#AdventBookClub day 3: Eternal Love brooding over creation

I was recently at an event where the speaker was speaking about Genesis 1.1 as the moment in which God brings order out of chaos. He went on to make some interesting points, but he very nearly lost me in the first 30 seconds, when he said that the experience of ministry is generally one of order, which is occasionally – as it has been during the pandemic – interrupted by chaos. “Really???” I thought. That’s not my experience of ministry – or of life in general. In my experience chaos is always fairly near the surface, and often interweaves with whatever order we may discern among it in interesting, creative and sometimes challenging ways.

I find Underhill’s concept of a continual process of the Holy Spirit brooding over the chaos of creation a far more helpful approach to discerning God’s movement in the world. This is not a triumphalist narrative of order subduing or overcoming chaos, nor does it assume that order is the default experience of our lives, when very obviously for many if not most people it is not. Instead it is an approach which seems to me to emphasise our continual dependence on the patient loving-kindness of God who is continually brooding over us, continually ordering the world and our lives, continually coaxing creativity out of the mess and muddle in which we exist.

Such an image fits more fully with my own experience than that offered in the talk I heard recently. But it also fits more fully with my understanding and experience of God, as one continually involved in the action of loving into fullness of life all that she has created. And that understanding of God, as continually and intimately involved in loving creation, must inform my spiritual life. If, as Underhill says, “my small, formless, imperfect soul is constantly subject to the loving, creative action of God, in all the bustle of my daily life”, then the mess and chaos of life is not something to be overcome by order, or pushed aside to make room for prayer, but something in which to discern the ever-patient presence of God.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 2: Mighty symphony of the triune God

I found the idea of “shifting our focus from ‘Mine’ to ‘Ours'” a really helpful one. The analogy of worship as a symphony (Ours) rather than an individual melody (Mine) made a lot of sense to me, as a way of making that shift.

I have often tried to express a similar shift in narrative terms: we are not the heroes of our own stories, but ensemble players in the story of God. And as we shift from “Mine” to “Ours” one of the outworkings of that is that we cannot expect to see the whole narrative arc – our stories are part of a greater story which we cannot see in its entirety, and so the parts we do see may not always make sense to us by themselves.

Similarly, when I used to play in orchestras, I would only have the flute part in front of me. Only the conductor has the whole score, and the players in the orchestra have to trust them to lead us through in ways that weave the part we can see into the whole we cannot see. Sometimes, depending on the piece, my part would contain many bars of rests – when I had no idea what would be played, not even one small part of the whole. Other times I would have the melody, and therefore a fair idea of the general direction in which the piece is heading, but still only a tiny part of the whole. More often I would have fragments of music which made little sense by themselves, and were often not at all beautiful when practiced alone, but would weave in with the other instruments to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

Like any analogy, it can be stretched too far, but I think there is a lot of wondering that could be done around the symphony metaphor. When, in our lives with God, are we directed to rest? When do we catch sight of the tune? When does our part feel dull or repetitive, or make little sense? And how can we tune in to listen more attentively to the symphony into which we are being drawn?

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.

#AdventBookClub day 1: God’s perpetual coming

Today’s focus on seeing God coming among us in ‘unexpected, disguised and inconspicuous ways’ struck a chord with me. I am preaching this morning about the Advent call to “Look!” “See!” “Behold!” and how it is a call not to look away: not to look away from people drowning in the channel because there is no safe route for them, not to look away from families choosing between heating and eating this Christmas, not to look away from the unfolding climate catastrophe. Advent calls us to confront the world as it is, even as we long for the transforming coming of God. But it also calls us to acknowledge that the world as it is is already infused with God’s presence, if only we are attentive enough to discern it.

“Only a spiritual disposition which thus puts the whole emphasis on God, perpetually turning to God and losing itself in God, is safe,” says Underhill. May this Advent, and all our Advent observances, draw us more deeply into that disposition of dependence on God and desire for God. In my sermon this morning I am using one of my favourite quotes from Teresa of Avila:

"Let nothing trouble you,
let nothing make you afraid, 
all things pass away,
God never changes,
patience obtains everything,
God alone is enough." 

Over the last few months I have been contemplating that phrase: “God alone is enough”. If God alone is enough, then what does that mean for how I live my life? Perhaps this advent season, with its deep attentiveness to God’s presence and God’s coming, will draw me more deeply into that reality of God’s perfect sufficiency, and all that it means for us, God’s creatures.

This year for #AdventBookClub we are reading ‘Music of Eternity: meditations for Advent with Evelyn Underhill’ by Robyn Wrigley-Carr. Join the conversation in the Facebook group, or by following the hashtag on Twitter.