learning the art of watching and being entirely pointless

so here i am. ordained. there is a whole ministry stretched out in front of me and i don't have a clue what it is going to look like. this is good.

God is the God of suprises. i could never have imagined any of this for myself. in fact if i could have i probably would have run away....at least initially. as it is, this is the only thing that i can imagine myself doing. and yet the exact details are veiled.

at college the primary metaphor that was given to me about being ordained, was to be a manager. manage the services, manage the people, manage the parish. yeuch, no thanks. but there was also this lingering idea (i think it comes from the mission shaped church report) that as ministers of the gospel, we should be watching. watching for what God is doing....and then joining in with that. this is one of those phrases which is, to be honest, bandied around without anyone having the slightest clue what it actually means. i mean, what does it 'look' like...to watch for God?

simeon watched for God. was his ministry any less meaningful because he had to wait til the end of his life for the thing that he was watching for? or did the faithful daily completing of his work, day in, day out, give him the eyes that he needed to see when God did the thing he was waiting for?

i want to be the kind of ordained person who is patient and who can see what is going on, when what is 'going on' isn't necessarily on the surface, laid bare, clear. i'm not sure that i'm naturally a patient person, not when i can see what needs doing, but sometimes what needs doing is to wait and watch.

these are the things that are not taught in college. perhaps they can't be, perhaps there are things that cannot be taught. there's a lot of panic going on at the moment about fees and money and how the theological colleges will continue in this particular educational climate. personally i think that theological education is all very well, i definitely think that people presenting themselves for ordination should put themselves through a theology degree, but......

who will teach us the art of watching for God?

those of us ordained this petertide (that's this summer for those who don't speak in anachronistic language....) are now to go out into the world that needs God, in order to be those who speak 'God', who see God in the dark corners of our communities and point God out to those communities and have those communities point out God to us. but how are we to do that? where do we begin? how do we know what is God and what is our own minds, conjuring up the safest or most comfortable delusion about the God of our own imaginings?

the art of watching for God is not new. it did not arrive with the mission shaped church report. the art of watching for God is ancient.

it is called prayer.

in the climate of financial turmoil that the colleges are going through, whilst many are looking to diversify, building projects multiply and the next couple of decades are looked to be managed, will there be those who are part of the training of priests, who will teach us how to watch for God? teach us how to pray?

this is the moment! will they grasp it? i often said at college, that i really could have done with 2 years of prayer. being taught by those who pray. learning the art of listening. i know that it sounds naive. i used to joke about it. but i don't think i was joking. if i was teaching people to be ministers of God's people, ministers of the Gospel, i'd ask them to come having done their academic training, and then i would teach them to pray. for 2 years. at least.

so many young guys come to theological college having been in a career where they were quite successful and they are taught by people like them....and they are handed comfort blankets - ways to manage the congregation, the parish, the building project, the community partners. these are ways of saying that this is a 'job' that you just have to figure out how to do... and it's ok, because the tools are the same as the 'job' you just came out of.

i yearned for people to say, more often....at all?....that this is the most ridiculous job in the world and we don't know what we are doing...or rather we know what we are trying to do, but have no idea how to do it!

it is so easy, as an ordained person, to get frightened by the need to be doing, to be seen to be doing, and to be able to produce a product in order to be recognised as successful. whether your product is an ever expanding congregation, a new programme, a course or a very full diary. the pressure is on to have something in your hand to show what the point of you is.

so, at the start (which is really the middle), here i am....committed to learning the art of watching for God, stepping into the stream of the ancients who have gone before me, and perhaps being part of the story that will be told after me.

and so being willing to be unseen, willing to have nothing to show for my presence, and happily finding myself utterly and completely.....pointless.


David said...

Many congratulations on the ordination - great stuff to see having been an interested observer at the start.

Rowan Williams has written a great article about being a watcher, an interpreter and a weaver. It sounds like you should read it if you haven't already.

I think you'll find too that there are things they should have taught you at college, things they can't teach you in college, and things they've taught you but you don't realise it yet... that process of formation.

Keep prayerful and reflective (as you are) and I know you won't go too far wrong.

radical disciple said...

thanks david

it was good to get to that point, which is an end, a middle and a beginning :)

where's the rowan article?

i'm not sure about the college experience - and each college is different and is different in its own lifetime, dependent on student body, staff and political climate, as well as the dna of that particular denomination or tribe. i've had a lot of 'apophatic' formation, which has taught me a lot and i've met some wonderful people. and i think that God showed me some stuff about the church that i hadn't really taken on board.

i do admit to having developed an allergic reaction to the word formation tho ;) lol.


chandy said...

Watching and listening is so difficult, so counter-cultural. I think the link for that article is http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2097/the-christian-priest-today-lecture-on-the-occasion-of-the-150th-anniversary-of-ripon-college-cuddesd


Curate Karen said...

Great blog post and you are right about the importance of watching. You will find, I'm sure, that no matter how busy you get in ministry, the overall guiding principle will be your inclination to watch, to listen and to pray.