Attentiveness & Action


Due to the Coronavirus, many of us have been predominantly working online for nearly a year now. So, at our latest Attentiveness and Action workshop, we took some time and space to reflect on this unintentional switch and here’s what Incarnate Steering Group Member, Oeds Blok gleaned from our time together.

On Tuesday, February 2, I participated with about 25 pastors and pioneers in the online workshop 'Digital Church' from the Incarnate Network. Andy Freeman, founder of Space to Breath and tutor on the CMS Pioneer Training Course, took us through a theological reflection process which draws on our imagination. The model is taken from the book The Art of Theological Reflection by Patricia O'Connell Killen and John de Beer and it’s starting point is that imagination leads us to the world of possibilities. It is the door right next to us.

Here are the 3 steps:

Step 1 Emotions

Step 2 Emotions and imagination

Step 3 Imagination and theological reflection

Step 1 Emotions

The basis of theology is nicely summarised in this statement by the Austrian theologian Clemens Sedmak in his book Doing Local Theology:

'Theology is an invitation to wake up: to be mindful and attentive'.

Step 1 is about being open to experience what is present. This takes courage and trust because sometimes we find our feelings threatening and so do not allow them.

So, we reflected on the questions: Does online contact feel easier or harder? What do we notice when it comes to intimacy and reaching a wider audience? How do we experience the visual and the physical? How is this for different age groups, for children, for older people? We use the same screen for Netflix and for the service. What standard are we aiming for? What does it mean to be ourselves? Do we want to go back to the way we used to be or will online forms remain?

We were encouraged to be honest about our feelings.

Andy mentioned two questions to ponder when it comes to the experience of the digital church:

· What are we doing right?

· How does digital church feel to you?

Everyone wrote down some words for themselves. Very different experiences emerged. There were no rights or wrongs.

Step 2 Emotions and imagination

Step 2 gives us a way to learn to play with our emotions using imagination. Andy refers to Ignatian spirituality. Ignatius was looking for ways to learn to understand the voice of God in our emotions. What does God want to make clear to me and to us through these emotions?

A way to create space within our emotions, to come to a deeper understanding of reality in God's light is to ask the question:

· What image comes to mind that reflects your emotions?

We took our time and exchanged in small groups what images came to mind. This creative process resulted in various images:

· a straitjacket (the lack of touch)

· making a puzzle (Corona time: not knowing the outcome of the puzzle, parts are unclear, pieces of the puzzle are clear)

· water (frozen, uncontrollable, vapour, change, community can take different forms, yet they are all forms of community)

· a telling image of breaking out of a cage (see the image here).

Someone commented on the image of breaking out of a cage: 'We are not in our building and that releases all kinds of creativity via YouTube etc. We do interviews, people want to share their stories, people send in photos with their image of 'hope' and we digitally turn them into a panel. Energy is released... It feels liberating, but I feel that the cage is still there. I am afraid that when we can go back into the building, everything will become comfortable again. I hear people say: it is waiting until we can sing again.’

Step 3 Imagination and theological reflection

We now move on to imagination and theological reflection. This requires an open attitude, not the attitude of 'I know'. In the attitude of 'I know' there is less room for God to step into the situation. This open attitude is also exciting. Imagination and theological reflection can surprise us, suddenly bring something to light, show us what is possible. Together, you get further than your first thought or your opinion.

In the Christian tradition, there are many examples of images that speak to our theology. For example, there is an icon of Christ and his friend Abbot Menas (dated 8th century; see image to left). A detail of the icon prompts theological discussion. The fingers of Jesus show that he is embracing his friend. It is not an image of Jesus as separate, holy, exalted. It is an image of relationship, of normality, of ordinary life. Christ calls us friends (John 15). We are servants of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5).

From the image you can give the conversation a theological depth with the questions:

· What Bible stories or passages come to mind when you think of the image? What community values, what ideas from the Christian tradition?

· What might God making clear to you?

Allow the Bible stories, tradition and other authoritative voices to speak. In this way there is room for the Word of God to speak in our situation, to surprise us. Here it comes down to trusting the process personally and together, trusting that the Spirit is at work in our emotions. Invite people to join in the conversation, in an attitude of trust, not control. See what happens.

We continued with this in groups. With the image of the puzzle came: '1 Corinthians 13, we see in a blurred mirror. Be patient. You are called to something greater than you can see now'. 'You need the other person to see a piece of the puzzle.' Find peace in the fact that you don't have all the answers.

From the image of water and its various forms, a creative conversation also emerged. 'Use the digital and physical space.' The paradox: the church is simple and a mystery. How have we held these two realities together over the centuries and how do we do it now in Corona times?'

How does digital church feel to you? Perhaps these three steps will help to create a surprising space in the congregation for a conversation about this question. A conversation in which we learn to make room for the speaking of God in our situation.

Oeds Blok is a memeber of the Incarnate steering group, church planting & mission coordinator for the Baptist Union in The Netherlands & Urban Expression.