Friday, 10 July 2015


If there is one thing we Christians excel at it’s shaping God to our own purposes. 

We did it in the Crusades as we pillaged Asian cities, massacred Jews and Muslims and appropriated foreign property. We did it when we colonised ‘heathen’ lands, carrying a bible in one hand and a gun in the other. We did it when we kept quiet as our Jewish friends were sent to concentration camps and we did it when racial discrimination was legalised in South Africa.  

We manufacture a God who sees it all from our point of view and, when everything goes pear-shaped, we remould him, assuming our right to redemption and forgiveness. But we seldom make amends. 

I suspect that the worst shaping of God is not in cataclysmic historical events but in the daily detail of our lives. In what the nuns used to call our “besetting sins.”  It is also in the way we use religion.

Looking back on my previous blogs I realise I seem to have hurtled down the Anglican path at a great and fairly uncomplicated pace. Alpha, a spiritual director, an Open Door Retreat, Eucharist on Wednesdays and Sundays, two modules towards a theology degree, new Christian friends. (There must be a Brownie badge for all this). 

They should have put me on a TV so I could declare “I’ve found Jesus.” 

Fact is, I hadn’t really.

As an A type personality I am very competitive and self-critical. I’m always setting goals, my life lacks balance and I have to watch my blood pressure. Besides, you may remember, I’d emerged as an ENTJ on the Enneagram scale – a not so likeable ‘Commander’.

What I was doing, to a large extent, was jumping though the hoops and revelling in the spiritual and intellectual exercises - striving for A’s in my assignments.  I was also finding comfort in the close to Catholic ritual – my childhood comfort blanket and the God I was shaping was a mirror image of me and my opinions.

There was also my other life: my clients as well as a social and family circle that just wasn’t into religion.

There must have been a whole choir of angels groaning on my behalf.

Yes, I’d incorporated a spiritual dimension into my life. Much as I would have had I taken yoga seriously but I kid you and myself if I lay claim to a personal relationship with God at that stage. I was far more tuned into the adage “God helps those who help themselves”, than to total submission.

I still thank God for my exceptional Spiritual Director.  Trained by Fr Gerard Hughes, author of God of Surprises, she, never criticised, always gently questioned and very wisely suggested a three day retreat at a local Anglican Convent.  

My retreat director was a wonderful monk, Father Andrew Norton. He belonged to the Community of the Resurrection monastery across the road. 

Besides being wise and practical, he was a diabetic who loved to gobble the fluffy jam scones the sisters served for tea.

Deeply committed to the training and the supervision of Spiritual Directors, he was also responsible for introducing the Open Door Retreat in South African Anglican circles.  He was just what I needed at that stage.  Instead of gentle encouraging pats on the back he got me to take a long hard look at myself and at the Church. Fr Andrew was a realist not a romantic.  It was he who warned how deeply Church can hurt. He was right.

One of the exercises he gave me is one I still value and slip into today. I was directed to slowly walk around the beautiful convent garden five times. Each time focusing on one of my five senses – sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste.  Thanking God for what they had meant to me since birth and using them to appreciate the garden. It is a great way to meditate on the Creator and Creation.

The gateway to the beautiful convent garden

My Damascus Road moment was my meditation on my sense of sight – what it had meant to me since birth. On the walk I inspected an old tree, its shape, its leaves rustling in the breeze. Becoming aware of birds among its top branches, the sunlight peeping through. The bark was rough. I moved closer, the tiniest insects came into focus. And then it happened. As I peeped behind a fairly loose piece of bark I spotted a cocoon and watched spell-bound as a butterfly slowly emerged.

Now decades later, I can still draw on that wondrous image when I’m stressed or distressed. It draws me into the mystery of God the power of faith. That moment when you choose red or black and place your bet on a roulette table. You don’t have all the answers but you are willing to take a chance. It was the day I met the ‘God of Surprises’.

I wish I could tell you that I’ve never had a moments doubt since that meditation in the convent garden. But it is a compass point for me when I feel lost, in those moments when I wonder if God isn’t on a par with those awful Facebook hoaxes.

Have you had a defining moment in your faith journey?

1 comment:

sunflowers and khakibush said...

Thank you Loraine, I really enjoyed that. Yes, I too have been surprised by God on a number of occasions. Once while walking on a beach near East London, I felt that God was speaking to me through the waves breaking onto the beach. What came to me in my mind was, "This is what my love is like. It keeps on coming and you cannot hold it back'. It will continue to wash over you for all time" I will always remember that.