New Beginnings – a reflection by Angie Foster, Authorised Lay Minister for Worship + Prayer and Spirituality

 Last Sunday we celebrated the feast of Pentecost and next Sunday is Trinity Sunday and we then enter Ordinary Time in the church calendar. For some it marks the end of all the feasts of Christmas, Easter and Whitsun and we start a new beginning in nearly half a year of Trinity Sundays.

However, instead of being impatient, or even dare I say bored, maybe we can use this time to transform ourselves as we wait for Advent and the new Church Calendar year. Transformation can be a painful process and we need to be patient with ourselves and the process: The word change normally refers to new beginnings. The mystery of transformation more often happens not when something new begins, but when something old falls apart. The pain and chaos of something old falling apart invite us to listen at a deeper level, and sometimes force our heart, mind and soul to go to a new place. Most of us would never go to new places in any other way. The mystics use many words to describe this chaos: fire, dark night, death, emptiness, abandonment or even trial. Whatever it is called, it does not feel good, and it does not feel like God.

We will normally do anything to keep the old thing from falling apart, yet this is when we need patience and guidance, and the freedom to let go instead of tightening our controls and certitudes. Perhaps Jesus is describing just this phenomenon when he says, “It is a narrow gate and a hard road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:14) Not accidentally, he mentions this narrow gate and hard road right after teaching the Golden Rule. He knows how much “letting go” it takes to “treat others as you would like them to treat you.” (Matthew 7:12)

Spiritual transformation always includes a disconcerting reorientation. It can either help people to find new meaning or it can cause people to close down and slowly turn bitter. The difference is determined precisely by the quality of our inner life, our practices, and our spirituality. Change happens, but transformation is always a process of letting go, and living in the confusing, shadowy, transitional space for a while.

Eventually, we are spit up on a new and unexpected shore. We can see why Jonah in the belly of the whale is such an important figure for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

In moments of insecurity and crisis, ‘should’s’ and ‘ought’s’ do not really help. They just increase the shame, guilt, pressure, and likelihood of backsliding into unhealthy patterns. It is the deep ‘yes’es  that carry us through to the other side. It is those deeper values we strongly support — such as equality and dignity for all — that allow us to wait it out. Or it is someone in whom we absolutely believe and to whom we commit. In plain language, love wins out over guilt any day.

It is sad that sometimes we settle for the short-term effectiveness of side-lining people and shutting them down, instead of the long – term life benefits of true transformation. We are a culture of productivity and efficiency, not terribly patient or even open to growth. God is much more patient — and much more effective, patiently supporting our inner transformation through all of life’s transitions.

With acknowledgement to Richard Rohr and the Centre for Action and Contemplation.