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This time last year, I posted on what had stood out in that year… Good friends, food and wine featured prominently! While there have certainly been plenty of those savouring sorts of things in 2013, it has well and truly been a year more about learning than anything else. I’ve been thinking in the last few days about the lessons that most stand out, in the hope of not having to relearn them too uncomfortably next year! A few stand out.

1. Fail graciously.

There are very few things that I can be absolutely certain about in any given day, but making mistakes is one of them. I have a particular gift for getting things wrong, usually in the most ridiculous way, and like most people, the more I am concerned with someone’s good opinion, the more likely I am to make a spectacular fool of myself in front of them. If I had more sense, I would tread more carefully through life, but in my clumsy, headlong way, I seem to stumble right into the centre of strife before I have even begun to register signs of danger. Fortunately for me, I am generally surrounded by very good people on such occasions. So I am learning, bit by bit, to respond in good humour when I am deservedly (if not mercilessly) teased, the place of a decent apology, and to reflect with a considerable dose of personal honesty, in the hope of avoiding further disasters.

2. ‘This too shall pass’.

Recently I came across two thoughts that have particularly kept my attention. The first was in listening to Barbara Brown Taylor’s ‘An Altar in the World’:

‘It is not the life I planned, nor the life I recommend to others, but it is the life that has turned out to be mine.’

I would not want that quote to indicate that I do not like what I do, and so would not wish it on anyone else, because that is certainly not the case. Still, 2013 has been a very interesting year for me, a very different one to any of the ones before that, and I am beginning to understand what Dr Taylor meant by those words. I am learning to appreciate the tough bits of where I find myself, because I can’t very well be anywhere else!

Before leaving parish ministry and beginning in chaplaincy, one of my colleagues wisely asked me what I found most enriching in that context, and whether I was prepared to give those things up. Caught up as I was in the excitement of a new chapter, I remember responding that I was, because it would be worth it for other reasons. I was right, but I also underestimated the price. I have never been much of a preacher, and it makes me very nervous anyway, but I do miss reflecting on where the ancient stories of faith intersect with what God is doing in our midst now. My hands miss celebrating Mass, in something like the same way that our arms miss the people we love when we are too far away to hold them. That in itself is teaching me something, and it never does a priest any harm to remember what it is like to sit in a pew week in and week out. So, I think it is both tough, and immeasurably worth it, to be sitting in a different place.

It is also a risky thing to be paid to do the thing that is also the wellspring of one’s own life. The cost when things go wrong can’t be left at the office. Every now and then, I get extremely frustrated with the manifold errors of the institutional church, the extreme lack of graciousness of my fellow Christians towards others, and the sense of actual shame I often feel when I consider the damage we have done. Do we deserve most of the bad press we’ve had in recent months/years? Yes. Are we often a self-serving, pretentious, judgmental bunch who get in the way of the goodness of God? Yes. Is it fair that, as a result, I should feel a little uncomfortable in my own skin, given how often the church has made others feel uncomfortable in theirs? Yes.

I don’t want to be unfairly harsh on the church, because I think we also do lots of wonderful things and I love who we can be. It still bears saying that I have found, especially this year, as much grace outside the church as in it. That does not make me anxious about being in the church anymore (it used to), because it is a reminder to me that God is in all places, before and ahead of us… The church does wondrous stuff when it is able to point to that reality. It only goes wrong when it starts trying to contain God, instead of loving God.

This leads me to the second quote that struck me, when I heard Rowan Williams speaking about the task of ‘maturing in steady fidelity‘. There’s a lot to be said for being hopeful – no bad day lasts forever. It’s also worth remembering not to get carried away when things are going well – difficult times have their place, in the midst of celebrations, if only to teach valuable lessons like humility and patience and perseverance! I am learning, again ever so slowly, not to dwell too long on the good or the bad, but to keep moving forward…

3. Invest in wonderful friends – they are also excellent teachers.

I am constantly amazed at the extraordinary people I work alongside. Honestly, most of them don’t have the slightest clue how impressive they are. I sometimes find myself watching from the sidelines, being generally thrilled that I get paid to spend my days with such outstanding people.

To my old friends, thank you for hanging around for another year of adventures and helping me to be me when I am struggling to conceal my anxiety and/or incompetence! I am well aware that I receive far more than I give from you, so thank you especially for your graciousness.

To the new friends of 2013, thank you for adding all manner of adventure, frivolity, expertise and encouragement to the past year. I am thoroughly and sincerely looking forward to the good times yet to be dreamt up over the next 12 months.

To that handful of you who are especially dear and generous, new and old, you have helped me map out some of undiscovered terrain in my own heart. The best of the lessons of this year have come from you. Thank you for showing me more of what I would like to be. Various of you are woven into the following summary of a fairly epic year:

1. Song I played the most: Never Let Me Go – Florence and the Machine

2. Book that made me cry the most: The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery

3. Movie that made me laugh the most: The Heat (followed closely by the Sweet Brown remix)

4. Best meal: peanut butter toast, in the middle of nowhere

5. Best drink: Espresso Martini, Heritage, Townsville

6. Best coffee – Juicy Beans, Merewether

7. Words I never want to hear again: Like this, do that.

8. Thought heading into 2014: Look alive.

NYE

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Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

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