The Encounter

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Above the beauty and bustle of the valley
An expanse of heather filled space awaited.
The beautifully radiant blue sky was fresh,
Fragrant with the scent of the morning.
A light wind wound its way towards me –
It caressed my face urging me ahead.
Every step gave way to astonishing awe,
Wonderment grew within…my heart raced;
A mixture of excitement and delight
At all that my eyes were able to take in.

From the edge I heard only the wind.
Stronger now it whistled around my being
Awakening, sharpening my senses.
A man standing some way to my left,
His gaze undoubtedly directed at me,
Drew my attention momentarily. I looked
In that way which we often try to look,
Without looking like we are looking.
His was staring intently, still unmoved,
Yet I walked towards him…as if being drawn.

Close enough to speak, uttering silently,
His eyes remained thoughtfully on mine.
Reading me, delving right into my core,
Like one would an old abandoned book
Beginning to read on the page it fell open at –
It’s like he knows me…like I know him,
Even though I have never seen him before?
He had familiarity in his beautiful radiance,
His face attracted attention, necessitated it –
Its depth of wisdom brought a perfect peace.

His eyes were infinite dark ink pools with
Potential and understanding illuminating.
Pure kindness and laughter lines surrounded,
Softened, magnitude emanating, without threat.
His smooth olive skin blushed by the wind
Was accented by a beard outlining his jawline.
Wavy almost black hair blown about his face
Failed to distract from his present occupation: me!
An unusual encounter avoidable with a sharp turn –
Why, oh why, would I even contemplate that?

Unable to move, unaware of life around me,
Why do I not want this moment to end…ever?
It’s like I have been noticed, no not noticed…
Not merely seen for a spilt second!
Truly encountered and profoundly known.
Such knowing continues as I remain unable,
No unwilling, to move. Silent for if I dare
This moment will be gone, over, lost….
Oh that for once bringing ruin would fail me,
That clumsiness in word and deed would absent.

There is something about this moment
Which tells me none of that matters.
It is insignificantly significant in that
It is relevant because it is about who I am
But it is also irrelevant. It does not change now.
It will not stop it or move it in a direction
Other than the one already intended, and yet
It happens due to the insignificantly significant;
Because of who I am utterly and completely.
So many feelings washing over me right now….

I am known from the deepest part of me
Right to the crumb of toast which has rested
In the corner of my mouth since breakfast!
Every single memory is part of that knowing
Those I love and those I would care to forget
Even those that I have sought to push out –
Guilt and shame can overpower and overwhelm –
But they are there also and they are known.
That is undoubtedly good, perfect and right.
Fear, insignificance and inferiority melt away….

I am liberated floating over the artistry of the valley,
Then quite suddenly, with the blinking of an eye,
His or mine…this moment passes. Freedom
Begins to fade, fear and insignificance pervade.
Perhaps slightly less consuming…the man
Has moved. I turn around slowly yet he is nowhere.
Nowhere amongst the vast expanse of heather.
Did he disappear, was he ever here? My heart knows
He was and is and ever shall be…transformed
I yearn for this again as I realise that this is prayer.

S.E.E. God

This week I’ve been thinking about how we see God; that is how we STRUGGLE alone, before having some sort of EPIPHANY which allows space to ENCOUNTER God.

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A few weeks ago I wrote about the art of encounter and the need to look into the eyes of the person we are speaking with. This week I’m inclined to take that idea even further – when we actually look into the eyes of the other, that is when we actually see God. God works through each of us in unique and special ways.

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“Christ has no body but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which his compassion looks out upon the world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.”

St Teresa of Avila

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I photographed the eyes of each person I encountered in one day – well over 30 people. I saw so much beauty in the eyes of each person, with so many stories to tell, so much wisdom. Some lacked that wisdom, but had that youthful determination which is so admirable. Our eyes tell so much about us. They sometimes communicate things that we don’t want them to.

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Looking into the eyes of another can make each of us vulnerable, but it can also be where growth happens.

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Some months ago I met a woman in a petrol station, as she struggled to put air in her tyres. I went to help her, but it was a good five minutes before I actually saw her. And it was a few minutes later still before she saw me.

