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My Spiritual Journey – By Tom Linley

Article posted on 13 March 2017 One Comment

This is the text of Tom’s talk on the subject of his spiritual journey, which he gave at the 8am and 9.30am services on Sunday 12th March. 

 

 

 

I’ve been asked to talk about my spiritual journey – my journey to God.

So, let me start at the beginning.

Childhood

I was an only child and my childhood was clouded by the events of World War 2.  As a result we often moved house and I managed to attend eight schools in seven years.

My father had had a difficult life, hardly spoke, so I knew little about him.

My mother was an extrovert and talked a lot, so I knew her quite well.

She went to church on Sundays and each day read a chapter from her bible.

I often went to church with her, attended Sunday school for a few years and was confirmed in Hereford Cathedral.

However I had no real conviction or commitment.

I left school in 1948, at eighteen and much to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I took the King’s Shilling and enlisted in the Regular Army

Working Years

My working years were divided between the Army and Industry.

I spent nearly 30 years in the Army where the importance of the church and its works were recognised and generally honoured.

I then spent about 15 years in Industry where, I found, the church and its works were largely unknown and if known, generally disregarded.

In those 45 years I usually attended church on Sundays but nothing more. So I guess I could then be classified as a peripheral Christian.  I was happy with that and didn’t want to get too involved or too close to God.  However I began to take a closer look at the Christians around me.  I saw the differences between nominal Christians and committed Christians.  I was impressed by the quality of life of the committed Christians.

I read a few Christian books and liked the writings of C S Lewis.  He had the knack of making theology an attractive and exciting quest.  He has been described as the ideal persuader of the half convinced and his book “Mere Christianity” was right for me.  I read and liked the writings of John Stott, the long term evangelical Vicar of All Souls, Langham Place in London   I was awed by the spiritual journeys of people like C S Lewis and Nicky Gumball of Alpha Course fame.  Their spiritual journeys to faith were very short, partly due to committed Christian friends and some attentive reading of the four gospels.  They moved on a fast track.

Whereas, I was on a slow track.  In general I was still an observer and you would be right to think, that God was not at the centre of my life.

Retirement Years

When retiring from industry, I didn’t want to change overnight, from working quite hard to doing nothing, so I set up a consultancy. There was enough time remaining, to get to know God better.  Time to spiral inwards, to move closer to God – but not too close and not too quickly!  Still somewhat cautious.

This was in the mid 1990s.  Then, at St Georges, we discovered that our post war pre-fab Church Hall was about to fall down. So began two decades of project work which had as its aim the creation of environmentally friendly church buildings, suitable not only for worship but also for extensive community usage.  From the beginning, we knew that the project work was not the end but the means to enable us to reach out into the community.

I became involved in fund raising and it stayed that way for 20 plus years, which included two large Development Projects.  During those years I felt that God was content with the large amount of time I spent chasing money.  At times it was almost a full time job but at other times less so, with sufficient time to continue to seek ways of getting closer to God.  So how did the search go?

The search went slowly.  I found I was not making much progress with just regular attendance at formal church services, which had a prescribed content and limits on a personal development.  I concluded that the normal Sunday and weekday services were primarily for holding things together and marking time, rather than moving forward.  So I began to look elsewhere at St Georges for spiritual development.

I started by joining the annual pilgrimages from St Georges.  These pilgrimages are a group of people walking together for a few days, with services at the start and end of the day and having a holy place as the journey’s end.  As you walk, you explore ideas and share them.

A number of us benefitted so much from our English pilgrimages, that we went on a pilgrimage to Spain and walked a camino route to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, the most celebrated of all pilgrim destinations.  We walked along paths that had been used by pilgrims for hundreds of years and we finished at the overpoweringly, holy cathedral.  I think everyone, Christian and non-Christian, was affected and changed by a spiritual experience.

The following year we returned with a larger group and walked on from Santiago, to the west coast at Muxia, which is where pilgrimages used to end in the Middle Ages, when it was thought to be the end of a flat world.  This pilgrimage was even more significant for me, as it helped me to better understand and relate to my son, who had died a few years earlier.

So pilgrimages were a significant contribution to my spiritual searching but back in Newbury I still needed something additional to the structured weekly services.  I had a need for more continuity, for a topic to be considered in some depth, over a number of weeks and if possible with similar minded people.  So I joined the seasonal Advent, Lent and other courses that were available and I found they were useful.

But the seasonal courses on offer did not cover the whole year so I had a need for additional courses.  And would you believe it, these courses were soon provided.  Open House was born.  This was a huge leap forward, as about five groups were formed, met every two weeks and at different times in the week.    They were suitable for those wanting to start to explore faith and for those wanting to deepen their faith.  They were open, so you could sample one and if it was not to your taste, walk away and try another.  Meetings were held in homes, where the atmosphere was unthreatening.  Open House has been a resounding and continuing success and I, with many others, have greatly benefited.

At about this time it was thought that a service with more silence and quiet meditation was required, so the weekly Contemplative Prayer meeting was started.  I tried, liked and continued to attend, this time set aside for reflection.

Recently, one of the Open House Groups considered that more time was required to pray for the broken state of the world and a weekly prayer meeting for Peace and Reconciliation was started.  Again I tried it and found it useful.

