The other day I was at a regular meeting we have for Uniting Church ministers to reflect on aspects of ethical practice. It varies between being a boring bureaucratic requirement and valuable discipline. As part of the morning activities we pair up with someone and talk for about 30 minutes around the topic of the day and whatever else seems relevant to us. This mostly means we talk. As I’m fairly new to the group and its membership changes over time I often get to pair up with someone I haven’t met before. This means we do a fair bit of “getting to know you” talk. Last week the person I paired up with and I decided to get a cup of coffee and walk around the block. Normally having a cup of coffee means sitting, but we decided to walk.
And so we walked and spilled and stopped and sipped and talked our way around the block. The distractions of coffee and walking actually enhanced the conversation. These minor interruptions to the flow of conversation gave us time to be together without a constant flow of words. They did away with those “awkward gaps” that beg us to fill them with meaningless words or worse feel inadequate because we can’t think of anything to say.
I learnt many years ago that if I wanted to have a prolonged and meaningful conversation with one of my teenage children, it was always good to engineer a long car trip. Unlike a talking on the telephone where any protracted silence is a signal to end the call, or even at home where serious conversations fight to compete with television or any protracted silence is cause to leave the room to continue other pursuits; car trips lend themselves to punctuated conversations. No one can leave the room and protracted silences are filled by music on the radio or the passing parade of people and places outside the car.
Creating an environment where a conversation can easily be punctuated by silence; where the things we encounter as we walk or drive stimulate new thoughts, where the emphasis moves from talking together to being together; helps build and strengthen relationships. Unlike a talking on the telephone where any protracted silence is a signal to end the call, walking lends itself to punctuated conversations.
So much of the gospel story of Jesus happens on the road. Jesus and his itinerant band of disciples walk from village to village mostly around the Sea of Galilee. The parables and teaching that emerges comes directly from the people and things they encounter as they walk. Jesus draws insight from fig trees, sheep, crops of wheat and vines. Labourers in the fields and vineyards, shepherds, fishermen, a woman drawing water from the well all provide inspiration and instruction about God, life and our responsibilities. Somehow Jesus sees God at work in all the ordinary things of life; getting caught in a storm, forgetting to buy bread, bumping into outcasts, the homeless, and foreigners, talking about the dangers of being mugged and robbed and the kindness of strangers. As they walked the dusty roads they talked, learned not to panic, learned to trust, learned to understand the radical vision of God that Jesus presented. Unmerited grace and forgiveness for all. A God revealed in weakness. A God who suffers and aches with us. A God whose love extends to all without exception.
My new colleague and I didn’t quite get to such depths. But thanks to some spilled coffee and a short stroll we connected and I have a new friend, and any day we make a new friend is a good day.
Brian Spencer, Minister