In-tension-al faith: Moment and journey in practice
In the last article we outlined the importance of developing a faith that embraces both moment and journey. This week, some reflections on what that looks like in practice. We begin with learning to...
Embrace the journey
You are where you are. The kairos-driven life is often fuelled by a lingering sense of discontent: not Holy Discontent which is seasonal and immensely valuable, but rather a permanent state, a need for experience after experience. The first step in learning to embrace the idea of journeying with Jesus is precisely to recognise that, at whatever point you find yourself on the journey, you are where you are, and you do start from here. And if you're not sure where 'here' is, take some time to process what 'here' means for you now. As you do that, it's worth bearing in mind two other thoughts:
Admire the view. Time and again God tells the people of Israel to remember what he has done in the past. Look up, look back, and take some time to admire the view. What has God already been doing in you? What has he already achieved? In what ways are you different? Yes, there may be some negatives to that question, but there will also be positives. Ask friends, people who know you and like you, if you can't see them yourself. You might be surprised at the answer.
Check your destination. Every journey also has an end point, a destination. The amazing, and perhaps somewhat bizarre, thing is that, on this particular journey, the end point is meant to be the same for everyone: the destination is God the Father, and the goal for all of us is to walk towards that centre point. Sometimes, we will do just that, sometimes we will circle round the edge, sometimes we will slip a bit further away from God. But the end destination is the same.
The benefit of thinking like this is that whenever we think we have 'stopped' or hit a cul-de-sac, we may not in fact be any further from God, we might just be viewing the destination from a slightly different vantage point. Just like a road in first-century Palestine, it is not a smooth concrete highway, more a circuitous path with some rocky edges, sharp corners, steep climbs and descents and some natural barriers to overcome or get round. I think Jesus meant us to understand the Way not just as a theological reality, but as a more descriptive and profound metaphor than we might have imagined.
If you've got this far, and you've taken care to plot your start point, you've renewed your focus on the end point, and you've got a good idea where you are now, then it's time to reflect on developing a mindset attuned to the joy of journeying...
In praise of plodding. William Carey, the father of overseas mission and one of the great saints, was once asked to name his greatest asset. 'I can plod,' was his simple reply. But it is one thing to recognise that we are on a journey, another to deliberately cultivate a mindset which embraces it. Carey recognised one absolutely fundamental insight that guided him: that the achievement of great things rests largely in the commitment to pursue them for the long haul – come what may, in good times and bad, through fertile periods and fallow ones.
Catherine Booth, wife of William, the founder of the Salvation Army, and a great saint and pioneer in her own right, once wrote this to her husband:
'Remember a long life of steady, consistent holy labour will produce twice as much fruit as one shortened and destroyed by spasmodic and extravagant exertions; be careful and sparing of your strength when and where exertion is unnecessary.'
We must learn to value the art of plodding. Not that we aspire only to this, but on days when there is no obvious kairos moment to reflect on, it is thoroughly healthy to finish the day reflecting simply that we have plodded well. The path to maturity lies mostly in a myriad tiny steps, rather than a few giant leaps. Or to quote a marketing executive I happened to chat to the other day: 'I can't offer you one insight that will make 100 per cent difference to your company. But I can offer you 100 that will each make one per cent difference.' That sounds like a useful motto for day-to-day discipleship too. Where are your one per cents at the moment?
Travel companions Most journeys are better with company. To journey well, we do need to foster some companions that will journey with us, people with whom we form accountable relationships, people who know the last stop we got on at and the next stop we intend to get off. Long term relationships are crucial to healthy journeying. If you've never done this before, ask God who those people might be for you. In some cases, they might be obvious, in others, you might genuinely be surprised.
But our travel companions are not just people, they are also processes. Human beings are habit-forming creatures, and we need healthy habits to make the most of the journey. What habits, what processes help you to journey well spiritually?
There are other ways to integrate journeying into your life. Use your actual journeys creatively, especially if they are ones you do often. The same applies to other moments of the day. It strikes me that much of modern life consists of finding spaces where we can. I used to pray in the toilets at work – it's the one place during the day where I could be alone with God. Find your spaces.
Enjoying the ride. One final thought before moving on. The kairos-driven life risks missing the most profound, enriching experience of all: namely that the process of journeying is an adventure in itself. Not every journey is like that, of course, but it strikes me that we are made to be journeying creatures. And unlike many holidays, which don't quite match up to the sense of anticipation, we can journey with Jesus, knowing full well that the end destination will be more extraordinary than anything we can imagine.