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That encounter was one not just with each other, but with God through one another, as the poem below further explores.

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So often I find myself struggling alone, not wanting to ask for help. A recent BBC news article shows how little we as a nation know those who live closest to us, and how unwilling we are to ask for help from them.

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I wonder what would happen if we did begin asking for help more freely…

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Would neighbours get annoyed with one another?

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Or would we find something new in the experience?

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Would it lead to an epiphany whereby we discover that our neighbours are quite nice people really?

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Might it in turn lead to us encountering God in one another, as we look into each others eyes?

The Faceless Woman

Saturday afternoon. Miserably bleak.
Incomplete mundane tasks creep upon me;
fuel gauge beeps, warning lights flash.
Fuel station! Reluctantly I pull in.
Frustration looms and I wait,
as she stops me in my tracks.

I fail to see this faceless woman in my hotheadedness.
At least I don’t really see her and her need;
the pain and upset which she bears are also invisible.
Do I even want to see such brokenness?
Much easier to ignore, or rather simply not address.
Yet, as if prompted, I get out of the car
to draw closer to the bereavement of which we never speak.

Her agitation is plain. That I see.
Yet I don’t see, she is faceless to me.
Or perhaps my eyes distort.
Exaggerated facial contortion
mixed with masked humanity –
I fail to look as I ought.

Indeed something is wrong, it needs fixing…
It takes time to see that is me not her
‘It won’t work,’ cries her despair.
Temporary success seems lost on her
’I must be off to London.’
Expressionless, listless stare.

Finished I bid ’take care and drive safely.’
And then I see her, this faceless woman;
old, frail, weary and distressed.
Embodiment of human brokenness,
and yet beautiful in her
vulnerability, exposed.

For this faceless woman, her unnamed grief, I feel compassion
as never before – it brings me to my knees.
Evident in my eyes, she seeks to claim it for her own;
she flings her arms around me and we embrace.
This moment, as a sacrament, shows us God’s unending grace.
On release, we look at each other anew
God’s love brims over for the other, we turn and leave transformed.

With thanks to all who were willing to allow their eyes to be photographed!

The Art of Encounter

This week I had felt drawn to walk the parish. Having been given boundary maps and a Leicester A-Z last week I was fully equipped! Not being fully sure what I would find I set off on Monday morning after Morning Prayer, rucksack and camera in hand. It would be wonderful to have been able to walk the whole parish in that day, but one of the first things I became aware of was the sheer scale of it – this was a project not a small task!

This tree was my first encounter. I smiled to myself as my attention was drawn to it, wondering whether it would be a symbolic theme of my journey – I could not have seen at that point just how insightful that fleeting thought was! There was something about this dead tree which drew me…

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Continuing my walk I began to pass people on my way. Each time I passed someone I greeted them – it seemed like such a simple act and yet it led to so many different responses. I am still not really used to wearing a clerical collar; it’s comfortable but as I don’t see it, I often forget I am wearing it. I think the quick return greeting whilst continuing to stride ahead was a response to the collar – polite, but without a plan to engage as you never know what might happen next! A few people who were approaching me crossed the street well before we were at a safe distance for me to greet them, which made me more aware of being perceived to be part of an establishment as a cleric, someone to be avoided! Others just ignored me completely. Only one or two were happy to pass the time of day. This led me to think about what we have lost in our communities which has led to such mistrust even of a friendly smile…?

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Whilst thinking about our losses I began to wonder about the art of encounter. It seems relatively easy to encounter community en masse, but how can we begin to see individuals again?

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What needs to happen for one to trust another enough to allow them to look into their eyes, and know that they care?

Amongst other places on my walk I came across the local crematorium and cemetery. I became aware of the ways in which death can surround us so much that we fail to see the life.

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Perhaps it is little wonder when life can be so difficult, and lives chaotic. This view of society is often seen by the Police, which I learned something of as I met with a PCSO from the area.

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Later in the week I spent time with the food bank. There I found those with a desperate need for encounter, for someone just to listen to them, as they were given precious food items that I take for granted.

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I also joined a Knit and Natter group who wanted to encounter and share in each others lives as they knitted.

