Photo: Francisco J. Villena

By Nathan Marshall

“Transformation begins with endings. Death comes to the system in some form. The natural response is for people to grieve.” A Door Set Open, Peter L. Steinke, (Alban Institute, Herndon, 2010) p.59

The idea of being ‘Liquefied’ sounds unpleasant.

Perhaps that’s what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had in mind as they peered into the incinerator? In the words of Dr Seuss: Gluppity Glup and Schloppity slopp!  Liquefying was mentioned back in July by Kym Dixon in a leader’s ‘all in’ zoom. This may be a metaphor many Spiritual leaders are experiencing? Metamorphosis always sounds promising. The pupating and liquefying part sounds less enticing! There is no identity in the cocoon, which sounds like death to self?

One thing that did grab my attention as I listened was grief. Bucket loads of it. Grief due to the loss of the Church gathered. Grief in terms of the deeper reality of COVID-19 and the larger sense of grief. Grief in the tentativeness and uncertainty. ‘It’s a fog’, which makes it difficult to see or sense a way forward. We are wired to be on the move somewhere, to see our options and opportunities. To brush over this death and bury our grief would be a tragedy. We have hit an ending, and death has come to the system in some form. This is our natural response, and without it, we all too quickly move towards solutions and quick fixes. Like ‘Newspeak’ from Orwell’s ‘1984’, we end up eliminating expression and supress emotion, limiting our humanity and creative freedom.

Lament is a spiritual practice that doesn’t receive much airplay. Not that I’m lamenting the ‘persistence of form’ (Edwin Friedman), but there is something tangible here that needs to be grieved at a communal level (with the irony of not being able to gather communally). We have no doubt idolized our ‘services’ in the Western Church, but the Church ‘gathered’ to fellowship and pray, to celebrate and lament, to worship and encourage; this perhaps is what we are grieving? Could this be a tipping point, not only to germinate what this season is unearthing, but how we might recover something that was lost, due to our possible inertia? Like the woman who lost something precious, she lit a lamp and sweept house until she found it. (Lk 15:8-9) It is only in the finding does she invite her friends and neighbours to celebrate. What is it that we have lost, and what if we could discover it again? Not another form, but a much broader and deeper reality of Christ and His Kingdom?

Transitions begin with endings. We generally don’t transition unless something shifts. To grieve is therefore an appropriate response. The liminality of this time is unknown, but it’s set in. We are in uncharted waters now. The spirit of adventure awaits, but without a compass, and in this fog, we are more than a little disorientated.

“All we know is that periodically, some situation or events deflects us from the path that we thought we were on, and, in so doing, ends the life chapter we were in. In order to continue our journey, we are forced to let go of the way we got that far. Having let go, we find ourselves in the wilderness for a time, and until we have lived out that time can we come back around to a new beginning”  says William Bridges in The Way of Transition, (Perseus, Cambridge, 2001) p.219 (underline mine).

If, in this time of ending and now liminal space, we were brave enough to ask the same question Kevin Sheehan inferred on the ‘all in’ zoom –  ‘what if we are not about accumulating for ourselves but pouring out for others?’ In Friedman’s thinking, overcoming the emotional barrier of ‘the Church exists for me’ is no overnight endeavour!

“The purpose of the Church is not to accumulate attendees. The Church is a school for developing agents of the new creation from among those who are beneficiaries of God’s grace.” (Steinke, p.122)

The emotional system changes when people change how they function says Friedman. Without rushing to new beginnings too soon, what if the Church is being scattered again to participate in something beyond ‘attending’ Church? What if Willard was right and our lives are a “… tremendously creative project”?! What if very small groups of people could find creative ways to participate in tremendously creative projects and purposes, without avoiding the hum-drum and laundry of our lives? How does it include activists, thinkers, contemplatives, artists and practical people? How might we relinquish our need for a Pastor to chaplain our souls, inviting Jesus to be prophet, priest and King of our lives? What if COVID allows for the faithful retelling of the Gospel in this very challenging season? How will we grieve the loss of what we took for granted, hold the tension of not knowing and ‘live out that time’, so we can come back around to a new beginning?!

Kind of feels like liquefying …

 

 

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