Now, what was I here for?

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The Night Before Christmas (Clement C. Moore, illustrated by Niroot Puttapipat)

Transforming something unknown into something known lies in the future. We can use our imagination and other people’s knowledge to paint a picture of what it might look like but it is only when we catch up with it, when the future becomes the present, that we begin to know the unknown. And so it has turned out with my Ordination Training.

As the training reached full-speed in early October (my studies in September were fairly light) the impact on my daily life quickly became clear: each day would be filled from rising to sleeping. My wife and I both needed to continue with our full-time jobs, my children still needed to be taken to school and clubs, household chores still needed to be done, and occasionally we even needed to eat. The only space for study was my ‘spare-time’, something I enjoyed using to spend time simply being with my family and friends. The study mean that this time would be limited, I would not be able to socialise quite as much as I did and this blog would not be added to quite as often as before. As such this post is as much an account of what it is like to train for ordination whilst working full-time as it is a reflection upon it.

The regularity of life meant that although time for study was limited it was at least fairly predictable. The hours after my children had gone to bed provided several hours with which to delve deeply into my studies but even short moments proved to be useful. The key was being focused and not letting time slip away. Instead I needed to seize every opportunity that presented itself: lunch breaks were chances to study rather than browse Twitter or the shops; my children’s swimming lessons were no longer times to catch up with friends or read a magazine but opportunities to reflect on a text from college.

It would be wrong to suggest that every spare waking moment was spent wrestling with a new theological theory – as well as being focused I also needed to be honest with myself. I realised the need to plan to do or achieve little or nothing. I needed to build in time for distraction and procrastination. There is no point fooling ourselves that we will not be distracted or take time to get going: pretending that we will not is a recipe for stress once it becomes apparent that not enough has been done in the time that had been available.

Adding study to my life had an interesting side-effect. With my mind constantly on study topics it became difficult to think of much else. So, although I was being encouraged to constantly reflect on my experiences and studies, I found I didn’t have the mental capacity to think much beyond them. If something wasn’t part of the regular routine and not put in my diary or ‘to-do’ list it was easily forgotten, making me even more dependent on others to ensure certain things were done. Whilst there is enough life for me away from my studies to keep me outside of a theological bubble it is clear that I will need to stop occasionally to take notice of the world outside and my connection with it (something I suspect writing blog posts may help me with).

The importance of stopping to relax and to spend time with family and friends is very much apparent. It would have been all too easy thee past few months to fill every waking moment with study but work without relaxation or time with the people we love is detrimental in the long-term – it was being in college that showed this most starkly.

Between this blog post and my last I have had 2 weekends and a day in college, the rest being done online via video-conferencing, downloadable study material, leading a study group and various church-linked meetings and activities. Whilst being in college was welcomed, and is an essential part of my way of studying, being there meant that I not only missed time with my family but was unable to study the material for that week. Keeping from falling behind schedule with the work in such circumstances is challenging and increases the intensity of study on the days either side of them.

It is perhaps not surprising that somethings just haven’t happened. I haven’t been able to meet with my Spiritual Director of the past 4 years since I began training; our mutual schedules have never been in alignment, so much so that I am in the process of finding another who can meet in the evenings or weekends.

The tutors at college encourage us to keep a journal in which to write our reflections on what we do, learn and experience, and not just from our studies. But much as I constantly reflect in my head I have been poor at getting those thoughts down on paper, perhaps I need to challenge myself to write more blog posts! One reason I haven’t, other than time and capacity, is that it is difficult to write about what I am studying because I am still trying to understand it. There are posts about the emotional, spiritual and community aspect of training waiting to be written but until I do find the time and capacity to write them my Twitter account (@pilgrimexplorer) will continue to fill the gap – Twitter’s limited character count encourages short and regular postings, although I don’t think it’s quite what my tutors had in mind.

The necessity to plan ahead and to make good and focused use of each day became clear fairly quickly, as was working at a sustainable pace and having something to look forward to. Having 1 evening each week to relax with the family at the end of our respective weeks has become sacrosanct and the motivation to knuckle down and study at other times. Plan as I must, flexibility is the key to studying whilst working and being a parent, not least to prevent becoming isolated from the world outside of the daily routines. Spending time with friends has also proved its worth in keeping sane but for each moment taken out of study to be with friends another needs to be found to take its place, it is a constant trade-off of study and relaxation.

At Christmas my college is shut for 2 weeks and whilst that doesn’t mean I can’t afford to have 2 weeks off studying (my next tutorial is on 2nd of January 2018!), it does mean I can afford to stop and take in the reason I am doing all this training in the first place. And so as I prepare to go with my family to church to celebrate the birth of our saviour I wish you a happy Christmas, may God bless and guide you in the year ahead.

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Hope Echoes

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You are wondering through the cold winter night with the thoughts and worries of the year gone by running through your head and see a glow from behind some barn doors. Intrigued, you approach it. You notice it is ajar and as you peep inside you see a group of people gathered around something. They notice you and beckon you in. The warmth of the light and fire is matched by the welcome you receive. Your eyes take in the smiles before they descend upon a young couple who seem to glow with joy. They invite you to come closer. As you approach you become transfixed on a new born baby the lady is holding. She lowers the baby into your arms and he nuzzles into you: a new life full of new promise and possibilities, lying happily in your embrace.

The big cause for celebration that we’ve been looking forward to all year has finally come amongst us. Yes, the latest Star Wars film is now in the cinemas! The first Star Wars movie, A New Hope, is a tale of light overcoming darkness but the hope but we are counting down the days to celebrate the greatest gift of hope ever to have been given to us. And after the difficult year we are coming to the end of we could do with some hope, but the hope we have is not a new hope, it is a hope from the past, present and future.  Is a hope that Isaiah knew was coming, a hope that Joseph lived out when Mary most needed it, and a hope that continues to echo throughout the world to this day. Continue reading

Adventageous

Wells Cathedral at night

Wells Cathedral at night

Year on year, Advent becomes more and more important to me.  As life becomes ever busier, the true meaning behind Christmas can too easily be lost amongst the consumerism, the parties, the family get-togethers and the TV schedules.

I need Advent.  I need the reminder to turn my thoughts away from the world, even for just a moment, and think of the miracle of grace that God sent to us: the all powerful Lord born into the most vulnerable human form of a baby. Continue reading

An overwhelming Advent

Advent may have be an overwhelming time for me this year, but it is nothing compared to how overwhelming it was for Mary and Joseph.

It is no wonder that stress levels and tempers rise just at the time of year we are preparing to celebrate the greatest birthday that has ever happened.  The period of Advent comes some time after many people have had a holiday.  Months of working, schooling, and household chores without a break takes its toll on us all eventually.  Hopefully by stopping to think about and prepare for Christmas will result in us not loosing site of what the big day is all about. Continue reading