Walking towards God

Assistant Curate, Mariama Ifode-Blease, reflects on what it means to walk towards God in this season of Epiphany

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Mariama Ifode-Blease

We are in the season of the manifestation of the divine, of revelation, and new insights. I was deeply inspired by the talk given by Rev’d Shawn Sanford Beck on Sunday evening. This was the first in a series of online conversations entitled ‘Changing our Minds: Learning to be Ecozoic’. In conversation with one of our Eco Team, Deborah Colvin, Shawn talked about different ways of defining and living with the earth. Instead of being a steward to the earth, we could perhaps see ourselves as chaplains to the earth, he suggested. I was quite taken by this idea. The joy of being a chaplain is that you are simply there to be, and walk alongside, and enjoy the presence of God between you and those who you serve. As chaplain, you have a deep interest in others, and you want to learn more. You pray for, and bring others towards, a sense of love and tethering to God that goes beyond human tragedy and joy. And I love that. I love thinking about how I can do that with and for our planet.

Speaking of chaplaincy, next month I start as Chaplain to the students and community of St Edmund Hall at the University of Oxford. A College with medieval roots, it has a modern, inclusive and welcoming ethos that echoes St James’s and chimes with my own values relating to human dignity and personhood. It is committed to biodiversity and promoting green initiatives and is seen as one of the most environmentally conscious Colleges at the university. And no, you can’t open the champagne just yet. I am not leaving St James’s. This role works alongside being your curate, though I may not be as available on Sunday evenings. I thought I should explain my whereabouts in case you thought I was whiling away my time eating bon bons and lounging on a sunbed.

Who and what is where shapes the early years of Jesus’s human life in transformative ways. Whether it is the presence of the shepherds, or angels, or the locations of the manger, Jesus’s family’s first home, the routes of the ‘wise men’, or being in flight to Egypt, journeying towards God seems rather fraught with belief and disbelief. In this season of Epiphany when we are reflecting on the magi’s journey to see the Christ-child, I wonder how long it took, and what challenges they found on the way? Also, please tell me that they arrived and sang and danced. They must have, surely? I struggle with the idea that they got down from their camels, placed their gifts at the feet of the Holy Family and then they stood still, rigid in worship. Let us acknowledge here and now that the ‘wise men’ did not stand still. They may have taken off their shoes, for the ground on which they were standing was holy. They moved, they walked, they rode and defied the expected, seeking new wisdom, and going another way when it was clear the direction that they had received was plain wrong.

So, what does this give and tell us in our own walk towards God? Well, it is clear that we are not alone. There is a presence beyond us that remains constant in the search for us, as we seek this divine power too. There are journeys that lead us up the garden path, and journeys that lead us to a dead end, or what seems like one. And there are journeys that make us feel that we are back where we started, not having moved very far at all. And that’s just for starters. Journeying towards God means journeying towards hope, and the unexpected, and truth. Journey towards God means liberation, of our imaginations, of our expectations, of our fear, and whatever has been tying us down and holding us back from making that essential, life-giving journey in the first place.

If the story of the magi teaches us anything, it is that God isn’t a moving target with us hopping and jumping to try to reach God. God’s constancy reveals God’s wonder, and that wonder is not buried or hidden. It is available to all, without mediation, to come and see. The stable was not surrounded by bodyguards, security gates, CEOs, millionaires, celebrities, or bishops. There was no barrier to accessing God, as one of our parishioners helpfully reminded me last week.

We cannot all ride camels in an epic dash across regions and lands. Running or walking may be impossible for some of us. What we see in the magi’s journey is arriving with what they had. So too, we must arrive with what we’ve got, as we are, with whatever we want to present to God. And, as I’ve said many times before, God waits. Patiently. Annoyingly so. God waits for us because all our journeys start and end with God.