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The trail behind us

On a new walk last Sunday, we stopped to gaze at the winter sky – vibrant blue, full of sunshine with a few white clouds gently bobbing by. My husband remarked that he’d seen no vapour trails across it all afternoon. The last time this had happened was in lockdown when the skies seemed to be clear of everything made by people and the world became strangely quiet. Here in this beautiful Welsh valley, it was as if we existed outside time itself with no outside influences to rudely in

terrupt our experience of creation. The two pairs of red kites, the flutter of sparrows, the clamour of rooks and murder of crows had the airspace to themselves.

An aeroplane overhead leaves evidence of its passage even if it can’t be seen with the naked eye or flew that way long before you looked up. So, it is with our lives. Like it or not, for good or for ill, our lives leave a trail and it’s a healthy spiritual practice to examine regularly what trail we are making not least because it impacts on far more than just ourselves.

There will never be a place or time in our lives in which we can live wholly undetected and isolated from others or fail, by our very existence, to impact on someone. Even the most determined hermit will inevitably encounter challenges to their privacy and their very existence affects those around them.

The first commandment is to ‘love God’ and the second is ‘to love your neighbour’. Trying to banish anything that might keep them from God, men and women took to the desert in the early days of the Church, physically separating themselves from distractions of the world, work, family and friends. There they discovered much about God but perhaps even more importantly, what was in themselves preventing fuller understanding of God, that had to be dealt with. They were never entirely alone either. They had ample opportunities to learn to love their neighbours. They knew fellow desert disciples, and some lived in small groups. And it’s ironic that their withdrawal drew people from the cities to them, people wanting a ‘word’ to take home to help them live more deeply in their ordinary lives, seeing something in the radical lives of these disciples that gave hope and inspiration. The Desert Fathers and Mothers left a wealth of wisdom that the Church has drawn from repeatedly over the centuries; their trail has been a significant one for spiritual seekers across all the traditions of Christianity.

Will our age leave such a trail? Or will it one day be buried and forgotten? I like to imagine there are some pearls of wisdom that will survive this season of church as well; despite all the discouragements we face there is also growth in surprising places and extraordinary stories of what the Holy Spirit is doing.

As we approach the season of Advent, perhaps now would be a good time to evaluate the trail we are making. Churches as well as individuals can do this. For anyone or any church concerned about mission, this is essential work. Here is a practical exercise for anyone who would like to examine more deeply the ‘trail’ of their life that could also be adapted for a group to use:

You might like to pause to consider the trail that your own life is tracing. Just remember in a spirit of prayerful awareness the events, relationships and developments that you feel, in hindsight, have formed you most significantly into who you are today.

Remember the people who have helped to shape your personality. If you were compiling a small photo album to take with you to a desert island, whose pictures would you include? And why? What significant incidents would you want to record? Which relationships have become a part of who you are? How has your journey with God evolved, since that moment, some nine months before your birth, when you were just a single fertilised cell? What do you want specifically to thank God for? Is there anything you are angry about? If so, tell God how you are really feeling? It may be the very thing God is wanting to address with you.’

From ‘Companions of Christ’ by Margaret Silf, Canterbury Press Norwich, 2004.

Your trail may seem a faint one to you but may it be a good one, reminding the world of the love of Jesus through your love of Him.

‘And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Christ Jesus – to the glory and praise of God.’ Amen.

Philippians 1: 9 - 11

Alison Griffiths

Director: South-West England & Wales


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