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Looking Back to Tomorrow

A Spirituality for Between the Times

Author(s): Ruth Patterson

ISBN13: 9781847301987

ISBN10: 1847301983

Publisher: Veritas (4 Aug 2009)

Extent: 156 pages

Binding: Paperback

Size: 21.1 x 13.5 x 1.3 cm

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  • Addressing the current period of flux and change that we find ourselves in, economically, socially and personally, Ruth Patterson shows the path to awakening belief, pointing to some of the timeless truths from the story lines of yesterday that can nuture our spirituality in this present in-between time and link us to the tomorrow of that new creation, towards which everything is reaching.

     

    In this way Ruth Patterson hopes that we can be the bridge between the times.

  • Ruth Patterson


    Ruth Patterson is a Presbyterian minister who has worked with Restoration Ministries, based in Lisburn, County Antrim, since its inception. Restoration Ministries is a non-denominational Christian organisation that seeks to promote healing and reconciliation in Ireland and further afield. It came into being in 1988, during the thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland. Through a ministry of reconciliation, healing, hospitality and prayer it seeks to provide a place of safety where people can tell their story and be heard, where they can develop a vision, and where they can feel welcomed and loved. Other publications by Ruth Patterson include Proclaiming the Promise (2006) and Looking Back to Tomorrow (2009), both published by Veritas.


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    In a very personal way, Ruth Patterson recognises that we live in testing spiritual times. Disillusioned by the institutional church and worn by economic and political gloom, many have lost the human capacity to hope. The certainties of the past no longer sustain us in this in-between time, before a new beginning. Dogma and doctrine, although necessary are not going to help us through the present darkness. Ruth suggests gen­tly and based very much on her own life experience, that in seeking to forge a new tomorrow it is necessary to look back to the presence of God throughout the biblical story.

     

    Like Elie Wiesel's cry in his book Night, when the young child hangs in slow agonising death on the gallows, Ruth recognises the anguish of those who today ask: Where is God now? Her assertion is that God is present in the chaos as much as in orderliness. But we need to unlearn and rediscover what has been there from the beginning and if we recognise again the eternal presence we can, she believes, be bridges to the future.

     

    Ruth urges the reader to seek the eternal presence of the one who walks with us and has done so throughout the ages. She does so by reminding and challenging us to reflect on the biblical stories from Abraham, through the prophets, Isaiah and Micah to the Jesus story. The eternal truths of these stories can nurture us for the new tomorrow.

     

    Narratives help us to make sense of reality; they are how we interpret experiences. For Ruth, the biblical narratives are the source of our relationship with God. They reflect the eternal struggle of human existence: how to begin again even in the heart of darkness.

     

    The wilderness with its sense of desertion and hopelessness is often the same place w here new life begins. The search for green spiritual shoots is necessary for human well-being. Gently woven through these themes of endings and beginnings we hear Ruth's personal voice: the story of a woman unafraid of the call to go to an unknown place, first as an ordained woman and then as a founder of Restoration Ministry in the conflict situation of Northern Ireland. Like many of us, Ruth tried to bargain with God to take a different course. But the inevitability of a new beginning beckoned too powerfully and the rest is history.

     

    Ruth quotes John O'Donohue poet, philosopher and priest, calling us to begin again tounfurl yourself into the grace of beginning ...'.

     

     - Gina Menzies, The Furrow, Nov 2010

     

    Possibly the greatest temptation that beset the Israelites in the Sinai desert was not to carve and worship graven images, but to settle down in the land, to institutionalize. In her latest book, Looking Back to Tomorrow. In A Spirituality for Between the Times, Rev. Ruth Patterron challenges her readers to re-connect with our pilgrim God in order to re-invigorate their lives and souls and thereby enliven a troubled and irrelevant church. Ruth Patterson is no stranger to struggle, having earned her credentials twice over-first, as Irelands first ordained woman minister [in the Presbyterian tradition] and second, as a founding member of Restoration Ministries working for reconciliation and healing in Northern Ireland. She writes to encourage believers offering a spirituality that will nurture them in this so-called in-between time until creation enjoys the tomorrow of its full liberation.

