I probably should have been paying attention to what everyone else was saying but sitting there in the circle with the rest of the group, the one thing I most noticed was that we were all wearing different shoes. All sorts, shapes and sizes were represented in the circle.
Looking at all these different shoes it suddenly came home to me how we all walk differently through life. None of us quite approach life in the same way.
It is perhaps obvious to say that I see the world through my own eyes. But it goes further than that. I have my own sense of what is important, beautiful, and of value. There are particular individuals whose opinions I like listening to, certain authors that I like reading, and a distinctive selection of people I follow on social media. There are things I think it is normal to spend money on, foods I enjoy eating and places I like to visit.
And what is true of my approach to life in general is also true to matters of faith. There are particular passages of the Bible I am drawn to, I prefer certain styles of liturgy, and have clear preferences as to music in churches. There are particular aspects of God on which I tend to focus, certain of Jesus’ sayings and stories that I quote, and I have my own sense of what the Spirit is moving me to do.
But you, in your different size, style and colour of shoe, approach life differently to me and have contrasting likes and dislikes. The very thing that I may feel is important and significant, you may feel is dull and of little significance. You see the world through your own eyes
Of course, intellectually I know this is the case, but nevertheless I live my life as if everyone sees and experiences life just like me. On the whole I tend to associate with those who, in the main, hold views not too dissimilar to my own and whose approach to life is not too distinctive from my own. This is comforting and reassures me that I am not too different, too much out on a limb. But sometimes this safe and secure world view I have built for myself gets ripped open.
The present debates and political divisions that besige our nation have brought home how much people both see and experience life differently. For too long we had assumed that there was more that united us than divided us and that we were all agreed on the overall direction of travel for our nation and its place in the world. Suddenly these comforting assumptions are gone and we are left wondering where the present uncertainties will lead us. Some long for a return to the old certainties, others long for new and different horizons and many of us just feel plain old confused.
As in the political realm so too in the spiritual realm. There are real and profound differences on how we should handle and approach the Bible and in the priorities for the life of the Church. This shows up in our approaches to gender and sexuality and our attitudes to mission and evangelism, to church growing and kingdom building.
The temptation at such moments is to hunker down and adopt a bunker mentality, to retreat into one’s own world view and become more strident in asserting it and generally huff and puff when others express contrary points of view – the adult version of sticking one’s fingers in one’s ear and singing when someone else is talking.
However for me the present impasse in our nation has made me determined to ensure that I am listening to other voices, not always mixing with the like-minded and being willing to stray out of my comfort zone to try and see through other people’s eyes, to observe how other’s walk through life and see what I can learn and how I may need to change.
For me Norwich Cathedral’s summer adventure, Seeing it Differently, could not be more timely. We are all going to need to see things from fresh perspectives if we are to be able to reach out to one another and heal the divisions that beset our country and sadly also our Church.
I get why for some the image of a giant helter-skelter sitting in this great Nave feels slightly shocking. It does provoke and it begs the question, what is this space for? The walls of this great building have seen many things through their 900 years and I suspect will take this latest arrival in their stride.
But climbing 50ft above the Nave floor will helps us see this space differently, it will give us a new perspective. It is precisely because it is not we usually do that it can speak to us, challenge us and invite us to see the space differently, and to see ourselves and one another differently, even God differently.
Whether it is lying down and looking up, walking a blind trust trail, sitting inside the Bible or following the labyrinth, each holds out the same invitation: can you see it differently? Can we, dare we, open ourselves up to approach familiar things differently, to see the world through other people’s eyes and from their experiences, can we allow ourselves to be searched by fresh understanding and insight.
Healing a broken nation, strengthening the unity of the Church, will take more than us each being more strident in our own point of view. It will come when we are able to appreciate, value and learn from the experiences and insights of others, when I can let go of my treasured world view and learn to see it differently.
And if we find ourselves in a group together, forgive me if you find me from time to time admiring your shoes and wondering what they are like to walk in. But beyond your shoes I wonder what I can learn from you, how you might enrich my life by helping me see things differently. And together, might we grow in understanding of how God would want us to see this precious world differently?