So I am grateful for all of these recent developments here at St Georges and I was fortunate in the timing of their introductions.  Now, my weekly spiritual life is built around 8 am Holy Communion on Sunday, Open House or a Seasonal Meeting on Monday, Contemplative Prayer on Thursday and Prayers for Peace and Reconciliation on Friday.  With all of the other main stream offerings, what a rich and varied diet, we now have on offer at St Georges.

But, where has all of this provision of opportunities and my acceptance and involvement in them, taken me.  What effect has it had?  Who am I now?

Who Am I Now?

I have had nothing remotely like, the dramatic experience of Paul on the road to Damascus.  I have not been aware of any great outpouring of love, either to or from me.  Instead, slowly and quietly I came to accept Christ as my Lord and Saviour.  I learnt recently, from a fellow camino walker, that John Wesley who longed for a Pauline experience, had to be satisfied with – ”Just a slight warming of the heart”.  My experience is similar and I am content with that.

I have been fed and nurtured by those leading committed Christian lives. A rubbing off process has been at work.

I have also found that being part of a group of like-minded Christians has been helpful.  The small group meetings provided the opportunity for discussion, exploration, mutual support and growth.

My faith remains simple but has become more firmly based. I have hope.  I don’t have certainty but also I don’t have significant doubts, which others have told me that they do occasionally have.  Probably this is due to them having a much deeper faith, which almost inevitably will result in them having peaks and troughs while I am rather flat lining.

Let me briefly mention one special happening along the way.  It was on an Open House course, on the Rule of St Benedict.  One question asked on the course was, “what is required of a Christian living in the world today?”  To me and others the answer was to consider living by St Benedict’s Rule – by his Rule of Life.

St Benedict lived 600 years ago, established and led monasteries and formulated his Rule of Life.  It was intended for the guidance of monks living in his Benedictine monasteries.  As the Open House course progressed, it seemed that after 600 years, the Rule of Life was still relevant and that its relevance was not confined to monasteries.  It seemed that it could also be useful to me.

The Rule of Life can be summed up as a call to contemplative action, whereby we are called to be both reflective and active.  It provides structure and guidance.  It has simplicity and directness of appeal.  The Rule has three main elements –

The first is Obedient Listening.  The commitment to listen and obey – to ourselves, to our fellow Christians, to our neighbours and above all to God.

Next Ongoing Conversion.  The acceptance that being a Christian means needing to change.

Finally Joyful Perseverance. The discovery that by remaining steadfast in a place, to a rule and under authority you can find both freedom and happiness.

In a tentative way, I decided to try and abide by the rule.  With not a little slippage, I have found Obedient Listening and Ongoing Conversion helpful, with Open House and Contemplative Prayer meetings providing firm support.  Also I am beginning to discover the freedom and happiness that results.

I have walked through some dark places, especially in my early years.  But progressively and especially in the last ten years, I have slowly found both light and happiness.  I remain aware of my failings but now I recognise the value and importance of faith with commitment.  So what next?

What Next?           

The Renewable Energy Project has ended and the Project Management Group has been disbanded, having completed its job.  St Georges has a new focus, away from buildings and money.  I am hoping that the energy and organisation that was devoted to REP can now be transferred to our new and expanding work on nurture, mission and discipleship.

I wish to make a contribution to this work and was very happy to accept an invitation to join the Nurture Group, which is tasked with leading this new development work.

I believe that God has exciting plans for St George’s Church.  I think there are already good opportunities for spiritual growth at St Georges but I also believe that they should be improved and increasingly used, at appropriate speeds that will differ from person to person.  I am particularly hopeful about the contribution that Open House and other Small Groups can make.  I am also aware that in addition to talking among ourselves, we must take opportunities to talk more widely, about our good news.

Conclusion

Finally I must try to anticipate the comments of the camino friend I have already mentioned.  I think the main criticism would be that I have been too woolly and not specific enough about the changes that have occurred in me.  Exactly how am I different now from, say, that wartime teenager in Hereford?

Let me, very briefly, offer you three differences.

Firstly my priorities have changed.  I used to fit God in to my life when and where there was some unfilled time.  Now, I try to plan to make room for God.  As an example, I recently chose to attend an Open House meeting, rather than attend a talk by a friend on his long distance Coast to Coast walk.  Not a big deal, but a few years ago it would have been the other way round.

Secondly I used to want to restrict God to my private life.  Now I am now happy to talk about God to anyone.  To my surprise and pleasure, I have found that many people, coming from other religions or none, are equally happy to talk about their belief positions.  It seems to work well, as long as the conversation is an exploration of belief positions and not an attempt to overtly seek to change or belittle the other person’s position.

Finally, as a teenager and for many years afterwards, I wanted to keep God at a distance.  Now I am thirsty for his presence and influence.  Now I dare to think that I know what God wants me to do, for the rest of my life on earth.

 

One Comment »

  • Jane Sigrist said:

    Many thanks for sharing your pilgrimage with us, Tom. It’s good to be reminded that God draws each of us to Himself in all kinds of ways and of the importance of making room for Him in our everyday lives. Whether that encounter takes place on the Damascus or the Emmaus Road, fast or slow-track or all manner of places in between, doesn’t matter. What counts is that we listen and respond to that call, as individuals and as a church.

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