The Road to Growth less Travelled

– Spiritual paths in a missionary Church.  Grove Books

 

Some extracts

About this book …. It began life as a

series of conference addresses. Speaking to large groups of clergy is a daunting enough task but when friends asked me what I was speaking on and I said ‘Holiness’ they burst out laughing! The subject was a conversation stopper. Had the conference been on Celtic spirituality, or mission or healing, or example, there recognition would have been immediate. But ‘holiness’? We hang around this word with a mixture of fascination and dread.

Here is an extract ….

Holiness is not healthiness nor worship another word for ‘workout’. Jesus flatly contradicted modern assumptions about wholeness. ‘better to enter life maimed than to go to hell with two hands’ (Mark 9.43). Holiness belongs to God and gives back to God what is his own. It insists that all of life is for the greater ‘wholiness’ of his glory and kingdom. To pray for God’s name to be hallowed is not first of all to ask for our fulfilling in God, ‘but the sanctification of God through the world.

Christian holiness is the way of the cross and, thus, the way of glory. It involves the willingness to embrace, in Christ, all that is broken, incomplete and unholy in the world. It means fighting evil and refusing sin. Holy living may not, therefore, be marked with any outward sign of blessing. We should not be surprised to find that many of those we call saints, who most reflected to us the love of Christ, were themselves full of personal struggle, doubts and unhealed wounds (most recently we have learned of Mother Theresa’s personal darkness)

Holiness then is not an escape from despair, weakness and defeat. Rather they are essential ingredients. Christian holiness is expressed in our incompleteness, not our perfection. We are uneasy with this truth though. We can often demand a holiness (or wholeness) of others that is based unacceptance of our own incompleteness. But we cannot require a each other a ‘wholeness’ that is not yet given. So we need a holiness for the ‘grey areas’. How accurately we can ever recognise holiness in this world is an pen question, It may be the real saints  and their communities are known only to God.

So why do we put ourselves through all this? Because the end there is no other journey to make. Holiness is the way of truth and life. So, in the end, says Leon Bloy, ‘there is only one sadness – that of not being a saint’.

So in the midst of this fragmented, broken and unfinished world, we keep vigil beside a hope we can never abandon – it is the hope of our transfiguring in the holiness of God.

About this book …. It began life as a 

series of conference addresses. Speaking to large groups of clergy is a daunting enough task but when friends asked me what I was speaking on and I said ‘Holiness’ they burst out laughing! The subject was a conversation stopper. Had the conference been on Celtic spirituality, or mission or healing, or example, there recognition would have been immediate. But ‘holiness’? We hang around this word with a mixture of fascination and dread.

 

Here is an extract ….

Holiness is not healthiness nor worship another word for ‘workout’. Jesus flatly contradicted modern assumptions about wholeness. ‘better to enter life maimed than to go to hell with two hands’ (Mark 9.43). Holiness belongs to God and gives back to God what is his own. It insists that all of life is for the greater ‘wholiness’ of his glory and kingdom. To pray for God’s name to be hallowed is not first of all to ask for our fulfilling in God, ‘but the sanctification of God through the world.

Christian holiness is the way of the cross and, thus, the way of glory. It involves the willingness to embrace, in Christ, all that is broken, incomplete and unholy in the world. It means fighting evil and refusing sin. Holy living may not, therefore, be marked with any outward sign of blessing. We should not be surprised to find that many of those we call saints, who most reflected to us the love of Christ, were themselves full of personal struggle, doubts and unhealed wounds (most recently we have learned of Mother Theresa’s personal darkness)

Holiness then is not an escape from despair, weakness and defeat. Rather they are essential ingredients. Christian holiness is expressed in our incompleteness, not our perfection. We are uneasy with this truth though. We can often demand a holiness (or wholeness) of others that is based unacceptance of our own incompleteness. But we cannot require a each other a ‘wholeness’ that is not yet given. So we need a holiness for the ‘grey areas’. How accurately we can ever recognise holiness in this world is an pen question, It may be the real saints  and their communities are known only to God.

 

So why do we put ourselves through all this? Because the end there is no other journey to make. Holiness is the way of truth and life. So, in the end, says Leon Bloy, ‘there is only one sadness – that of not being a saint’.

So in the midst of this fragmented, broken and unfinished world, we keep vigil beside a hope we can never abandon – it is the hope of our transfiguring in the holiness of God.On living at any depth ….

These are very difficult times in which to live at any depth ….. When so much needs to happen outwardly and visibly there is real pressure to neglect the hard, steady work of putting down deep roots for our living and praying. There are no easy answers to this. But it is an urgent priority.

Scott Peck took the title of his classic book ‘The Road Less Travelled’ from a poem by Robert Frost. Frost was walking in woods and found the path dividing. The poem ponders the choice he faced and the dilemma of how to make it. 

Writing from his experience as a psychotherapist Peck observed that significant moments of human growing and transformation often come with the facing of choices or directions previously avoided or simply not considered. They are ‘less travelled’  (and therefore less certain). But as with Frost, these less-travelled ways prove to make ‘all the difference’. Christians will not be surprised at this insight. In one of his less comfortable teachings Jesus describes his way of life as less travelled. It is the narrow way, he insists, and those who find it are few (Matt 7.13-14).

“Growth” an only be understood in the context of our whole life story.

Nearly thirty years after it first appeared, Vincent Donovan’s classic book  Christianity Rediscovered – an Epistle from the Masai is being quoted again in mission discussions. Rightly so. But note the title. It refers to the rediscovery of his own faith. What that undertaking demanded of him is often missed.  He alludes to it briefly but says enough to lay bare its costliness. This was ‘an adventure, a journey of the mind and of the soul, a disconcerting, disturbing, shattering, humbling journey’ . He speaks of the pain of faith ‘shattered’, the ‘agony of belief and unbelief’ and how, when his faith had gone, ‘I ached in every fibre of my being’.  

There is a warning here not to underestimate what the journey of transformation to a truly missionary church may ask of us too. We must never underestimate the depths involved. 

From a section on ‘waiting‘ …

Waiting has no useful place in compulsive impatience of  our culture ….

Waiting tests our loves and longings. Waiting deepens desire. It separates our passing enthusiasms from our true longings. It reveals to us both our shallowness and our depths.

A tough and perceptive spiritual advisor once said to a leadership team, ‘You won’t really get anywhere until you face what you are afraid of’. Waiting is the place we meet our fears. With no activity to hide behind we meet ourselves undefended. That is one reason we find stillness so hard for any length of time.

As we search for ways to ‘make all the difference’, my conviction is that the sheer height, depth, width and glorious mystery of what the gospel calls ‘growth’ still calls to us. And the secret of our thriving will be found there – and only there.

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