One of the questions shaping this moment is about discipleship. What does it look like in a time of multiple crises? Over the coming months we want to talk together about this question in the Missional Commons. We’ll be doing this through a series of webinars, Facebook Live events and Intensives. Over this Labour Day weekend I pondered my own responses to the question. A few things became clear for me but I don’t have anything like a full response.
We’re disoriented, many of us are grieving and fearful of the shadows that seem to threaten our way of life, our survival.
What does discipleship look like in this situation? More than anything else, it’s about how we live in hope and expectation. By this I don’t mean some romantic sense of hope. Recently, around 250 Christians in a congregation I’m working with were asked to name what they’re experiencing in this time of pandemic. Their responses were shaped by themes of fear, anxiety, a sense of hopelessness, loneliness and depression. Then, as if to nullify these experiences because they don’t seem quite Christian, many of the respondents wrote: “But God is good and God will get us through this”. I’m not denying that God is good and all will be well, but this is not what these people, young and old, were saying. They were using hope in God to deny the grief, fear and disorientation they’re experiencing. This response does not produce hope or discipleship. The disorientation, grief and fear are real. Several of us recently published an article Renewing the Covenant: Churches and the Building of Local Relationships in which we wrote:
…the consequences of the pandemic have intensified. Uncertain, anxious times will continue for months to come, presenting us all the challenge of caring for one another and reimagining how to live faithfully…We’re facing overwhelming questions about how to live as a society amidst the possibility of economic collapse and a growing sense that other human beings are a threat…Over these months our reactions have ranged from confusion and fear, to anxiety, anger and exhaustion. Now, almost six months on, the overwhelming mood has become one of grief. This grief is certainly about mourning, isolation and fear of economic insecurity…Yet there is a deeper level of grief that is hard to put to words…the primary stories for addressing our situation…cannot touch…a much more profound sense that our collective hope has been reduced to crisis management, and that is insufficient to sustain us…
Discipleship right now involves orienting ourselves around the conviction that God is present and engaged in our moment with all its grief and fear. But such discipleship must be more than platitudes that leave us in the fog. There is no predicting where all this is going. There are no futurists or trend tea-leaf readers who can tell us what is going to happen. These are not the ways of Christ’s disciples. But there are concrete actions discipleship calls for right now. At the risk of sounding simplistic, our lives need to be shaped by the practice of the Daily Office. This is the daily recitation of prayer, reading Scripture and confessing our faith. I follow two forms of this daily practice daily office – Morning Prayer through the Northumbria Community website and the Jesuit Examen. These are ways of centering my life each day within God’s story. It is where I confess my hope and orient myself around the Christian story. Discipleship starts here in this time. The vocation of Christians is to be sign, witness and foretaste of their conviction that God in Christ is making all things new. This hope does not emerge from closing our eyes to what is happening. It grows out of our daily recitation of the story that makes us who we are – the story of God’s presence and Christ’s work.