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Weekly pastoral visits bring welcome encounters to individuals who are otherwise housebound, and what a privilege and joy it is to be someone who brings light and laugher into someone’s day, whatever they are facing.

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When invited to a local school summer fair, encounters seemed slightly easier, especially when introduced by a trusted member of their community.

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Here people were willing to show their skills and pass the time of day with me – my henna tattoo was evidence of that!

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As I look back over the week I find myself concluding that the art of encounter is so complex. Some eagerly await and welcome it. Others absolutely turn away from it, perhaps even fear it. On ordination retreat we had the opportunity to have our feet washed by our Bishop, which I took. As Jesus washed his disciples’ feet he said “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8) and this tradition has been passed down, where those who are to serve must also be willing to be served. It is such a humbling act, but what really pierced deep into my heart was the way that Bishop Martyn intentionally looked into my eyes, into my soul, and encountered me in a way that few people do. It made me realise how necessary and yet difficult encounter is – you never quite know what the other person is seeing. That said we are made in the image of God to be relational beings – we need encounter.

I am completely convinced of the need to just be present in community, willing to greet, be ignored or verbally abused, to walk alongside or to stand alone, to be the hands and feet, eyes and ears of Jesus.

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My challenge to you, should you choose to accept, is to walk around your community this week and greet all those who you meet. It is a tiny act, but it may well make a huge difference to some.

The Art of Encounter

“Death is nothing at all”
Can we really say this
When death and decay
Drain life day after day
Little by little leaning on
All that we know and own
Sapping all that we are
Hour by hour
Minute by minute
Death destroys
Something
Someone
Loved
Tick tick tick

Yet, like corn in a field
That grows and matures
Over the seasons
With sun and rain
In equal measure
Its fruit ripens and hardens
Then dries and dies
Seemingly useless
Yet within a small seed
Lies potential for new life
Nestling
Watching
Waiting
Tick tick tick

New life born perfect
Thrives in community
Love relationship
And solidarity
One encounters the other
As they look
And really see
Into the soul
The heart
As God in all glory
Encounters
Sees
Admires
This beautiful creation

The Shack


#691 #theshack #encountergod #invitationfromgod #healing #understandinggod #amazing

Eucharist

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#671 After the last college group eucharist  the last sessions at #theologicalcollege was about presiding at the eucharist – how does this help to #drawclosertogod or #encountergod? #divinemeal #tasteofheaven

The Faceless Woman

Saturday afternoon. Miserably bleak.
Incomplete mundane tasks creep upon me;
fuel gauge beeps, warning lights flash.
Fuel station! Reluctantly I pull in.
Frustration looms and I wait,
as she stops me in my tracks.

I fail to see this faceless woman in my hotheadedness.
At least I don’t really see her and her need;
the pain and upset which she bears are also invisible.
Do I even want to see such brokenness?
Much easier to ignore, or rather simply not address.
Yet, as if prompted, I get out of the car
to draw closer to the bereavement of which we never speak.

Her agitation is plain. That I see.
Yet I don’t see, she is faceless to me.
‘It won’t work,’ cries her despair.
Indeed something is wrong, it needs fixing…
‘no…I must go to London,’
she whispers. What a nightmare.

Finished I bid ‘take care and drive safely.’
And then I see her, this faceless woman;
old, frail, weary and distressed.
Embodiment of human brokenness,
and yet beautiful in her
vulnerability, exposed.

For this faceless woman, her unnamed grief, I feel compassion
as never before – it brings me to my knees.
Evident in my eyes, she seeks to claim it for her own;
she flings her arms around me and we embrace.
This moment, like a sacrament, shows us God’s unending grace.
On release, we look at each other anew
God’s love brims over for the other, we turn and leave transformed.

Prayer of thanks

#418 #day30 of placement was my #last with this beautiful community of people. I have learned so much from every single #encounter with one of God’s beautiful creations in this blessed place – and I will miss them a great deal. A #prayerofthanks for the #beautyofcreation in this marvellous place, and for their patience and all I have learned. Each one is a fabulous #instrumentofblessing with whom I am honoured to have shared a short part of my journey. May they also be richly blessed in their community and wider ministry. Amen