    Her method is to reflect on timeless truths, biblical themes, stories of leaving home to follow a call, wandering in the wilderness, exile and home-coming, to name a few. Throughout the book Patterson weaves in anecdotes from her own experience personalizing the salvation story. Those who trust the movement of the centuries can still see the river flow, can hear a song to sing and can still walk along the road between the times. These lyrics of Ray McKeever inspired Patterson who considers that it is the task of Christians to be bridges between the times. To look back to tomorrow, in its paradoxical logic, is to keep alive the memory of the Way. Thus, travelling at Gods behest, Christians arrive at a future that is a little like Lonergans definition of mystery, a known unknown.

    Ruth Patterson ably fashions her narrative and writes in an engaging manner. There are flashes of brilliance here, sheer poetry; and then at times, the presence of clich?Is in the treatment of themes so well known. I think the book is a good reading though I found the constant references to God as He somewhat jarring. Maybe I was expecting a more feminist outlook in someone who was Irelands first woman minister.

    - Jean Evans, RSM. Spirituality, January/February 2010

    Ruth Patterson is well known in church circles north and south of the Border as the first woman to be ordained to the ministry of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. She was born in Belfast in 1944 and her father, a native of county Donegal, was also a Presbyterian minister. She has played a role in encouraging reconciliation between the churches in Ireland and has already published two books on this subject, A Further Shore, journeying towards reconciliation and Proclaiming the Promise. Recognising the difficult times in which we live and the consequences, socially and spiritually, of the current economic crisis, she has written this book as a Christian guide to getting through tough times. She draws lessons from Biblical texts and uses the teachings of Christ to explain how to cope with the problems that people may face. Patterson writes with conviction and a deep knowledge of her subject as he considers issues like the legacy of violence, feelings of alienation and grief.

    - Books Ireland, November 2009

    This is an excellent book for our day when so many things are being questioned. It highlights how a crisis time can be a pruning so that we can bear more fruit. The book points to the emergence of new life and a rediscovery of hope.

    - Jean Vanier, founder of LArche and Faith and Light

    The Rev Ruth Patterson invites the reader to see and to know something of Jesus in and through all that life brings, and to know ultimately "that he has called us, he has chosen us and we are his beloved - now and now and now"

    - Dame Nuala OLoan, former Police Ombudsman of Nothern Ireland

    Looking Back to Tomorrow is a book for our times. Many face loss and fear the future. Here Ruth Patterson builds a robust spirituality to sustain us through such uncertainty. Using the stories of the Bible to provide a perspective on twent-first-century life, Ruth shows us that the ultimate reality is Gods unconditional love for us in Jesus Christ. This book is a much needed "soul friend" for this difficult part of the journey.

    - Trevor Williams, Church of Ireland Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe

    The Rev. Ruth Patterson was the first woman to be ordained to the Ministry in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. She has run the Restoration Ministries in Belfast for over twenty years. In this, her fourth book, she tells us that in writing this exploration of a spirituality for between the times, she was very aware of the sense of bewilderment, confusion and hopelessness that so many people are feeling at this present time when confronted by personal grief, suffering and trauma, by community dysfunction, by the all-pervading economic crisis, by anger at political representatives who have betrayed the trust placed in them, by disillusionment with the Church, by the global fear of terrorism and by uncertainty about the future of planet earth.

    It is a very profound exploration of where God is in the midst of all this. When I was a little girl we used to say a prayer which talked of this vale of tears that the world can be. I used to wonder about the articulation of such sadness in the world.

    Great joy

    Yet the reality is that for each of us there are moments in our lives of great joy, moments of serenity and contentment; and moments of gut-wrenching agony when we call on God as His son called on Him My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

    Ruth talks of the need to satisfy the silent screaming inside us. She suggests that maybe it is not answers to the endless questions which we are looking for, but rather for a sense of His presence.

    In order to become aware of that Presence we have to practice becoming aware of that Presence.

    When we do this, she tells us, we gradually become aware that we are not on our own, that in a way which is hard to define, we are being held, accompanied, comforted, called, challenged, and above all loved. Hope is reborn, trust is strengthened and we are opened up to the wonder of the eternal now as we walk the road between the times.

    Ruth takes us on a journey which is in part the journey of mankind, the journey which is our pilgrimage to discover or to re-discover Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

    Foretold

    It starts in the beginning, with the loss of the unbroken relationship between God and man. She tells us the intimacy is stemmed, childlike innocence is shattered, and vulnerability becomes the order of the day. She takes us through the great Biblical themes of leaving your own country, wilderness and prophecy, exile and homecoming, to the birth of Jesus, prophesied by the prophet Isaiah who foretold that the people who walk in darkness will see a great light - a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow.

