‘Learn from history, maintain your mystery, take your victory.’ (Amit Kalantri)
Sometimes, we need to look back to look forward and the New Year can present us with a special opportunity to do just that. We could think of this as analogous to an annual performance review, where we pause for a moment and take stock of progress and learning so far before moving on. At a personal level, I’ve been thinking and writing quite a lot recently about Kairos moments in my own life that have, in retrospect, often proved pivotal. These experiences carry a spiritual quality and significance for me that both transcend the temporal and reveal a deeper sense of meaning.
An instance comes to mind when, 3 days into a leadership role in a new organisation (to me), my line-manager called me into his office to confess, in deep disappointment, that funding for (a) a new leadership coaching programme and (b) a new management development programme, both of which were to lay in my area of responsibility, had been slashed as part of broader financial cuts. He apologised that, as a consequence, these flagship initiatives could no longer go ahead. I could see a look of anxiety on his face wondering, I imagine, how I might react to this bombshell news.
I prayed silently then responded in a spirit of curiosity that, if these initiatives were priority, I’d just need to find a different way to achieve them. I thanked him for being open, prayed, then placed an invitation on LinkedIn, asking if anyone would like to offer pro bono coaching support for leaders in a national UK charity. Within 10 days, 180+ people had responded to offer their services. I also prayed and asked around if anyone would be willing to run a pro bono management development programme. A prestigious agency responded and ran an annual programme for us for 4 years running.
I’m reflecting on why this experience came to mind for me now. It happened 10 years ago yet still feels so profoundly resonant as we approach the New Year. The first lesson for me is that it’s not all about me. God is capable of doing far more than I can ask or imagine. The second is the rich relational resourcefulness of networks, the kindness of so many people who are willing to offer themselves in heartfelt service when offered meaningful opportunities to do so. The third is the power of invitation, not expectation, that draws people freely into co-creative partnership to do something amazing.
‘The arrival of Jesus in our lives is not just something that happened 2000 years ago. It still happens now.’ (Steve Sutton)
20,000+ people gathered in London to demonstrate against horrific human rights abuses in El Salvador. A friend, Paul, and I travelled down by coach from the North East of England wearing our protest-style combat jackets and keen to add our own voices to the crowd. A large number of people were assembling in Hyde Park, the starting place, with various organisers moving among us to arrange the procession. Suddenly, Paul and I were approached by the leaders to carry a large banner at the very front of the march. We were astonished that, out of so many thousands of protestors, they chose us.
God chose us. We were and are nobodies, yet as a new follower of Jesus at age 21, it felt like Jesus was walking with us, among us. Spotters on embassy rooftops monitored and took photos through long camera lenses. Our image appeared on the front cover of a well-known human rights magazine. On arriving at Trafalgar Square, the police mysteriously allowed only Paul and me through the cordon to sit at the foot of the speakers’ platform. 2 years later, I was chosen to meet the main speaker at a secret rendezvous in a basement flat in Islington, but I could never have imagined that at the time.
On moving to London a few months later, I attended a vigil at St James’ Church, known for its firm stance on behalf of the poor and oppressed in the world. We were there to mark the inspiring life yet brutal assassination of radical follower of Jesus, Archbishop Oscar Romero. By God’s mysterious design, I discovered that I was sitting beside the Nicaraguan ambassador. At the end of the service, a Spanish nun, passionate follower of Jesus and human rights activist chose me to come forward, a lone stranger, to have my photo taken with Salvadorean refugees. She and I became life-long friends.
Some 40 years later now, I’ve had the humbling privilege of witnessing and experiencing so many more such miracles than I could ever count or recount. I don’t know or understand why God chooses us but I’m glad and grateful that he does. When he does, it feels to me like a Divine voice that calls out from within and beyond, that we hear and experience as a realisation. Hitherto 'coincidence' takes on a deeper significance. As we approach this Christmas with all that it holds for us and the world, the arrival of Jesus in our lives is not just something that happened 2000 years ago. It still happens now.
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