Some lines from Watching for the Kingfisher by Ann Lewin
…all you can do is
Be there where he is like to appear, and
Often nothing much happens;
…no visible signs, only the
Knowledge that he’s been there
And may come again…
But when you’ve almost stopped
Expecting it, a flash of brightness
Put yourself more in the way of grace.
If you read last week’s reflection, you have every right to expect me now to tell you what I meant by those final words.
But I can’t.
At least, yes, I can tell you what I mean by putting myself more in the way of grace, but I can’t tell you what you mean. Because, for you, it won’t be the same thing at all.
Which is why I’ve quoted some of Ann Lewin’s poem above. You can guess that she is comparing watching for a kingfisher to waiting on God, and the idea that you “put yourself in the place where God is likely to be” is perhaps the most helpful definition of prayer there can be. But if I then say that the place where God is likely to be is a church, a garden, a cliff top … or even if I say it is in the Covid ward, or where a new well is being sunk, or where a vaccine trial proves effective … all I have done is to exclude an encounter with God from everywhere else. And in the process, made you feel inadequate and guilty when God doesn’t come in the sunset, the autumn leaves, the symphony…
So the question is not, “Where is God’s grace most likely to be found?” It’s, “Where is God’s grace most likely to be found for me?” Where can I put myself that I feel I am most likely to encounter that grace? Neither your priest nor anyone else can tell you what that is – only you know.
It starts with knowing the experiences of God that you have had, and understanding them. So you may have felt grace flooding over you when you were standing on top of a mountain. But it’s not that you have to go back to the mountain to experience grace again, it’s about understanding what opened up deep inside you when you were there, that allowed grace to flow. If you understand that, then you can spend Advent putting yourself more in the way of grace without leaving home. You can’t make it happen, but you can “be there, where God is like to appear, and wait,” as the poem says.
So being good or trying harder has nothing to do with the Advent message. It’s about recognising that the only barrier to God’s grace flowing in me – is me. I can be so entranced and absorbed in the material things of my life that the deep openness needed in me can be crowded out or lost entirely. I need to deliberately push those things aside to put myself in the way of grace.
That is why the Advent call to watch and be prepared is so crucial. To live in expectation of God’s grace flowing over us and through us is the right, the only way to live – because it keeps the channels open, keeps our material life in perspective, helps us to live by trust in God and prepares us for the life of the kingdom where amazing grace is all that matters.