Among the lessons I learned in December was to try to cultivate an attitude of allowing criticism (and vile abuse) to wash over me, and to be encouraged by affirmation received from friends and strangers.
One statement which has stuck with me and played on my mind ever since was "I love that you are so uncontaminated by the outside world"
At the time I was unsure how to respond... not least because I am not entirely convinced it is true.
I think it is genuinely impossible not to be "contaminated": I recognise my complicity in the sins of the world; and in my lifestyle and choices the many compromises I make between the values I aspire to and the reality by which I live.
Equally, I frequently feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the things that are "wrong" with the world and I recognise my own anger and frustration at situations and suffering I feel are beyond my power to control.
But on reflection, I can also acknowledge the possibility of some truth in it. And I think it is this. If I am able to live my life in a way that enables me to be less "contaminated" by the outside world it is not, I hope, to do with not seeing or being effected by the realities around me or even being implicated in them. Rather, I wonder if it has something to do with building an inner life which enables me to begin to respond to that world without being paralysed by it.
Most of those who know me will know that my faith is hugely important to me. Most of those who know me best will also know that it is not a part of my life about which I necessarily find it easy to communicate. Sometimes it feels important to try.
For many years I have tried to commit to a routine of regular, contemplative prayer. Since moving to Carrs Lane it has been more reliable and more sustained. My prayer life has not been one of neon lights and signs from heaven and "Damascus Road" experiences; nor one of desiring to placate a vengeful God or store up brownie points for some unknown scenario after my death: rather it has been one of gradually opening up to a God who is and only can be love; opening up to a voice that whispers 'more is possible than you can imagine'.
My journey of faith has not been one towards being untouched by the world, but perhaps towards being unafraid of it... and perhaps it is this journey towards a love which overcomes fear that gives the appearance of being less "contaminated." I am not uncontaminated by the outside world. But I hope I am less afraid of it than I might otherwise be. It is, I am well aware, a journey which is far from over.
This blog is not intended to read like a bit of an ego trip. I genuinely don't think this is about ego because it is not about something achieved by my own abilities. It is about fear, and about love, and about the power of love to overcome fear. If I have managed to be less "contaminated" it is not by my own efforts but by the grace of God: for which I give thanks.