4-hour led time of reflection on the passage and themes around the passage, with some sharing from the group involved. So, I arranged my day, jumped in my car and set off to Holy Rood Church in Oxenford.
When I arrived, I was slightly nervous, as I didn’t really know anyone particularly well and I didn’t really know what to expect from this. But, I was ready and open to hearing from God and what direction I might get from this. In my experience, when I do something like this, I usually leave with something important that God has given me.
As I walked into the hall, the seats were arranged in a big circle and two deacons of the parish, Rosie and Lyn, you might know them, were leading the day. They started the time by going over what to expect: a couple of long reflections times, optional sharing with the group and the importance of confidentiality. At that point, I was starting to feel a bit more relaxed and excited about what I might get out of this.
The time then started and without going into immense detail, we listened to some music, some poetry and then went off into our own quiet reflection time to look at some questions and reflect on what they meant for us. Over this time, I decided to read over the passage of Jesus in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11). At first, I noticed that I was getting stuck on the details of the passage, details I was finding that didn’t really speak to me – I was wondering, “why they were in there and what they meant” but I wasn’t finding those thoughts were giving me much. So, I decided to read it again and see what else stood out, but again I felt like I was stuck overthinking what I was reading. There wasn’t a library of information for me to answer any of these questions. The time I had, was for reflection and letting God speak to me, not answering questions of context and the meanings of Hebrew words. Not that God couldn’t speak to me in that way but that wasn’t this exercise.
So, I read it again, still the same problem! And again….and again, until I decided that I wanted to see if I could read it so many times, it would lose its meaning. Kind of like when you say a word over and over again, it starts to feel meaningless and weird. So, I did that, and then after about 30 times reading this passage, over and over, which lasted about 10 minutes, I stopped overthinking it. I then read it a few more times and all of a sudden a light bulb went off and I had a thought. “Why is Jesus so calm and matter of fact.”
This doesn’t make any sense to me. Most of the imagery and verses in the bible talk about a war between good and evil, God and Satan. Yet, here is Jesus and the devil having a conversation and it’s so calm on Jesus’ end. It is very matter of fact, to the point, no wasted words and it doesn’t have a single hint of any aggression at all…. So, it doesn’t look like any war I’ve seen.
As I was sitting with this, no longer overthinking things. I thought to myself that Jesus shows a peaceful strength in what he is doing. And those two words stuck with me for the rest of the time and have stuck with me since. Peaceful strength. Jesus doesn’t cower, he doesn’t back away, and at the same time, he seems very calm, simply replying with scripture or referencing scripture. He shows peaceful strength.
As I reflected on this, I thought to myself that I really love this response to life. The past 2 years have been difficult and at times I have felt like thrashing around, yelling and being angry at what isn’t fair. I spoke to my wife about the peaceful strength, explaining the journey to it and her comment was, “I think that is at the core of you, I have seen that.” My reply and thought was, I don’t feel like I’ve been that much in the past number of years. And as I reflected, I think I’ve neglected finding God’s word for me, probably the past 4-5 years, not just 2.
So, I left the quiet reflection time with a challenge. The challenge is the understand what exactly this means to have this back in my life more often. The peaceful strength wasn’t what I was expecting to find, I was expecting more concrete direction but it has given me a sense of peace. In the past two weeks, I have been waking up and saying a prayer for God to help me find that peace and to look to that when I’m facing a fear in myself, or a tricky situation. Figuring out what it means to respond in peaceful strength, both to myself and others.
So, I’m happy that my year has found what it was looking for and I’m excited to understand how to work out how I put this into action.