Writer, poet and blogger Andrea Skevington reflects on Jesus' 'I Am' sayings in light of lockdown
Andrea Skevington draws on her book Jesus said, ‘I Am’: Finding life in the everyday as she reflects on the challenges and opportunities of lockdown and prepares to read one of her Lockdown Poems on BBC Radio 3's 'The Verb'.
Hello! Welcome to this blog. Wherever you are, and whatever circumstances you find yourself in today, I hope that as you read, you will know that you are not alone; we are all deeply connected, a vine and its branches.
As we’ve been going through these strange and uncertain times, I’ve been keeping up my blog (https://andreaskevington.com/), inviting people to join me in the garden in their imaginations, to sit a while, and take some refreshment. I’ve been sharing fragments of poems which seem to fit the mood of a more homemade, unpolished existence.
These Lockdown Poems are becoming something of a series and I am absolutely delighted that they have resonated with people. They’ve been picked up by BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, and you’ll be able to hear me talking about them and reading one of them on Friday 15 May’s episode, broadcast 22:00 BST, and later available on i-Player. I’m so excited and delighted to participate in their project of recording people’s response to the lockdown.
I’ve also been thinking through the I Am sayings, the subject of my book for BRF, and wondering what they have to say to us now.
For many of us, this is a time of real loss, and grief. We feel the absence of physical community. We can no longer keep our communal practices of prayer and worship as we did. Many, though, are finding connection through pared down services on the internet, whether or not they used to attend a church. There is some suggestion that people are turning to spiritual practice at this time, whether it is a reimagining of a tradition, or perhaps something new.
Although it may be far too soon to look for the new things that may emerge, in time, from this strange liminal space, this threshold on the edge of something new, I think it is worth holding onto the truth that our God is a one of resurrection, of constantly reaching into dark places, and revealing something new there.
The images used to speak of the Holy Spirit are fluid, changing, flexible – wind, water, fire, a bird. Can we be encouraged by that? It is often in unpromising situations that we notice movements of the Spirit of God. Maybe our eyes open wider, with time, in darkness. I believe we can see this process at work in the I Am sayings.
To start with the first I Am, we turn to Moses, and the burning bush. Moses’ story is well known to many of us, but as we return to these familiar tales with the eyes of radically changed experience, we may see them differently, and then, find they give us a new frame through which we see our current circumstances.
Moses was alone, tending the flocks, far from his spiritual community, the Hebrew people. He had been raised as a prince of the mightiest empire the world had known, and was now a shepherd, far from power and wealth. He had not forgotten the people of his birth, but was too distant to help them. We find many stories in the scriptures of people alone, or in exile, or danger and trouble, far from their families or communities, far from their hopes, who in that stripped down place find their eyes opening to a new way of seeing, and see God anew. It is not a quick process, a glib fix, but we see, looking back, that it can happen.
Moses saw the burning bush, and heard from a God who was ‘I Am’ – simple being. Perhaps we, like Moses, can find ourselves becoming reluctantly open in this time, as it unsettles us enough to teach us. Maybe, we will catch sight of a burning bush, if we raise our eyes. Maybe we will find our perceptions shifting, so we see things differently. There is an opportunity in isolation to think deeply – I was going to say, for ourselves, but I think it might be closer to the truth to say, think deeply as community.
When Jesus spoke his I Am saying, he spoke them to crowds, and his friends, outside religious structures. That is where most of us are now. All the I Am sayings are revelatory. All of them can, if we allow them, challenge our ways of being and seeing and living. They take the rather mysterious I Am of Moses, and embody it in the everyday – I Am bread, a vine, a way... so perhaps they can help us experience and know God in our daily lives.
All this is very relevant, and can be lived, real and embodied. If you find you have a little time now, you might be able to use my book to explore types of prayer and contemplation. Many of us are taking joy in playing with expressive or creative art – simply for its own sake. In my book, you will find suggestions for responding to God creatively and freely. For instance, there is a drawing meditation based on the vine, encouraging you to think through those who are connected to you, who support and help you in some way, and to pray for them as you draw that network of love as a vine, in Christ.
You might find you would like to read. There are suggestions for that too. There are also suggestions for how to live out the I am sayings, how to allow them to transform your life. And while you may need to adapt them here or there to maintain social distancing, this can easily be done. It is more important than ever that we find imaginative ways of connecting, loving our neighbours, helping those in need, and receiving love and help ourselves.
Perhaps the most important thing, though, is the message of I Am. It is a message about being. We can so easily lose track of our own inner life. To take us back to the beginning of this blog, in the garden, I’ve been trying to deepen my practice of silent and contemplative prayer. I have been coming back to now, this moment, and this... finding deep connection, grounding myself in my ground, and in the everydayness of my life, I have been catching glimpses of burning bushes, even in my own place, even in these difficult days.
Andrea Skevington lives in Suffolk with her family. She writes for both adults and children, winning the Christian Book of the Year award (Speaking Volumes) for her retelling, The Lion Classic Bible (Lion Hudson, 2011). She also preaches and leads Bible studies and children's groups, creative writing workshops and retreats.
You can read her blog here.