As I type this I have just been to the Great Barrier Reef. I am paradoxically overwhelmed by the beauty of what I have seen and feelings of guilt from the unexpected, undeserved pleasure whilst I am away on a work trip. During Lent I am attempting to ‘refresh my soul’. I am reading whole letters from the New Testament and long chunks from the gospels & as the late Dallas Willard suggests, ‘trying to ruthlessly eliminate hurry from my life to notice the burning bushes, the presence of God, all around me’
The sun is shining, the ocean is blue and I am contemplating a cold beer before we reach Cairns.
This part of the trip and a subsequent visit to the nearby rainforest are part of retreat with other senior leaders in the Anglican Church and it is all a gift. We have just had to be here and receive it. Receiving a gift is not always easy– as I sit on the top deck I ponder that at the heart of a truly free life is gratitude - the good news and gift that Jesus announces is a revelation of who you already are and what you already possess – if only you choose to accept it and unlock the creator’s Spirit within you.
I have now succumbed to temptation and as the dolphins wave on their way past I am enjoying that beer. Another word for gift might be grace – in the sense that it has its source beyond you; it is when you have received with no part done by you, with no sense of deserving, you simply open up and receive it. A way of describing it might be that you are in harmony with that which transcends you, like a ballerina moving with grace, co-operating with something bigger, something outside of herself. For me it is a trip on a boat, the boundless ocean, a dive in the clear blue sea, an entirely new creation below the surface – with colour, diversity, beauty and interconnectedness. And yet all I have seen and received in this day is nothing compared to what the grace of God looks like. And we are called to participate in that grace. It reminds me that I already possess all that I am striving for. I am accepted. My identity is secure in Christ. Remember. ‘I rescued you’ whispers God.
Grace is the base note, the constant rhythmic reminder that we receive from God what we do not deserve. Grace tells me more than anything – I am enough. As I sit on the top deck marveling at what I see, I am reminded that God’s earth contains enough. And yet we often live with the sense that we are not enough, we do not have enough. We have not done enough, been enough, grace is receiving the gift and simply saying ‘thank you'
Now in the Bible Paul often combines grace with peace
Peace in this sense is not just the absence of conflict; it is shalom, this ancient Hebrew word is much bigger and wider than that. It is the presence of wholeness, health and harmony, being comfortable with yourself, to have shalom with yourself, to have shalom with each other. It is there when we are in right relationships, in harmony with others. We have done our part. Shalom with God - when we have made peace with Him and become reconciled to Him and our past – it does not mean we are always good or right - it just means we are working towards Shalom.
But there is another key dimension to all this: Shalom with our world, with the environment. It is the second commandment - ‘to steward the earth’ – but we have not taken care of the soil, or the oceans, or the forests. We do not have shalom with the earth. I can see from where I stand bleached coral under the water and large sections of former woodland that are now deforested. Shalom it seems to me has an active dynamic. It is robust and knows that the world is going somewhere and that we get to play a part, to contribute a verse or punctuation.
Sometimes we need a word about grace, an invitation to rest and receive the free gift; sometimes we need a word about peace (about shalom) - a challenge. What does this look like?
Sometimes we need to be reminded that ‘everything I have is yours’ says God. Like the elder brother in the prodigal story.
Sometimes we need to be reminded that we are called to change the world.Richard Rhor from the Centre for Action and Contemplation says ‘there is a time to take stock, for breathing, for disengaging and then there is a time for re-engaging. You cannot have one without the other’
We are first and foremost a human being not a human doing and here on the boat as I am being then an energy wells up from my Spirit’ - perhaps it whispers that the Kingdom of God is near and says to me – let’s feed some hungry, let’s stand up for injustice, let’s take care of the world, let’s create some shalom.
Grace & Peace.
Revd Andy Bowerman, Joint Executive Director, Anglican Alliance