‘To live is to change, to be perfect is to have changed often’ – Blessed John Henry Newman
Sitting here at my desk, writing the first post for this new blog feels quite bizarre! It’s been at least two or three years since my last blog ‘The Hesychast’ was up and running properly and in all honesty, it’s taking some getting use to – so much has changed!
The word ‘change’ could probably be a true and succinct term for the focus of all that has occured since my last blog post in 2011. I have changed, the world has changed, my outlook has changed and yet, what does the word ‘change’ even mean? It’s a word flung around by the numerous lifestyle Twitter profiles….@LifeFacts, @ohteennotes, @diaryforteens and @TeenThings to name but a few. Perhaps, one could conclude that change is an essential part of adolescence although it would seem that Twitter is quite keen to locate change solely within the realm of immature teenagers. I’d like to think I’ve always been changing, perhaps developing is a word most of us would be most comfortable with. Change implies falsehood, two facedness, a lack of knowing who we are at times (perhaps!) whilst developing implies progression, going up the ladder of life, an increase of knowing etc. Anyone who uses social media regularly, might be aware of the fact that if there is one thing that we, as a society, are not comfortable with it’s admitting our lack of personal development. We want to be intelligent, rich, professional, popular, followed by more than 10 people on Twitter and get as many likes on our latest Instagram picture as possible….! God help the person who fails their A-levels, loses their University place, or gets made redundant and can’t find the money to buy that red bottom pair of Christian Louboutin’s in order to upload a photo to Twitpic just to ensure that their followers don’t catch a scent of their genuine unhappiness and failure.
Having just finished term 8 of 9 at Wesley House, a Methodist Theological College in Cambridge, I’ve taken the time to pause, and slow down over the lenten season to reflect on life and the meaning of happiness in light of John Cassian’s spirituality and the transmitted wisdom of the desert. The wisdom of the desert father’s and mother’s has always been important to me, but they have served me well this lent in getting to grips with the roots of my emotions and the ways in which the mind affects the body’s health.
Coming to Cambridge to train as a Methodist Minister, I had to come to terms with the fact that the two things I would spend the majority of my time doing were changing and developing. I had to realise that ultimately the Church was not what I thought it was, that my view and understanding of ministy was unique to me, that my understanding of Methodism was but one among many, that being young was going to be a burden and not a blessing, that being black was going to raise eyebrows and turn heads and that my taking the transcendent seriously would put me in a spiritual box marked: ‘unpopular’.
Hindesight is a wonderful thing, and in retrospect I can see how various experiences were necessary and even helpful perhaps. Had it not been for a long period of difficult change I’d never have realised my priorities, or understood how important music is to me, nor would I have fallen in love with the poetry of Cavafy and the theological writings of Augustine and Dionysius the Aeropagite, and had I not gone through a dark and lonely period of depression and anger I would never have been able to put the past to rest and fall once again, in love with God.
Perhaps, ministerial formation takes on double efficacy (only time will tell!) when one is far from home, living as a minority and coming to terms with the realities of this world. There will always be people who know more than you do, people who are more successful, people who just seem to sail through life, while you deal with holding it all together in the corner on your own. Change, if it is anything, is never comfortable and perhaps years of following a Christ whose suffering was so public has helped me to bear my own pain in the view of others.
Throughout all this change, whilst i’m certainly not who or what I was, at my very core, I am totally unchanged. I could, perhaps, liken the past three years to a time in the desert – there has certainly been struggle, illumination, pilgrimage and the battling of everyday demons of which scars still remain and perhaps, which God intends to serve as reminders (both subtle and harsh) of how sin is never personal, for the way each of us live out our lives effects the whole of time and space…leaders take note!
I think the Twitter profiles that suggest that ‘change’ belongs to teens are wrong. Change is good, change is necessary and it ought to happen little and often and for the benefit of all. The wisdom of the desert shows us that a life with God is a life of constant sacred and inward change lived within the heart of the One who is changeless. Change is not simply ‘off with the old and on with the new’ it’s more about having lived the old, what can I learn in order to inhabit the new – in order to fulfil God’s purpose for me, here, now, today, what do I need to discard and what do I need to cling onto? The process of change can be painful and bleak, for sometimes God requires that you hold onto to very little of what you once knew, but doing the change, always connected to the heart of God enables us to withstand the transformation.
As a preacher of the Gospel and as someone training to become a Priest in the Church of God, I have to say it concerns me how desperate people of my generation are for self-fulfilment and recognition. There is a part of me that wants in all honesty, to retreat from social media alltogether and another part of me that says I need to stay ‘in-touch’ if I am to honour my calling. The false idea that is everywhere at the moment, and I guess has always existed, is that money = happiness. A recent tweet about happiness read: “Money can’t buy you happiness, but it can buy you clothes, and that’s pretty close”. I have to say that I think at times the Church has been guilty of offering cheap happiness in the guise of fun worship, or sugar-coated fellowship, it’s also been too cautious of change in some areas, and too hasty in others. My time in seminary has enabled me to see things in a clearer way than they might appear to some and I think that change must always be not solely for our benefit, but for the good of the ‘other’. It’s my hope that the ministry I offer, having been changed and continuing to change, might bring people to realise that there is more to life than what meets the eye. And so, for as long as I am able to be an online presence, might we journey together with a God who yearns to change and transform us and who invites us to live a life lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise.