Being Present on the Journey

By Reverend Andy Fleming, Chaplain

In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter finds Sean O’Connell, the photographer he had been chasing to get the cover page’s missing photograph. Walter is seemingly surprised and thoughtful when Sean does not take the picture of the snow leopard - one of the rarest wildlife photos to capture. I love that Sean sits and watches, making the decision just to be in that moment, to not to get distracted by his camera - his work. I also love his reasoning: “Beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” For Walter, we see the beginning of his realisation that he has been on a journey of personal growth, rather than for the purposes of his job, revealing what's more important.

"Beautiful things don't ask for attention" - Seascape at Sunset by Monika Lukstina. Oil painting on panel.

As you might imagine, there are many journeys undertaken in the Bible: Moses taking the Israelite people out of Egypt once God frees them from slavery; Ruth showing courage, travelling with her mother-in-law Naomi to a foreign land; Cleopas and his friend walking on the road to Emmaus and encountering Jesus after his resurrection; and the journey of Jonah to the city of Nineveh.

Jonah’s journey details how we can find out things about the places we go to, other people and ourselves. Jonah’s story is well known because he is swallowed by a big fish and spewed up onto land three days later. Jonah hated the people of Nineveh, so much so that when God told him to go to Nineveh to save them, he tried to go as far away as he could, boarding a ship to Tarshish (in modern day Spain). He would rather 120,000 or so people be destroyed than fulfil God’s instructions. After a pretty drastic failure on Jonah’s part, he most reluctantly journeys to Nineveh (in modern day Iraq).

Jonah would so prefer for the people to die that he gives God’s message in a most unenthusiastic way, in the hope that the people of Nineveh might ignore him and continue on their path to destruction. When the opposite happens that the people turn back to God, Jonah is so angry he asks God to die. However, God uses this opportunity to show Jonah his attitude is misplaced.

Jonah learns a valuable lesson about not being able to control the uncontrollable. He learns about mercy and forgiveness, and that there are no limits to God’s gracious love.

Similarly to Walter meeting the photographer Sean O’Connell, it wasn’t until Jonah stopped and sat, becoming present in the moment, that he began to learn these things. He learnt about beautiful things in that moment.

Stepping forward towards each other

Bishop Mark Short, our Diocesan Bishop, has written a pastoral letter in response to the referendum on the Voice to parliament and the escalating conflict in Israel and Gaza. He encourages us to step forward in love towards First Nations peoples and the people of Israel and Gaza. The letter can be read in full here.

With the conflict and humanitarian crisis in Israel and Gaza, along with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the others that don’t appear in our media, I offer this prayer:

On Peace and War

We are aware of the violent conflicts.
The loss of so many who are caught in the hubris of others.
The lives lost simply because war broke out where they live.

Such conflict and tragedy are remote from us,
but not remote from us are bewilderment, anxiety, and double mindedness.
The world has become so strange, our place in it so tenuous,
where grey seems clearer than the white purity of our hopes.
There is little agreement among us, and so little truth shared,
so little that we scarcely know how to pray or for what to pray.
We do know, however, to who to pray!

We pray to you, Creator God, who wills the world good;
We pray to you, Redeemer God, who makes all things new.
We pray to you, stirring Spirit, healer of the nations.
We pray for guidance, and before that, we pray in repentance,
for too much wanting the world on our own terms.

We pray for your powerful mercy, to put the world - and us – in a new way,
a way after Jesus who gave himself,
a way after Jesus who confounded the authorities and who lived more excellently.
Whelm us by your newness, by peace on your terms -
the newness that you have promised,
of which we have seen glimpses in your son who is our Lord.
(Adapted from Walter Brueggemann)

Rev. Andy.