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Called to a season of Pondering4 weeks ago
I have been thinking a lot recently about ‘pondering’, and I have come to wonder whether pondering, like Mary pondered in the days after the birth of Jesus, is a call to the church in the uncertain times we are living through.
Luke tells us in his gospel that in her deep uncertainty Mary, “treasured up all these things” (presumably the whole catalogue of events that followed Gabriel’s visit, right through to the visit of the shepherds) and “pondered them in her heart” . Things couldn’t have been more uncertain for Mary in the days after she gave birth to Jesus. Nor could they have been more uncertain as she stood, apparently silently, pondering, as she watched her son die . Mary was familiar with uncertainty. And her response was to ponder in a deep reflective stillness.
These are hugely uncertain times for all of us and for all our churches. The danger is that as soon as we have opportunity we will rush headlong into re-creating some solid, predictable ground on which to stand, either by frantically reconstructing a known past or by anxiously rushing towards what many are calling a ‘new normal’, a new set of predictabilities and routines that we can be comfortable with.
I think these are very real dangers for us in the church.
We are so tied to our traditions and our familiar ways of doing things that there will be a collective impulse to get back as quickly as possible to where we used to be. It will be a folly. But we will try it none the less. Either that, or in a collective anxiety to find something certain, anything certain, we will be too quick to lay the foundations of a new kind of church, of which we are the architects.
I don’t want to sound critical as I say that. I understand both instincts from the inside. The past is alluring not only because it is familiar to us, but because it is where we found God and met Jesus and walked in the things of the Spirit. And I’m as eager as you are to see the church emerge from this time of testing and sifting better equipped to live out a radical discipleship and better able to reach people with the gospel. All my activist tendencies are quivering at the possibilities and ready to get to work on building a church fit for its Kingdom calling.
There is a danger that rushing frantically backwards or anxiously forwards is more about what we want and what we need than it is about staying in the center of God’s purposes for the church and being caught up in the deeply creative and renewing work of the Spirit.
Which is where pondering comes in, as Mary pondered at the crib and at the cross.
When we ponder, we stop our own doing, and we wait on what God will do. We pause long enough to listen to what He is saying and to see what He is doing. Like Mary, we recognize that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves, and into which we surrender ourselves, careful not to be prime-movers in a church of which Jesus is the head, always servant-builders at best , never the architect.
And in the pondering, uncertainty and ambiguity become fertile with possibilities. When we ponder like Mary pondered, we can allow ourselves to think outside the tramlines of how things used to be, and to look beyond simple solutions for a new kind of normal. In our pondering we can dream dreams, think new thoughts, imagine new possibilities, play with different scenarios, and listen to different voices. And in it all tap into a deeper collective wisdom that marinates in the waiting and hear a deeper voice still that draws us into what God is doing.
Pondering also allows us space and time to put our instincts under scrutiny. I’m probably not the only one who regrets speaking before thinking (on far too many occasions, sadly), or acting out of impulse or instinct in ways that have caused more harm than good. I’m grateful to Ronald Rolheiser for the thought that when we ponder as Mary pondered we have the opportunity to filter out the toxins , so that when we finally speak or finally act we do so with more grace and forgiveness than might otherwise have been the case.
For all that these are uncertain times, uncomfortably so for most of us, they are full of possibility for the re-shaping of the church to reach an unsettled world.
Though we see these times in a mirror dimly, God sees what is happening with total clarity and is at work creatively and redemptively to use this time for good, and for the greater coming of His Kingdom on earth. If that is the case, as it must be, then our first call is to align ourselves with His greater, deeper, richer and higher purposes before ever we rush off in search of a shallow and premature certainty, in a reconstructed past or a premature future.
As Mary “treasured up” what was happening around her and inside her, and as she “pondered them in her heart”, is God calling us in our uncertain times to a season of pondering, as a first call on our time, and as a first call for leaders in the church?
If you would like to think more about these themes do listen to Kevin’s sermon preached last Sunday for Tebay Methodist Church at the end of an online Sanctuary Weekend. You can access a video of Kevin’s sermon on ‘Pondering’ HERE.
 Luke 2:19
 John 19:25-27
 Luke 1:38
 Ronald Rolheiser – ‘Sacred Fire. A vision for deeper human and Christian maturity’. Image publishing 2004. Page 145.