Friday, 5 June 2015


 Okay, so Alpha ended with me barely noticing. I was hurtling towards a destination I wasn’t sure I wanted to arrive at. After all, I was happy, successful and single. Why rock the boat?

But curiosity killed the cat. It can also change your life.

By the time Alpha ended I’d recovered from the shock of turning 50. The crematorium was fading into the distance. The urgency for taking out a heavenly insurance policy was fading.

At least at this stage I knew what I didn’t want. Topping the list was a chocolate-box Jesus looking like an Englishman in a nativity play. The model for soap powder ads. The ultra-white version who still holds sway in many township churches. (Tell some folk the historic Jesus had an olive skin as well as a prominent nose and they cringeJ.)

Fortunately my avid reading revealed a Jesus I was warming to.  I liked the man who knew the difference between quality and lousy wine. (Remember I was in PR, that first miracle was invaluable branding.) I was impressed by a guy who spoke truth to power, got seriously irritated, wept and attended dinner parties. I loved that he ignored class and cultural differences. 

Mind you, I wasn’t ready to go the ‘Jesus on a Harley’ route – it was only when I became chaplain to a bike club many years later that that image could work.

With Alpha behind me I finally hit the main road to Damascus.

At that time my spiritual director and her husband launched the first Open Door Retreat at the parish and invited me to participate. I’d got used to giving up one evening a week for Alpha so I reasoned ‘what the hell’ and signed on. 

Introduced to South Africa by Father Andrew, a CR monk, the retreats were designed for people too busy to actually take time out at a retreat house or with a religious community. They are based  on the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius  and  the format is very much about finding God in the hurly burly and realities of your own life. Praying as one can, not as one can’t.

For me it turned out to be much praying in the bath and not worrying about what Jesus could see.

Open Door groups range between 12 and seven and the retreat runs for nine consecutive weeks. You are given 15 minute daily spiritual exercise. For example, in the first week we were asked to take special notice of God’s loving creation. While the others took walks, gardened and made trips out of town, I invested in a pair of binoculars and checked out the large tree at the bottom of my garden – wine glass on hand. 

It worked for me. As did experiencing religion/spirituality within a real life context. It says something that of our group of seven 3 became  priests (including me!)

This brings me to something I come across quite a lot. The perception that God needs to be approached like an eastern potentate - crawling on our knees, beating our breasts. An extrovert bishop once shared with me how he felt far holier at a school assembly of 1000 boys than in solitude. I can identify. Felt it at a U2 concert in Cape Town.

Of course it’s imperative to make space and time for prayer and self-audits. As Dag Hammerskjold, former UN Secretary-General, pointed out, ‘an un-reflected life is a wasted life.’  But time is a precious commodity which makes the gym, the loo and your local coffee shop all okay. Whatever rocks your boat.

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