1: A different way #Lent2021

And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the astrologers left for their own country by a different way. (Matthew 2:12)

Christmas Eve 2020. It would not be original to say, it had been an awful year. We were finally allowed to meet, our little faith community, in the car park, masked and socially distanced, to reflect on the ancient Christmas story and croak out a few carols.

My focus blurred frequently, as I became a bit of an observer. I looked around and pondered about this ritual that so many people had given up on in the Western world. Santa, stockings, culinary feasts and shop sales were far more front and centre at Christmas. Still, it seemed authentic to reflect on the gospel story of this baby that started a world religion. An illegitimate child, birthed by a young mother in a dirty old shed, with unlikely characters around.

Our pastor had some interesting things to say about the status of shepherds in that era and the poignancy of facts from gospel stories, such as 153 being a number that represented the known countries in the world at that point. I drifted in and out a bit.

The next pause for reflection was about the wise people who had come to visit Jesus. They recognised the holy in him and the hope his birth brought to life. They’d come to give honour.

Previously, these Magi had communicated with the evil despot Herod, en route to witness the birth of Christ. Herod’s political power was crushing and he went on to slaughter children to prove his might, creating terror.

As these revered wise people left the holy family to return, rather than go back to Herod, their “God” told them to go a different way home.

That is where I began to take notice. For some reason, this statement resonated deeply with me.

2020 had been a year of great grief and loss. My brother had died, my oh so independent 94 year old mum had gone into a nursing home, COVID had made the simplest of routines full of stress and complications. I had also moved from a large 5 bedroomed house, where our family had flourished, to a small house meant for accommodating just me. And most profoundly, I was accepting that my marriage of 30 years was over.

It is not what I had planned. It had shattered my illusions of the future: growing old with grace, as my partner and I embraced and cherished our flawed natures, celebrated family gatherings with children and grandchildren, and sat in rocking chairs on a veranda soaking in the beauty of the world and the small but rich part we had had in it.

All of that could not be accepted now. I had fought and fought to not let this happen. But it had, and there was a deep loneliness and questioning of all that I held important in life. Where was God in all this pain? Sure, it was nothing compared to so many cruel, sad and desperate situations in our planet. Yet it had become all absorbing for me and I felt like I just could not go on, because it just didn’t fit. It was raw hurt and there seemed no comfort in knowing of a God, knowing of a Jesus, knowing of a Spirit. The meaning had disappeared.

The raft of my family and friendships had kept me afloat. I could sense their deep care, their profound compassion, and their love willing me to survive and accept beauty again.

But the hole in me still gaped.

“Go a different way home.” Those words caught me, spoke to me of another path forward. An unknown path, but a possibility. I was going to hold on to that short phrase and start exploring. Ω

Reflect: When has your life, your path, been diverted? How did you resist? Where did the different path lead? What did you discover there? What gifts did you receive?

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

#Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent © Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

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