Devotion, Devotion, Devotion, Devotion, Devotion…

This morning I woke up with the thought: ‘How vulnerable should I be?’

Over the last ten months God has been drawing me to a deeper place of devotion, through a growing desire to hear His voice, to see things through His eyes, and to continue to be obedient to His ongoing call – all within the ‘everyday-ness’ of life.

And so…this is me being vulnerable, sharing some of the story that has led me to this place.

Learning

Let’s start by going back to April 2018 – the beginning of the most amazing opportunity to research child-centred inquiry-based approaches to education in different parts of the world.

Lunchtime at the International Study Group on the Reggio Emilia Approach to education, the first stop on our world tour.

Over 10 weeks Phil and I were able to explore the philosophies and experience the practice of schools that support children to develop foundational literacies, alongside the skills every child needs to thrive in the 21st century; skills like collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, flexibility, and innovation. Whilst Phil documented our experiences through photography, I decided to journal – daily – with the key purpose of learning as much as possible.

The 10 weeks involved visiting 20 schools, meeting and dialoguing with school leaders, teachers and parent-carers in eight countries, observing children learning, experiencing different cultures, living within intentional Christian communities, participating in conferences, spending time visiting Holy sites of Israel – like the Garden of Gethsemane (see main photo, above) – and being welcomed in to a range of expressions of Christianity globally.

Throughout the day, I would note down what we were observing, the sites and sounds, the content of conversations, key highlights and insights, our experiences and initial thoughts – pausing in whatever gaps the day presented, to reflect on what stood out and what we were learning. In looking back over the pages of those notes, God revealed so much during our unique adventure.

I wouldn’t say I went looking for God, but He was so present, so evident throughout. It was as though God kept bumping in to us, or we kept bumping into Him – everywhere – during a visit to a school, as we explored places for the first time, as we prepared food with hosts, or enjoyed a simple picnic together – just the two of us (and God)! God helped me to see beauty in the everyday in a way that I never have before. As we encountered Him – in the most unexpected ways – God gently, slowly, and surely began to challenge some of my underlying assumptions. He began to open my mind and heart to what a school with God at the centre might look like. Setting time aside to journal enabled me to recognise and acknowledge where God was at work and what He was doing; like a record of His revelation.

Yearning

So, when the need arose to spend almost two months travelling the UK to raise personal support during September and October, I decided to journal, once again. But, this time, my motivation was different; it didn’t come from a desire to learn as much as possible, but from a deep yearning to be directed by God and an openness to what He was doing.Throughout the seven weeks in the UK, God spoke through pictures, as we prayed with others, on walks, through the Bible – as we read God’s word – and our conversations with so with so many people. It was amazing. God was there, naturally a part of the everyday.

Walking with my dad and his dog, in the UK.

On both occasions we were away from home (South Africa), it ‘felt’ like there was more time. In fact, our lives during those periods were full with people, places, and conversations. The only explanation for the feeling of space, was that I was probably more focused during those times, and therefore more aware of what God was doing around me, in others and in me. So, my prayer as I returned home to South Africa, was that this would continue – that God would be at the forefront in my ‘normal’ life, that I would continue to be led by the Spirit.

As we journeyed home for the start of November, I made the decision to continue journaling, noting down my experiences of normal day-to-day life, in order to reflect on where I had seen God at work – His pulling and pushing – and how I could be more obedient. In my journal on 20th December I noted: ‘space to journal and reflect has made me realise how much God has done during the last nine months – I have so much to be thankful for – I have been stretched in ways I could not have imagined – God has ‘spoken’ clearly in so many contexts.’

‘Furthering’

What I’ve noticed, especially as I look back and reflect, is that God does not leave us in a place for too long. During the months of December and January, I read a number of books, and through each one God has been prompting me towards an even deeper intimacy:

‘…regularly discipline our habits and desires to God’s desires for his creation…requires that we regularly immerse ourselves in the repertoire or practices and disciplines that recenter us in Christ’

Smith, K. 2013. Imagining the Kingsom. p. 156

‘We are what we permit to enter the deepest parts of our soul ’

MacDonald, G. (2004) A Resilient Life. Nashville: Thomas Nelson; Smith, J. (2013) Imagining the Kingdom. America: Baker Academic. p. 65.

‘…daily habits of refreshing and deepening self-knowledge while immersing oneself in a constantly evolving world’

Lowney, C. 2003. Heroic Leadership. Chicago: Loyola Press. p. 98.

‘The value of what we do will flow directly from who we are’

Cowley, I. (2015) The Contemplative Minister. Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship. p.26.

God has been developing in me a desire to develop a deeper awareness of self. What I have realised is that finding our ‘true selves’ is a continual ongoing process. So how to do this?

In his book In the Shelter, Tuama (2015:20) shares how there needs to be an acceptance of where you are – the need to name ‘that place’ – in order to begin. MacDonald’s Resilient Life speaks about establishing rhythms in our lives where we worship, read, pray, give thanks, reflect and focus (2004:191). Whilst Cowley (2015) notes that practices such as Ignatius Loyola’s Examen, centering prayer, worship, and lectio divina or divine reading, will support us in the life long-journey of being more self-aware and leading from ‘this place’.

You would think that God speaking through five different books would be more than enough for me to get the message, and yet I still hadn’t moved beyond my found comfort zone of journaling to establish rhythms that would support in finding my true self, until this week!

On Sunday our pastor spoke on being ‘Disciples of Devotion’; about the centrality of Jesus in forming our character, not from a distance, but through a mutual movement, initiated by Jesus’ call to us, that requires a response by us towards Jesus, a ‘want’ driven by our deep desire for…devotion.

Whenever Phil hears anyone saying something along the lines of, ‘Isn’t it amazing that God keeps saying the same thing in so many ways’ he will often reply with a throw-away comment that I said with him when he kept saying this kind of thing a few years ago:

“Yes, maybe that is because we are not quite ‘getting it’ ”

How amazing is God; He reaches out to us abounding in steadfast love, grace, faith and compassion (Ps 103:8; 1456:8), and yet ‘movement’ from us is necessary – we have to act too.

My act of devotion, by way of response, is to schedule in a daily rhythm to move toward, to move forward. I’m not for a minute suggesting this has been, is, or will be easy – at all – it is going to involve disciple-like discipline, which is something I struggle with when there is no direct outcome. But I know this: devotion is what God is saying & I need to be obedient to it.

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