On Thursday I attended a Quiet Day held at St Peter’s, facilitated by Revd Sue Calveley. Sue had been on the clergy team at St Peter’s prior to my arrival. The day was a mix of corporate worship, led reflections, and plenty of space to ourselves.
In the morning, we took the account of Elijah calling Elisha to follow him as our starting-point. When Elijah finds Elisha, Elisha is ploughing a field. He is overseeing the last of twelve pairs of oxen. In other words, eleven other teams are ploughing in front of him. To plough a furrow is sometimes used as a metaphor for life. We plough the field given us. Will we plough a straight furrow, or a crooked one? Will the earth be good, or will we need to stop to deal with stones? Will we plough the same ground long enough to become familiar with it – with its particularities and peculiarities – to love it and to make the soil good? Do we plough on our own, or, looking up, do we see those who have ploughed before us? Do we recognise the role of those who have gone before us, or who go alongside us? Before Elisha walks away into his calling, he asks first to acknowledge and honour those others, serving up a feast in an act that simultaneously severs himself from them and ties their stories together. In the morning we were given space to reflect on those who have been a blessing to us; and in the afternoon, space to reflect on ourselves as gift from God, firstly to ourselves – for we can only come to God as ourselves – but also for the world.
To further help me go deeper, I took photographs of furrows, or grooves, in various media around the church: wood, stone, glass, tile. Many were intentional, of course; and it is not possible to live life well by accident, without intention. But other furrows were the result of wear-and-tear, or indirect action, or even accident. Some were begun and then cut short, abandoned. Some were deep; while others barely scratched the surface, only noticeable when the light falls on them. Some went with the grain, others across or against the grain. Some had become filled with dirt, neglected; others inlaid with gold paint, beautified. Some cut across the field of names of the men of the parish who died in the First and Second World Wars. Almost all bore testimony to people who had shaped this space, either through their workmanship or through their loving repetitive doing life in this place: people who came before me.
And while the space would not have been created without the intentional carvings, neither would it be what it is without the unintentional ones: not a blueprint for a church building, an idea, a fine theory; but an actual church building, with its faults and flaws, that has become a special place, where people discover and rediscover that they are loved by God…