Canon Pauline Godfrey is Head of Discipleship and Vocations for the Diocese of Gloucester. She is also a contemplative Franciscan tertiary. In this reflection she makes connections between her work and her Franciscan calling, particularly in a time of Covid-19 related lockdown.
My job involves helping Christians discover how to be disciples in everything they do – applying their faith to their employment, shopping, family values, environment, as well as intentional prayer. All is worship. Of course, that is what we do in a Franciscan rule of life and isn’t new to those who wish to integrate secular and sacred and so see God in all things. Believers, young and old, come saying that they want to work full time or do more for God. In their minds, they have judged what they are already doing to be insignificant to God. Unwittingly they create a deeper secular/sacred divide. This is the content and context of all I do. What a shock then when this is God’s challenge to me.
As a contemplative some of my profoundest experiences of God are in deep silence. Times I open myself up and am, I hope, more receptive to the whispers of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of lockdown this year, working from home, still very busy but much less physically active, I have been surprised to find that stillness and contemplation have become increasingly difficult. I am challenged to explore whether this is revealing to me my own chasm – dividing what I truly value as holy from the mundanity of my life. Have I come to value silence and contemplative prayer to the extent that I have forgotten that my whole life can be an offering to God?
Knowing God is of course about relationship and so is never static. We see this most easily in considering human relationships. People change as they relate to the varying circumstances around them. Sometimes obviously, like ageing. Other variations more subtle – taste of music, food or literature. These latter are often influenced by new experiences and acquaintances. A reminder that however individual we feel it is often our societal responses which hone us. Quite often we don’t notice how we are different until someone who knew us previously points it out.
Is this any different then with our experience of relating to God? God who is relational even within Godself, works with us as we are being changed. How then can I expect the way I pray, my manner of listening to God, to be the same today as it was last year? My failure to pray as I used to, has shown me that in these unsettling circumstances I need to change. I had become complacent, comfortable in my pattern of prayer, my whole rule of life. As life has differed so dramatically in seeking to respond, the weaknesses have been revealed. I believe that God has called me to be a contemplative, but I have fallen into the trap of setting times aside for that, rather than recognising that the whispers of the Spirit are to be heard in every moment of my day. The task is harder – how to be a disciple in everything I do as I work out afresh what my rule of life means
This article first appeared in the Franciscan magazine, The Little Portion