Here's to the journey.
The time has come – a brief guide to kairos living
I might have cautioned against the kairos-driven life. But what would a kairos-shaped life look like? A kairos-infused life. A kairos-enhanced life. Now that sounds more like it...
Different shapes and sizes. Let's return to where we started the last article and develop, for a moment, the image of life as a long train journey – where do the kairos moments fit in?
Some are momentary and dramatic – moments of revelation, repentance, an insight into a major life issue you've never seen before. Occasionally it is what theologians call a 'critical incident': that is, some unusual or striking experience which necessitates reflection, learning and growth. Such moments are the kairos equivalent of seeing something striking from the window.
Then you have the stops: like stations, these might be expected – the end of school or university, a new job contract. However, there are also the unexpected ones, the 'waits outside the station'. These are usually more unsettling – we have no idea when we will start again, or at what speed. All stops, expected or otherwise, can also make us feel that we have 'stalled', lifewise. But, surprisingly, such times can indeed be kairos times. When the train arrives in the station or stops at signals, we usually stop what we are doing, look up and take in the view around us.
Finally, there are the big, life-changing moments, the equivalent of getting onto a different connecting train altogether. These are the liminal moments we talked about earlier, such as marriage, bereavement, kids leaving home, and indeed becoming a Christian or responding to a completely new call.
Kairos comes in all shapes and sizes. It's often unpredictable, unsettling, exciting, sometimes disturbing. But we need it. Following Jesus requires kairos moments. The bottom line is, if you want a real relationship with God, you have to have them. You'll always have them, sooner or later. Like Aslan, God is good, but he's not safe. He breaks in, rips up, bends sharply and occasionally refracts like light in a prism. Kairos always gets you in the end.
Asking the question. But it's one thing to be ready for kairos moments, and to recognise that they come in different shapes and sizes, at different times, in different ways. It's another to know what to do with them. Like the odd sock on your bedroom floor, the cornflake stuck in the crack between the oven and the kitchen cabinet, or the loose tile on the roof, we find ourselves wondering: what do we do with that?
Probably the best material that I have personally come across is Mike Breen and Walt Kallestad's Lifeshapes, as described in their book A Passionate Life. When it comes to kairos, they suggest, what we need to do is to enter the Learning Circle, a 6-step process of Observe-Reflect-Discuss and then Plan-Account-Act. I could not do justice to their material here, but what is striking is the value they put both on reflection, and thoughtful action.
Kairos moments are only of value to us if they generate constructive growth and change. The question that confronts us eventually about any significant moment or season is this: when it comes down to it, do you want to grow? This is why we need more than the language of journey in our faith, because the point is that for anyone trying to journey toward Jesus, we are not meant to be quite the same people when we arrive as when we started. In that sense, life is like no other journey. Kairos moments are the petri dish cultivating change – if only we will let them.
What's on the other side of the door? There are some threshold moments where no amount of books or advice can really prepare you. However, others are expected, and in these instances a threshold moment is precisely that: a threshold, a doorway into another room altogether.
When we know there is a door coming up, we should do all we can to prepare for it. Read, pray, seek advice. Not all kairos is unexpected. And if planning helps you to walk through a door – even if you can't see everything within – then kairos is still doing its job.
Seeking encounter, not experience. A final thought about the kairos-shaped life. Kairos moments by their nature tend to be more emotional, or emotion-laden. In that sense, they often represent 'experiences' for us. But we need to remember that ultimately it is not about the experience itself. Our mindset must be to seek encounter with the God who gave that experience, not the experience itself. God wants a long-term relationship with us, and not just a collection of experiences.
The bench on the side of the hill.
Have you ever noticed how most public benches are not at the top of hills or in the valleys, but on the side of a hill, looking out? I want to suggest that sitting on a bench like that is a lovely image of a life which embraces both kairos and journey. On the one hand, you can't reach such a bench without being on a journey. They are always on the way to somewhere. That somewhere might be up, it might be down, it might just be along for the time being. But it is always somewhere.
On the other hand, here you are, on that bench, at this moment in time, at this point of the journey. And you will move from here: perhaps up, perhaps down, perhaps along a bit. Look up, look down, look around: where are you? Where has your journey taken you? And where is it taking you now? Where is your next bench, your next viewpoint? What path will take you further up the hillside?
It is a moment, a season in the midst of the journey. But don't forget to enjoy the view.
Rev Matt Trendall is Rector of Walton Churches Partnership, Milton Keynes.