Hazardous interpretations

We need to be watchful for any hazards on the path ahead.

We need to be watchful for any hazards on the path ahead.

The path of exploring ordination is a strange affair. On one hand you are very much on your own, the searching is down to you. On the other hand it can be a community affair. People join the journey for a while, sometimes only for the briefest of moments, others walk with you for a long time. Yet whilst they walk with you, the decision whether to turn right or left is down to you.

I am blessed to know quite a few people who are either going through the ordination process or have done it and are now curates and vicars. Their counsel is particularly helpful. Each such person I know is very different and, though they have gone through the same process, their experiences are often very different too. They ‘know’ what I’m feeling, they understand why I’m feeling frustrated or excited. Those that have gone further along the path are also great for pointing out the hazards that I may face along the way.

Sadly I have heard from some who have said that the path towards ordination has, at times, left them feeling disconnected from God. It is somewhat ironic that pursuing God’s will for our lives can actually push listening to and living with Him to the side-lines. I can certainly see how that can happen: sometimes I have been too focused on the process of exploring my calling that I have failed to stop and actually listen to what God is trying to say to me.

Recently I was catching up with a friend who is about to start her theological training for ordination. The chat was mostly about the excitement and relief of me having heard from the DDO. As we chatted on, she spoke of the fatigue of having to regularly tell her journey to faith and her call towards ordination. It was a signpost to one of those hazards.

Over the past couple of weeks I have met with 2 potential spiritual directors (see Leaving the Waiting Room). This week I am preparing to meet the DDO. As I shared my story with the Vocations Chaplain and the spiritual directors I know that I will need to do the same with the DDO. Once more I will talk about how I became a Christian, my sense of calling, what God has been doing in my life, and so on.

Sharing the same story, the same message, in quick succession could be dangerous. I could speak as though on autopilot, stale and lifeless, without the spark of light that speaking about something afresh gives. It must be a similar experience to preachers who have a message they feel God wants them to give to multiple groups.

I wonder what the solution is. As often, the answer is probably the obvious one and as normal it isn’t an always easy one to put into practice.

The answer must be to ensure God is invited into the conversation, that we ask Him to provide the words we speak and to guide us afresh. After all, the ‘audience’ we speak to may need to hear the same core message but the style or emphasis may need to be different.

During my teacher training I was taught about the different ways we all learn. Some learn through hearing, some through experiencing and acting it out; others learn through pictures. I’m one of the latter. To understand something I need to visualise the different components and how they work together, only then can I understand the whole.

Yet it isn’t quite as simple as that. We may like to categorize but each one of us is unique. There never has, nor ever will be, anyone like me or you. That’s a good thing!

Thankfully God’s communication methods are tailor made to each one of us. He is able to communicate to every person in the unique way they need Him to. God knew what I needed in order to believe and He provided that.

Communication isn’t a one way street though. The complexity of communication is such that no matter how good a communicator someone is a message can easily be misunderstood. Both listeners and speakers can benefit from a bit of help from God.

As we listen to someone talk we effectively interpret it; we understand it through the prism of our own experiences and knowledge. We can invite God not only to speak through us but to also act our interpreter as we seek to understand what He is wanting us to hear through another person. When the speaker, and indeed writer, invites God into the mix, the chances for hearing God’s voice is amplified.

I have needed that amplification this past week.

My mind has been a noisy and chaotic place. There’s been the issue of finding a spiritual director and preparing for the DDO. Then there’s been ‘normal’ life stuff as well: I am in the midst of being a single parent for a week whilst my wife is away with work. Issues, problems, blessings, thoughts, all bouncing around inside my head at once. Hearing God through all that has been a challenge!

As my thoughts turned to preparing for my first meeting with the DDO, I knew that I needed to try and clear the decks beforehand. It is the start of a new relationship, and a critical one – she could be with me all the way from now to the end of a curacy should God take me that far. For me, it’s crucial that I am in a place of peace when we meet.

I decided therefore that It would be ideal if I knew whether either of the 2 spiritual directors I had met was the right one to accompany me on my walk. Each had good points and would be helpful on my journey, but they could hardly be more different from each other. I began praying one night for a clear sign from God, I asked Him to be my filter and interpreter.

My mind went strangely quiet. In the unexpected but welcomed silence I felt God speaking. I knew which of the spiritual directors would be right for me on the next part of my journey. The other director wasn’t out of the picture, their qualities would be needed later on my journey. God was effectively saying ‘yes’ to one and ‘not yet’ to the other.

So onto the DDO! It is great to know that by choice and by His grace there will be 3 of us in the meeting, speaking and listening, interpreting and discerning. Thankfully for me at least there will also be a sense of inner peace.

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