Dear One and All,

Gerard Hughes ,SJ, wrote a wonderful book entitled God of Surprises, if you get a chance buy a copy it's worth the read. My experience of God is that God is full of surprises and as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ I should be prepared to be surprised constantly. The trouble is and it's my issue and not anyone else's or God's; it is that I am not a great lover of surprises. And yet I am willing to admit to being  wonderfully surprised by the present situation we find ourselves in. How so?

For over thirty thousand families in the UK this is not a time to glibly talk of surprises when they are immersed in grief. However, even conceding the reality of grief, there is still the joy of hopefulness and wonder. I am surprised on my early morning walks on Dartmoor with Mr Wesley, my dog, by the astounding beauty of the place. The way the dappled colours of the moor change with the light is fit for the pen of a poet. I was surprised this week by the sheer volume of the birdsong and finding myself at close quarters with two cuckoos. I have been walking on this part of the moor so often but God's wondrous creation is still capable of surprise and great delight.

It has also been revelatory surprise to me how in this time of quiet introvertedness, it has been such a healing blessing. Healing in the sense that it has been a restorative period where the presence of the Holy Spirit has been close-by. I don't often talk about the Holy Spirit as my experience is limited and when I talk of an encounter with the Holy Spirit, it is for me, an encounter with the presence of the living Christ. The two are so closely interwoven as in some Celtic symbol. This is the revelation and the surprise - surely I should have known this all along and yet I am surprised by the revelation of a truth which to many of you is well known and a commonplace thing. To me it is refreshing and new, glinting like a mirror struck by a beam of light. I now know the piercing truth of the Holy Spirit's presence and my adoption into the household of God, a member of that chosen race, a priest of that royal priesthood. Perhaps I have always known this, but have lost the thread, forgotten it in the busyness of life but have now recovered, discovered again, moved from unknowing into knowing, remembered again an eternal truth. Surprising eh! 

The writer of 1 Peter 2: 9-10 is talking collectively of the surprise God has wrought through Jesus Christ, in fact the entire passage from verse 2-10 is in similar vein, that God has done a surprising thing. The gentile world, seen by a righteous Jew as profane and condemned, is by the grace of Christ welcomed into the kingdom of God. Not only welcomed but told that God's blessing is upon them as sons and daughters of a chosen race and wait for it, a royal priesthood. There is a demand in being a member of that royal priesthood in that like all priests there is a quality to that calling which sets them apart, not special, but set apart. In a very real sense we are being told that collectively and I would argue, individually, challenged to set our own lives apart spiritually from the world in which we are set. To live our lives not by the standards of this world but through the love and grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. As my Local Preacher tutor and former Vice-President of the Methodist Conference, the late Derek Burrell would say 'In the world Simon, but not of it dear boy'. This does not mean distancing ourselves from our neighbours and colleagues, friends and the concerns of the world, but we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice in the service of God for the world. A glinting ray of light piercing the darkness and pointing towards the presence of God.

For me lockdown has not been entirely disagreeable, it has been a creative time, an inward time, a refreshing time - a time for the presence of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The question I now have to ask of myself is, why has it taken the disaster of Covid-19 to open my eyes to Christ's continued calling to follow him and not be distracted by the world and if I am honest, the agenda of the Church which isn't necessarily the same as where Christ is calling me or us. My spiritual director will be astounded, a breakthrough moment, how surprising!

Every blessing,

Simon