    Ruth acknowledges the mystery and glory and wonder of the coming of the Christ Child. But she then takes us to the place where, and the time when, the light does not shine when the darkness gets deeper, when the light around us closes in. She reminds us The light that was turned on in Bethlehem can never be put out by darkness, however all-embracing or deep.

    She takes us on Jesus journey from Nazareth to Calvary, gently challenging us to go beyond sentimentality into a much deeper place where we acknowledge the challenge to be loved, to be beloved: to be vulnerable, to open ourselves up, to let down some of the defensive walls we have built in order to protect ourselves from being hurt, to risk the possibility of being wounded again, and to dare to believe that love is there - even for us.

    She tells us that the heartbeat of a spirituality for between the times is that I, that we, accept the I love you of God in Jesus, that we believe that we are loved, and that we continually open ourselves up to the transforming love of God in our lives.

    One chapter is called Good-bye and Hello. It reflects on our different letting goes along the journey. She talks of the passion and death of Jesus, of how his God be with you from the cross embraces a dying thief who is promised a place in Paradise, his mother whom he commits to the care of his close friend, and all of humankind whose actions put him there and for whom he prays forgiveness.

    She concludes with a reference to the time when it all seems too much for us, by reminding us that one of the loveliest names given to the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete, meaning the one who answers the cry.

    She says: Just as a mothers whole being is attuned to hear the tiniest whimper of her child, so the heart of God, the Holy Spirit, is finely tuned to our beings and he will not fail us.

    Ruth tells us not only part of her own story, but also the story of Restoration Ministries; the work of bringing people together across the divide in a safe place, with no hidden agenda other than to build relationships and friendships. The Restoration Ministries, known around the world, have done much for the broken, troubled people of Northern Ireland.

    She tells of how the work of reconciliation is still so necessary and yet so hard in an environment in which weariness and seeming apathy are so prevalent, where some think that the work of reconciliation is now the task of elected representatives. In reality God is calling us to a deeper and much more committed realisation that we are members of the one family, sisters and brothers in one faith expressed in different ways.

    All the conflicts and contradictions of life need to be healed in us, before we can resolve anything out there. Quoting Richard Rohr she says only the forgiven can forgive, only the healed can heal, only those who stand in daily need of mercy can offer mercy to others.

    Throughout her book Ruth reminds us that we are continually graced and that God is choosing us now and now and now.

    - Peter Costello, The Irish Catholic, 8th October 2009

    Probably the best known clergywoman in Ireland, Presbyterian minister Ruth Patterson holds a distinguished track record as a peacemaker, ecumenist and spiritual author. With a faith and vision forged in Belfast in the most trying of circumstances during the troubles, Ruth has consistently offered an inclusive and integrated spirituality which is accessible to all. Having emerged from such a cauldron of bitterness and sectarian conflict she seems ideally placed to construct and offer sound spiritual guidance during times of uncertainty and confusion. Her latest publication Looking Back To Tomorrow created during a Sabbath from Restoration Ministries, which has been a beacon of hope and renewal to many in an era of division and dogmatism, offers a spirituality for such times. Refreshingly blunt about the failures of almost every institution and power structure and the fears held by millions of people in the 21st century she urges a return to a sense of Presence so that we can feel the support and encouragement that has always been there for her and which is constantly open to the believer. Each of the books eleven chapters, deeply rooted in Scripture yet with a light hand and deft touch, manages to impart something of this sense of Presence. A paperback viaticum for lifes journey.

     - Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, Clogherhead, Co Louth, Intercom, May 2010



  • Introduction

    A few years ago, I was asked to write a book on a spirituality for between the times. Too much was happening. There didnt seem to be the space or the time to embark on such a project. This year, Restoration Ministries, the organisation with which I work, has been taking a Sabbath year in order to reflect on our journey so far and where we feel God is leading us. As part of that year I was given a couple of months sabbatical, an entirely new experience for me! And I felt the time was right to give it a go. I found myself very aware of the sense of bewilderment, confusion and hopelessness that so many people are feeling in this present time when confronted by personal grief, suffering and trauma, by community dysfunction, by the all-pervading economic crisis, by anger at political representatives who have betrayed the trust placed in them, by disillusionment with the Church, by the global fear of terrorism and by uncertainty about the future of planet earth. Apprehension, loneliness, pointlessness, depression, weariness and so much else tend to make people close in on themselves, build walls for self-protection or live in a shadowy world of unreality, rather than face a pain that might overwhelm them. The cry from at least some has been, In all of this , where is God? Where is God when I am exhausted, rushing around caring for everyone elses needs, with no time to look to myself and no one to care for mine? Where is God when I am disappointed, let down, betrayed by someone I trusted and loved?

    Where is God when someone close to me is suffering deeply and I am powerless to fix it? Where is God when I have lost someone or something very dear, maybe through the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or the loss of reputation when I have been falsely accused, rejected and condemned? Where is God when I feel my body becoming frail, not doing the things I want it to do, and when I cant remember things that happened only yesterday, when the fear of dying, maybe dying alone, sweeps over me like a tidal wave? Where is God when I find myself in the place of temptation and discover that Im on what seems like sinking sand, rather than the solid rock I was sure was there? Where is God in a Church where once there were so many certainties; we were told what to believe and accepted what came from those in authority over us, but now it seems to have lost its way? In this present age when that authority is questioned, because of the fallible nature of those in leadership and the sometimes seeming irrelevance of its witness, we dont know where to turn to find an authentic moral stand, a courageous prophetic voice or a vision bearer. Where is God when whole nations put themselves in the place that belongs to him alone and seek to exercise total power and control over the destinies of others? Where is God when that lust for power leads to the torture and death of countless millions of innocent human beings and the litany of atrocities and disasters from around the world grows longer by the day until we seek simply to block so much pain out of our minds, batten down the hatches and look out for number one?

    I could go on listing so many dilemmas and questions with no answers that would satisfy the silent screaming inside us. How do we live in times such as these where we seem without solutions? Maybe its not so much answers were looking for as a sense of presence. In order to become aware of that Presence, it is necessary to pause a little, to take time, even for a few minutes each day, simply to be. As we practise doing that, we will gradually become aware that we are not on our own, that, in a way that is hard to define, we are being held, accompanied, comforted, called, challenged and above all loved. Hope is reborn, trust is strengthened and we are opened up to the wonder of the eternal now as we walk along the road between the times. What this book will attempt to do is to point to some of the timeless truths from the storylines of yesterday that can nurture our spirituality in this present in-between time and link us to the tomorrow of that new creation, for which everything is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. Perhaps it will help us to be a bridge!

    CHAPTER ONE

    Between the Beginning and the End

    We live between the times, but then that has been the lot of every man, of every woman since time began. The one thing that humankind can be totally assured of is that things and people, places and situations change. Perhaps what makes this era different, what heightens our uncertainty and can make us feel a bit disoriented is the vastly increased speed of change in so many areas of our living. Before we have time to become used to one area of change, another one creeps up on us unawares. We are taken by surprise and are unsure about which one to tackle first. What these changes might mean for our personal lives, our citizenship of our particular country, the future of the planet and of the human race itself is anybodys guess. As the people of God, our telling of the story, our living it out in this particular in-between time has not infused people with hope nor encouraged them to embrace this stage as a crucial and grace-filled moment. How can it if we dont know it for ourselves? How do we become catalysts to enable people to walk together again with God, walk together with themselves, with their fellow human beings in all their diversity and with creation itself? Where do we start in a world that so often seems hell-bent on self-destruction, where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where the Church increasingly appears irrelevant, where faith in Jesus Christ crucified and risen flags up a remnant rather than being that which addresses the hunger in so many hearts for meaning and fills the God-shaped hole at the centre of their beings and at the centre of the earth itself? It is a huge challenge to accept the fact that the old forms of religious life and the practice of the faith as we have known it are declining. It is an even bigger challenge to let go, to embrace that decline in the conviction that the Holy Spirit is moving us towards something new which we cannot yet name. Thats a hard place to be. Yet this is the reality of now. It is the lot of every religious order, certainly in the West, as it is also the lot of all those of every persuasion who profess to be followers of the Way. It is hard to welcome a dying process before you know what resurrection will be like. It is frightening and painful to let go when you cannot see something up ahead to grasp.

