I am delighted that Martin Lowles agreed to share the story of his faith journey with us, and as I have reflected on what Martin has written, I’m struck by the humility and vulnerability in his story. I am blessed he agreed to write, and I hope you find his words encouraging. Martin is a long standing member of the congregation at St James and a Priest in the Church of England:
…by Martin Lowles
As they talked together, Jesus himself
drew near and walked along with them (Luke 24:15)
In his novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’, Thomas Hardy says that we are all on our own paths. All on our own journeys. Sometimes our paths cross and people meet each other. There are greetings, pleasantries are exchanged, and then they move on. But then, once in a while, the pleasantries become more; friendship grows, deeper bonds are made. The paths are joined. One path – with two people walking it, both going in the same direction, sharing each other’s journeys.
Graeme kindly asked me to write something for the Wednesday ‘My Faith Journey’ series. Thinking about this, I realise, for me, it’s been a whole succession of shared journeys with those who have walked the same path as I have, in the same direction and at that particular time. And through that shared journey, I have discovered that it was Jesus who drew near, even if I didn’t always recognise it at the time ( as indeed the disciples on their journey to Emmaus didn’t at first, on that first Easter Day).
There have been hundreds of those shared journeys, some brief, some lasting for many years. But in every one, Jesus has drawn near. Of course, some stand out having been more significant than others. My father, who was very committed in his faith, took my brother and I to 8.00am Communion with him. He was quite High Church, he didn’t have anything to eat on the Sunday before going to church. For him the bread and the wine, being the first thing of the week that he ate or drank, signified his love for the One who was his Bread of Life that never perishes, over the bread that leaves us hungry again. (although he did sneak us a digestive before leaving the house.)
By the time we moved from South London to Kent, he was a Lay Reader and in a small village church with a number of bored teenagers, he started a drama group doing serious thoughtful stuff. Learning my lines by heart made a big impact on me, even though I was going through a troublesome time in other respects, Jesus was continually drawing near.
One of those in the youth group was a school friend Derek. Years later, after 11 years working in BT, at a time when I was just two days away from starting a completely new career in Social Services, he rang me at work, said that he just felt God was telling him to ring me that day and at the end of that conversation, I knew Jesus was calling me to full time ordained ministry. Jesus hadn’t just drawn near, he’d stopped me in my tracks. And not just me, but Deb too.
Many on the list of those who have shared my path have all been dead for some time. Not least Matthew, Mark, Luke and John!
At one point in my life, working in Turin for three months with nothing in English to read, I decided to read a gospel all though in one go. (‘I must be desperate’ I thought! ‘Has it really come to this?!’) Like Jo said she had done in a previous week’s personal story, the effect was profound. After reading one, I had to read each one. It was as if all my life I’d been looking at the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle……a parable here, a miracle there, a healing here, a crucifixion there. I knew practically all of the pieces, but now they were being put together, and I shouted ‘I’ve got the picture!’ Either I follow this person, or I reject the whole thing, but I can no longer sit on the fence. I can no longer be, what John Wesley called, ‘An Almost Christian!’. I knelt down by my bed and made my commitment.
Others have walked with me and still do to this day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German martyr (‘ When Christ calls a person to follow him, he says ‘Come….and die!’) , George Macdonald the Scottish poet, ( ‘Make not thy heart a casket; opening seldom, quick to close. But of bread, a wide-mouthed basket, or a cup that overflows.’), and Henri Nouwen and Eugene Peterson, deeply compassionate pastors who understand the human condition and bring Jesus’ healing touch to it. As I continue to read their words, they walk my path and in each case, Jesus draws near, and heals me.
In turn I have tried to help Jesus draw near to others. Continually reminding myself that it’s not me drawing near that will save them, but that through my passing friendship, erratic praying, easily distracted listening, hearty laughing, flawed worship leading and bible talking, that Jesus, by His Spirit, has drawn near with HIS healing presence.
Sometimes, I’ve tried too hard.
Every year in my ordination training, we each had to attach ourselves to some aspect of practical ministry. In my second year I attached myself to the Church Army Captain at Durham Prison. The inside of a prison is an eye opener! ( ‘There but for the grace of God, go I!’) At the Sunday service, when it was our turn to do a 5min Talk, to 200 restless inmates, just an hour before the service started, he would give us an item from their cell and tell us to use that as the focus of our talk! And Jesus drew near.
One day, about a dozen of the prisoners put themselves down for Bible Study Group. ‘ Off you go!’ he said to me. Me? Mr middle-class, well-educated, southern-accented Me? In a room with those for whom life had dealt unimaginable cruel blows, and whose Durham accents I couldn’t understand. I thought, I’ve got to start where they are. That’s what we do on a Sunday. That’s what Jesus did. So I decided to show each week an excerpt from a film that highlighted an moral dilemma, eg The Bridge over the River Kwai, ( should the British Captain build a good bridge or a bad one?) It was a lot of work; I had to get the film from a Film Library and then get a projectionist in to show the film clip each week ( this was 1978!). Each week, after we had discussed the issue, I finally brought in a bible verse or something of the life of Jesus.
At the end of the course, I asked them what they’d thought of it. “ Well man, it’s like this. It’s been very good. And we appreciate your coming in, and we’ve enjoyed the film clips….but….what we really wanted… …was a bible study!”
As you give thanks for those who have shared your journey and walked your path with you, and through whom Jesus has drawn near, be aware that Jesus wants to draw near to others whose paths you share too. Through your encounters with them, through your kindness, through your listening, through your words, through your prayers, through your mistakes and in ways you may not even be aware of at the time, Jesus will draw near and bless them. And you don’t have to try too hard, just be open to it! Both of you will be blessed.