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andrew rumsey
strangely warmed
By Andrew Rumsey
More strange warmings here
Nothing like a journey
December 2009

"Journey", like the other J-word, has become the answer you can give in church to just about any question, without fear of ever being wrong. That's because it's not really an answer at all, more a kind of verbal smokescreen.

To be "on a journey", spiritually-speaking, means you're heading in the right direction (probably) but wouldn't claim to have everything sussed. It suggests wisdom and perspective, balance and humility, without giving substantial proof that you possess any of those qualities. As such it is extremely useful. Try slipping "journey" in during a small group meeting and I guarantee that at least half the heads in the circle will nod empathetically, even if the question was whether you'd like a shortbread finger.

Given its unassailable status, how very tempting it is to stroke the cat backwards and try arguing that, on the contrary, your faith isn't anything like a journey. I suspect that actual violence might ensue...

Mike (group leader): Andrew, tell us a little about your faith.

Andrew: Thanks Mike. Well, it's become increasingly important for me to recognise that my faith isn't a journey...

Mike: I'm sorry?

The rest of group raise their heads, glance at each other.

Andrew: That my faith isn't a journey.

Mike (offended): Well it must be; everyone's is.

Andrew: I'm sorry, it just isn't.

It is, I tell you! (to supportive cries from other group members)

Andrew: I used to think it was, but I was wrong – it's really very liberating, because I hate journeys. Prefer arriving. Instead, my faith is more like a...

Before he can speak, the rest of the group have risen towards him as one.

Mike: Seize him!

Andrew: ... more like a....

Mike and assorted group members manhandle him out, to cries of Take away his coffee! That's it, grab his legs, etc.

Andrew (above the din): ... more like a...

Suddenly, the storm subsides. People quietly return to their seats.

Mike: Ah. Yes. A story.

It's probably safer all round to try this guided meditation instead. You know the form: house lights down, children locked in the crèche and plenty of reverb on your microphone.

Good evening and welcome to our guided meditation for Advent (pause). That time of the church's year when all we do is wait (pause some more). What are you waiting for, I wonder? Perhaps it might be helpful to repeat those words aloud: "What are you waiting for?" And again... "What are you waiting for?"

Feel free to encourage those present to say this refrain several times, while you find your place in your notes. If it's going especially well, some may break into a spontaneous chorus of "Why are we waiting?"

Tonight's guided meditation is entitled, The Journey. Some of you may have felt from time to time that your faith was like a journey.

Pause as most of the room say "mmm".

If so, you're right, it is.

Pause again to allow the stewards to gently, but firmly, remove from church any isolated individuals who disagree.

And so, if you will, I'd like you to picture yourself in a place of journeys – a busy railway station, full of the noise and bustle of a world on the move. It's 8.30 in the morning and you're at the head of a very long queue waiting for tickets.

As you step forward, the man at the counter asks where you're going.
Where are you going? It would be easy to give him a glib answer, to make this personal encounter nothing more than a transaction. But you are called to a different way: you know that the only truthful answer you can give is to stay silent, and wait...

Where are you travelling to? Again comes the question, and again the pressure to give the easy answer, pressure from society behind you in the queue, all wanting you to move at their relentless pace. But again, you are travelling to a different sort of destination and, after waiting quietly for a few moments, you simply say to the man, "I am on a journey."

Leaving the scuffle which appears to have broken out behind you, you walk through the underpass to the foot of the stairs up to the platform. There is a woman with a pushchair trying to get up the steps. The baby appears distressed.
Perhaps you can help. After all, we each have a troubled child within us. So, quietly sitting down on the steps next to the buggy, you begin to sing to the little one (pause to allow people to sing whatever they feel is appropriate). If there is a candle in your pocket, it might be an idea to light it and, with a smile, hand it to the baby.

Gradually becoming aware that a kind man in a fluorescent jacket has taken you on a new journey from the station, I want you now to picture yourself somewhere more peaceful. It is springtime, and you are lying on your back in the open air, looking up at the sky. Above you, you can see a chirping flock of swallows diving and swooping, constantly on the move, looking for insects and flies. In our restless consumerism, our demanding appetites, each of us, in our own way, are swallows – our beaks, too, are full of... insects and... and grubs. In the silence, think for a moment what that feels like...

And as you lie back and drift off, breathing swooping and climbing like the swallow, a distant sound gradually builds and fills your ears. Opening your eyes, an unmistakable shape fills your vision. It's a Jumbo Jet, just metres above you. How massive it is – how does it stay up in the air? But of course it won't for long: it's coming in to land.

Gradually you become aware that you're on an airport runway. Don't be alarmed: surely it's good to be here, in this restless place of arrivals and departures... It would be so easy to play safe – to leave and go somewhere quieter, less dangerous. But sometimes faith calls us to the unsafe place: and, when you think about it, where could be more unsafe than a runway? So stay lying exactly where you are, completely relaxed. And, as the deafening shadow of the airliner closes over you, give thanks that your journey will soon be at an end...
strangely warmed
Strangely Warmed by Andrew Rumsey is now available as a book.
also see
crow's nest
Stephen Tomkins' regular column of tales of religious lunacy from the far reaches of the Net
hubris 2
Mark Howe's regular rant about Internet culture
loose canons
Also by Stephen Tomkins... a regular round-up of the saints of yore who were one wafer short of a full communion
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