    Some time ago I had a letter from a dear friend in Holland. He belongs to a religious order that is experiencing a similar decline. He is now in his eighties, having lived his vocation in many remarkable ways in different parts of the world. Recently my friend and his brother priests were all on retreat at their mother house. I quote: It was the last retreat we were able to have in the trusted environment we had known for so many years of high drama and ideals. Five months from now we are going to leave it since we can no longer live in it in the way we had been used to. We are going to move to a home for aged priests that will be more adjusted to our needs of the moment. An important period of our history will come to an end. It will bring pain to many of us. The house has been sold. The new owner will have it pulled down in order to put up a new project. The spots where many of us have taken their first steps on the road to their vocation will not be found anymore. Only one place will still be ours: the cemetery deep in the silent wood where a number of empty spaces will be awaiting our own funerals.
    Many of us facing a similar letting go will identify with this particular story. What was striking for me was the theme of their retreat , Looking Back to Tomorrow. To look back meant to keep the memory alive of the road they had followed at Gods behest. Looking back to tomorrow is another way of saying rediscovering our story. And for the Christian pilgrim of whatever denomination, to rediscover our story means to rediscover Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. It means to walk together again with him and to realise that there is so much more yet to know of this Jesus who commands our loyalty, our obedience, our unconditional love. And the only way we are going to make a difference in our world, to offer a spirituality for between the times is, in a sense, to embrace the unknown in trust. It is to walk with Jesus, especially perhaps with the Jesus we dont yet know, befriending mystery, the mystery of Jesus and the mystery of ourselves at a much deeper level than we have risked heretofore.

    For children, the words Once upon a time are full of magic. They herald the start of a story that usually leads them into a land of wonder and excitement, a place where their imaginations are given full sway. The tales that are told may have a thousand different faces, but the underlying storyline is inevitably that of the triumph of good over evil, culminating for the protagonists in a state of happy ever aftering. Thats what children want to hear. It gives them a feeling of safety, a sense that this is how things should be. It creates boundaries in their minds about the rightness of certain behaviour, attitudes and reactions and the recognition that, if those lines are crossed, then chaos of some sort or other ensues. The unspoken assurance that all will be well allows their imaginations to take wing through myriad emotions, encompassing the scariest of events and the most unimaginable experiences to the final resolution that satisfies their sense of justice and fair play. They have a conviction that, no matter how things may seem, someone or something will rescue the one in distress or restore the one who has been cheated or elevate the underdog to a position of importance. No matter how many times the story is told, they live each moment of the drama as if it were being told for the first time. They know the ending, but they know also that each word is of crucial importance, put there for a purpose, part of the intricate weaving that will culminate in the final outcome, an outcome that will be good. They have an uncanny awareness of a phrase missed or a page skipped by an inattentive adult who has either lost the sense of wonder or is too weary to enter, yet again, into the drama. In all of this, the role of the narrator is crucial and awesome: to bear witness to the world the author has created and to lead the children through the experience from its beginning to its ending.

    For people of faith, our Once upon a time is In the beginning God. Whatever interpretation we put on the first chapters of Genesis, whether we take them as a literal account of creation or the narrators way of telling the story in order to reveal the essence, the nature and the activity of the Author, for us the veracity and the wonder of the words remain. They are built into our faith memory and herald the start of a story whose ultimate ending is not ours to determine, is not even known to the storyteller but only to the Author of it all. The scene is set before the start of what we call time, and these opening words never cease to thrill and excite us, In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was empty, a formless mass cloaked in darkness. And the Spirit of God was hovering over its surface (Gen 1:1). Act One of the great drama is about to unfold, the first spoken words being those of the Author himself. The hovering Spirit picks up the command, order emerges from chaos, light shines in darkness and progressive revelation begins. It seems as if the world of happy ever aftering is here to stay. All is well. What has been created is declared to be good, culminating in the emergence of humankind, made in the image of the Author, male and female patterned after himself, and blessed above every other living thing. God looks at all he has created and sees that it is excellent in every way. In this Eden, this place of safety, there is harmony among all creation but it is upon man and woman that the stewardship of everything else is bestowed. To them also is given the most priceless of all gifts, that of communion, not only with one another but also with the Author himself. They are the beloved of his heart. He delights in relationship with them. The freedom of the garden and the gift of intimacy with the Creator are assured. For such a blessed order to continue, only one boundary is set in place, established out of a loving concern. The warning is given that if that particular line is crossed, then chaos of some sort or other will ensue.

