Lighting up the night sky

So I’ve just got back from a weekend at Mirfield with St Hild College, where I am training to be a priest. We study at three different sites in Sheffield, York and also at the College of the Resurrection, where we gather for a series of weekends and some of us are based there on Wednesday evenings. The Mirfield site is home to the Community of the Resurrection who are a community of monks. They live and work there and we study alongside them. Being in the same space as all these holy people is lovely, and you can smell the incense in the Upper Chapel, and catch the sense of prayer in the air. Their prayers are like a furnace kept alight every day, regardless of what is happening in the world outside.

Our job as students this weekend, was formally learning about the history of the church but mainly about spending time with other people in the same boat, comparing notes and learning about different expressions of spirituality. It doesn’t always feel like a privilege, when you are tired and missing home, I was checking my phone for Whatsapp messages from my mates on Friday night,  and realised it was really dark when we walked across to the chapel at 6pm. In the sky I could see traces of an aeroplane’s mark in the sky pointing upwards amongst the stars.

As we were praying I felt expectant that God was with us, and we had a time of silence, which took me back to my days at a Quaker school, sitting and waiting for divine inspiration during a school service, when you’d rather have been home messing about. However God did show up, in the way he normally communicates to me, which is in pictures. The lady leading our guided silence, talked about imagining we were in God’s hands. I heard God say ‘Are you listening?’ and I took note that I had to pay attention. In the picture God’s hands were around a bow and he was placing me in the bow as his arrow, and firing me high into the dark sky. I was worried that we were in trouble as bows and arrows are normally used in war, but the message I had was that my job was not to harm but to light up the sky and point people in the right direction. God was the archer, so he knew exactly where he was sending me, the arc of the flight I would take. It seems so high up and far away I said. ‘but it’s not really to me, I can snatch you back at any point’ said God. ‘It just seems that way to you’.

Because it was dark I couldn’t see where I was going, but the point wasn’t for me to know that, it was simply to light up the dark, like a beacon in the sky. I shared this with the principal of the college, Mark Powley, who shared that he’d had a similar picture, almost exactly 7 years ago to the day, when God asked him to set up a college for training priests in the North of England. His picture was that the sky would be full of bright lights as a result of the work he did.

As I set about the next stage of my ministry I’m about to be sent out again, and it does feel scary, but I found this picture really helpful. I’m being ‘set alight’ with my faith at college, ready to go out and share God’s love like a light in the dark places. Studying with lots of other people in the same process is called by the church of England, formation, and we are all being shaped and changed through our encounters with each other. Our traditions, and assumptions are constantly being challenged.

As the weekend went on, I heard other people share their stories, and we reflected on the parable of  the talents. I came to the conclusion, that God is sending us out in this way, specifically because there is significant dark and danger in this world. We can’t just form a holy huddle in the bright, safe places, burying our gifts in the ground. We need to go out and trade what we have to increase it’s value. Those people who are hurting in this world need to see a sign of hope, and justice and peace.

One of the hardest thing about being a vicar, for me, is saying goodbye to the church family who nurture and develop you, and keep you safe. I know my close friends and family will keep in touch, but church life is a bit different. I think the more committed you are to your faith, the more comfort you draw from the people of faith and the communities around you, and it’s also great to know wherever you go, a church community can be there to join.

This weekend I needed to be reminded that we have a mighty god one who can use our gifts however small they are, and who is ready to strike when he sees injustice. He needs those who are ready and willing to serve to fulfill this, whether as trained priests, or as a church family, or as mums and dads, neighbours, friends and work colleagues. We all have a role to play. We can all be fiery arrows in the darkness.

I found this verse helpful,  in Psalm 7 10-13

The Most High God is like a shield that keeps me safe.

He saves those whose hearts are honest.

God judges fairly.

He shows his anger every day.

If evil people don’t change their ways,

God will sharpen his sword.

He will get his bow ready to use.

He has prepared his deadly weapons.

He has made his flaming arrows ready.

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