Tag Archives: Paul

An inch ahead lies darkness

Mark chapter 6 verse 7

Jesus called the twelve and began to send them out by two and two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8. He ordered them to take nothing for the journey….

On stage a good actor has authority, even before uttering a word. Musician, dancer, any good performer, has this authority of presence. Behind each performance lie the tedious hours of preparation and practice. But an actor, a concert pianist, must forget all that as she steps on to the stage. She must ‘take nothing for the journey’ ahead. If the actor is worrying about remembering his next line the authority of his performance is lost. I think it was the actor Michael Caine who said that he takes his next line from the face of the actor he is performing with. He must enter fully into the moment, lose himself in the character he is portraying and the movement of the play.

I was ordained into the priesthood of the Anglican church. That gave me a position, a role, a certain kind of authority within the structures of the church. It did not, however, guarantee the authority that Jesus spoke of when he sent out his twelve loyal followers. Only when I am able to let go of priestly authority and ‘take nothing for the journey’ – only then might the authority of Presence be granted to me. I might have great skill in writing (this blog, perhaps?) or speaking but without letting go into each present moment without foresight, without forethought then (to paraphrase Paul in his letter to the Corinthians) even though I speak or write “in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love” then I have the authority only of a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”.

The writer and spiritual guide, Simon Parke, reminded me in his recent newsletter of the Japanese proverb, ‘An inch ahead lies darkness’. The patient, persistent hours of practice beforehand might prove useless in the next few moments unless – that is – unless they have helped me learn to take nothing for the journey.

Mark’s Gospel chapter 1 verses 21- 26. Voices in my head.

 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’ Have you come to destroy us. I know who you are, the Holy One of God. But Jesus, rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent….

The authority of Presence is not always welcome or pleasant. The practice of contemplative prayer usually reveals bits of us we prefer not to look at. ‘What have you to do with us….’ the man says; not ‘me’, you notice – ‘us’. All those voices in my head – the scolding, judgemental, frightened, controlling, voices, are like a chorus. Someone passes me in the street muttering to himself and I am tempted to label him ‘mad’. But hang on a minute – he’s only voicing out loud what goes on silently in my head! After the ‘Aha!’ experience I talked about in the previous post, comes the steady, persistent work of learning that these voices are not me – not the real me. Somewhere beneath all the chaos of these voices I discover with Paul of Tarsus that I am rooted and grounded in love; that there’s nothing in all creation that can separate me from the love of God.

‘Be silent….’ commands Jesus. Well, I have to admit it’s no use me saying ‘be silent’ to myself when my mind is in full judgemental flow. That’s like pouring oil on a fire. But to find that place of profound silence within me from which I can simply observe what is going on in my head is to find a healing Presence. It’s like stepping outside a crowded, noisy pub into the quiet peace of a warm summer’s evening. You can still hear the noise going on inside the building but you are no longer caught up in it. ‘Unclean spirits’ is not a phrase we would use in the 21st century but once we have caught a glimpse of the Presence that is always there for us, the noisy pub seems a bit tawdry.