    The deed is done , inevitably, you may say. The line is crossed. The uninterrupted flow of intimacy is stemmed, childlike innocence is shattered, brokenness and vulnerability become the order of the day. The freedom and openness of loving communion are replaced by fear as Adam and Eve hide themselves. The question that has never needed to be heard in the garden before resounds throughout creation, Where are you? The great alienation has begun as humankind, becoming aware of its nakedness and in the resulting shame and fear, builds walls to defend and protect itself, a process that leads to exile from the garden and estrangement from the Beloved. In essence the storyline from that point onwards is a repetition of the question as God seeks again and again to restore the intimacy that was lost. With one or two notable exceptions the question is not answered because of the expertise in self-defence built up over aeons of time, as human beings acquire and perfect the learned behavior of hiding their true selves.

    We know the story so well for it is what has moulded us and shaped us , the story of the fall, of breakage, banishment, wanderings, second chances, homecomings, rebellion, exile and restoration until the time comes when God puts into action his master plan, the plan that had been in his heart and mind since before the creation of the world as the only way to walk together again with him in the intimacy that was there at the beginning of all things. When the time is right, God answers the question Where are you? by coming himself. Once again the Spirit of God hovers, this time not over a formless mass cloaked in darkness but over a young girl called Mary. God speaks, the Word becomes flesh and light shines again in darkness as God makes our homelessness his home. The I love you of God, embodied in the person of Jesus, is neither accepted nor understood by the majority of those still hiding themselves behind power and control, manipulation and greed. They plot his death, believing themselves to be in command, not recognising that every element is of crucial importance, put there for a purpose, part of the intricate weaving that will culminate in the final outcome, an outcome that will be good. The free and willing obedience of a God who becomes human, a God who refuses to hide, a God who is crucified in nakedness and vulnerability, a dying God who cries out to God from the cross, Where are you? and receives no answer has turned the tables. He takes upon his sinless Self all that belongs to darkness so that we might once again find ourselves and be found in right relationship with God. And this is not only for ourselves alone but also that we might have the possibility of walking together again, in beloved community, with the whole created order. Death itself, as C.S. Lewis once famously put it, starts working backwards, and all things become possible. The end has become the beginning. In fact, what is the beginning? What is the end? Perhaps they are only our way of placing words in the storyline, a story that is still in the process of being told.

    And we, as people of faith, as the Church, are the narrators with the crucial and awesome responsibility of bearing witness to the loving heart of the Author and leading others through to a recognition that they also are a vital part of this story. But it is not just others who are crying out to be led through. We ourselves, who are supposed to have another dimension to our living, are also somewhat lost. We dont feel safe any more. We are afraid of intimacy. The old social and moral boundaries have disappeared. We are no longer sure of how things should be. We tend to equate the statement all will be well with wishful thinking rather than with a vibrant affirmation of trust and hope. Someone may appear on the national or world scene who, for a time, rekindles our energy and expectancy, but this person cannot be the fairy godmother who magically transforms everything. The clock inexorably strikes twelve, they fall from the unfair pedestal upon which we have placed them and we return to the drudgery below stairs! Theres no glass slipper waiting for the perfect fit, and happy ever after is the stuff of childish dreams. Whats happened to the storyline? Have we lost the plot? How do we fulfil the calling of anointed narrators, we who are so often weary with life, we who by and large have lost our sense of wonder, who no longer stand on tiptoe in our spirits before mystery, who would long to skip a few pages and concentrate on what we feel will simply get us by? And, just as importantly, where are those who will not let us do this, who care passionately enough to remind us that every moment can be an eternity moment for those who see, with the eyes of the heart, the unfolding love story of God?

    My own spirituality has been nurtured greatly in the last few years by a statement made by Richard Rohr in his book, Everything Belongs. He says: We cannot attain the presence of God because we are already totally in the presence of God. What is absent is awareness. Little do we realise that God is maintaining us in existence with every breath we take. As we take another it means that God is choosing us now and now and now. We have nothing to attain or even learn. We do, however, need to unlearn some things.To rediscover our story perhaps means that there are many things we need to unlearn. Maybe part of what the last years have been about has been an unlearning of some things that we held very dear and believed were so right. Unlearning makes us feel uncertain and even vulnerable. Its a risky space to be in, a nomans- land or limbo state, to admit that there is another way to live, another way of looking at things, a way forward other than the particular one we adhered to for so long.

