Borderlands define movement and place. They act as signposts and landmarks that help the pilgrim who is journeying to locate where in their journey they are. The ancients understood borders as places of change, as moments of transition, places of great instability and in many cases areas of warfare and contesting.
A borderland is a point of crossing that is marked not only in the geography of the land, such as a river crossing, a mountain range or a forest, they can for the ‘peregrinus‘ also be defined by moments and movements of the soul. Moments where God breaks in or out and we find ourselves crossing over from one landscape to another.
This is certainly my testimony. For some months I have been sensing that my time in the fair trade jewellery world I have predominantly inhabited these last 15 years has been drawing to a conclusion. Equally since 2008 I have been smelling fresh pastures and my walk with God has been increasingly defined by hunting out the smell and following the scent. To mix my metaphors I have felt I was on a railway track, one of the twin tracks of my journey being Fair Trade jewellery and the other being ‘contemplative spirituality’ and investment into what I have given the loose working title ‘Celtic Spirituality’. I found myself in the delusional notion that I had to hop from one track to another in order to maintain momentum. The tragedy being that as in the case of twin parallel tracks, they may always point in the same direction, but will never converge. I was living in the curse of dualism and justifying it through the hubris of apparent success.
This dynamic journey towards the Trinity is often authenticated in locations. My great fortune has been the wonderful opportunity God has afforded me to travel in different lands and cultures. On my recent trip to Kenya I found myself in the heart of what I believed to be a routine exploration in Fairtrade Gold that turned out to be anything but.
As I sat in the front room of my friends in Mwanza Tanzania, having had to get out of Kenya for security reasons (the Asian gold mafia were unhappy that we were wanting to introduce a fair trade transparent and traceable system to the local gold market), I suddenly realised I was at another borderland in my journey with God and in fact had now reached the crossing point. In my journal I had written the following extract prior to my trip.
My journey with God is a ‘peregrination’ through different landscapes and the transition that is now upon me is more like coming to the end of one landscape ‘Fair Trade Jewellery’ and moving into a new landscape called ____________ (name unknown at the present time). I still walk in the landscape of FT Jewellery. As I write this in Migori Kenya, the suffering of the poor is acute and obvious and it seems on one level such a futile exercise to offer hope without the certainty of change. This journey of mine has been tempestuous, full of battles fought, many of them won, some lost, but I am weary and I bear the scars of the battles I have been through. Yet as I walk I can smell the fresh air of change blowing from the landscape that is before me. I have not reached it yet and the challenge I see now is to identify the final rivers I must cross before I enter the new land. Equally as the the new horizon comes into clearer view, what are the markers that will signal the border crossing?
Confused and deflated I was rethinking my course of action and going over in my mind what my next steps might be, now the purpose of the trip to Kenya had fallen through. I was mindful of the twin tracks in my life. I felt I had come to the end of the track. I had indeed reached the borderlands of my soul. But the confusion over my next step was intense.
As I rested in the safety of an armchair with a cup of decent tea, in through the door flew an Eastern violet backed Sunbird. My little friend flew over to my armchair and perched upon the end of my middle finger and remained there staring at me intently. His curiosity got the better of him after 30 seconds or so and he flew down on to the side table and inspected the tea lights. His seeming curiosity sated, he returned to the end of my finger, changed his vantage point again by sitting on top of my head, then the curtain rail, before returning to the end of my finger and watched me for what seemed like an age.
My friend was the prefect message from my Creator at the time. No words, no heavy intense prayer, no noise or alter-states of consciousness, just the simple kiss of creation and the tender voice of the Creator saying ‘look its alright’. I thanked the little bird and blessed him for his sensitivity to Gods call, and away he flew, through the open door and into the sunshine of the Son.
It seems to me that one of the most important aspects of the Christian experience is that it should take place primarily in the context of a journey and not the experience of altered states of consciousness. This was an understandable misconception I believed in my early charismatic Christian days, as I moved from one altered state of consciousness to another, defining God’s presence as a mind or emotionally altering moment. The domestication of the Church of God in the houses of institutional religion has in my opinion caged our ability to enter into the wildness of the Spirit and diminished our encounter with God to altered states of being and behaviour we call ‘manifestations of the Spirit’ or the intellectual boxes we create and arrogantly call orthodoxy. The Holy Spirit has always been the Spirit of freedom and creation the cathedral of the Divine presence.
In the opening chapters of Genesis, creations journey begins with a defining of horizons; light and darkness, earth, sea and air. The Creator moves from boundaries and horizons to populating this with relationships; plants, animals of the land, sea and air and of course human beings. Humanity becomes the unique blend of the soil and the Spirit and the living being/soul is born (Genesis ii v 7). Can it be that my very being is the borderland of heaven and earth? This heady mix of dirt and Spirit is crucial to my understanding of the creation I live in. My very soul and being is the fruit of the breath of God on the dirt of my origination.
My little Sunbird is made of the same dirt I am. We share a common desire, to walk, or fly in his case, faithfully with the Creator. The in breaking of creation into the borderland of my soul, was the sign I needed to know I had now reached the new landscape I had been smelling for some months. The journey is not twin tracks that never meet, it is the continual and faithful walk through the landscape of God’s creation.