    It seems to me that there is no quick fix but rather that we have simply to remember redemptively the road we have followed already at Gods behest, looking back in order that we may look forward to the unknown tomorrow, in order to allow ourselves to be seized again by that first love which captured our hearts, our souls, our lives. With that energy, we will be prepared to walk with and befriend the stranger, the Jesus we dont yet know, and allow him to befriend the stranger within us, the bits of us that we have not yet discovered or loved, the bits we have hidden because of any one of a hundred fears or doubts or inadequacies. In rediscovering Jesus we rediscover ourselves, our true selves; we rediscover our world in all its terrible and shining wonder, and we rediscover what has been there from the very beginning, though masked by greed and fear and lust (and perhaps most deeply by shame), namely a common humanity.

    All we have is this moment, this now, but we so cloud and colour the present with our wounds and hurts of the past, and so mask the possibility of a bright tomorrow with our fears and anxieties for the future that often we miss the great importance of the present. This is our time and it is in this time that God calls us to be on tiptoe in preparation for what is yet to come. It doesnt matter if we cannot see or know what is up ahead. Today is preparation time for the future, for tomorrow, but this moment is also sacred. It is special and stands on its own. It is an essential part of the story. Without it, a vital phrase is missing. How we bear witness to God-with-us and God-yet-to-come, how we live between the times is crucial. I believe that the only way to incarnate the story and so convey that sense of wonder is for us to take on board fully the fact that God is choosing us now and now and now. It is that awareness and that mystery that the anointed narrators live with and in , between the times. Long ago some of the very early followers of the Way were facing pressure and persecution. Times were extremely hard, leading some to question their faith and to be deeply worried about their future. The writer to the Hebrews encourages them by reminding them that Jesus is able to identify with all their pain and hardship. He urges them to follow the example of those people of faith who have gone before them and who kept on following in the midst of great trials. And then he gives them guidelines as to how to live in the present moment: to love each other with true Christian love, to show hospitality to the stranger, to remember those in prison, to share the sorrow of those being mistreated, to give honour in marriage and to remain faithful, to be satisfied with what they have, to remember the leaders who first taught them about God, to be willing always to find Jesus outside the camp, that is, beyond our own comfort zone, and to be people of hope. Through all of this, the phrase that shines out like a neon light is this: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). If we truly believe that, then it enables us to look back to our yesterday with courage, to live in the present moment with hope and to face the future with confidence.

    Ray McKeever, whose song inspired the subtitle for this book, repeatedly asks the question, What shall we do between the times? We have acknowledged that between the times is a hard place to live out our vocation. In the song he looks back to a time when the river flowed full and clear, when there was a singer in each person and when there was a road that led to freedom. He contrasts that time with now where the river bed is dry and empty, where the sounds we make seem so uncertain and where people have no one to lead them. What do we do when the waters just a trickle, when the song is just a whisper, when freedom is imprisoned in our lives? He makes the affirmation of faith that those who trust the movement of the centuries can still see the river flow, can still hear a song to sing and can still walk along the road between the times. Looking back to tomorrow? The truth behind these words is that there is nowhere that God is not. He is just as present in these seemingly chaotic times as he was when the world appeared to be more orderly, when people seemed to have more respect for themselves, for others and for the earth, when more people seemed to acknowledge his existence. We are always between the times until he comes again. Instead of viewing this current stage with apprehension, weariness or despair, perhaps we should turn our perceptions upside down and view it as a gift, as a graced time. It is John Bradshaw who says: We are not material beings on a spiritual journey; we are spiritual beings who need an earthly journey to become fully spiritual.What an unlearning is there! What an aid to seeing things differently (which is one definition of repentance!). If we are the ones called in this present moment to be carriers of the story, and if we ourselves are part of the story and part of the story is us, then the key to our spirituality lies in looking back to tomorrow. In essence we are a bridge between what has passed and what is yet to be. As we journey together my prayer would be for a deeper awakening to the truth that we are already totally in the presence of God and a heightened awareness of the fact that God is choosing us now and now and now.
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