When life is stripped back, you come face to face with yourself. By the time I reach Iona, I will have stopped eating or drinking anything but water. What will the raw Phil Jackman look like when he is no longer a preacher, teacher, workplace director, cook, father, husband. Even many of the spiritual disciplines and rhythms which served me well in my earlier life have become tired and outworn. My intention is to give God five whole days of my undivided attention – to let him call the tune, let him lead the relationship.
But this raises another question. Does that kind of God actually exist? In the week before leaving for Iona I read CS Lewis’ retelling of the myth “Till We Have Faces”. Underlying the entire story is the question – are the legends about the gods precisely that, interesting stories created by human imagination to teach important truths about the world we live in? Or are the gods actually “there”? Jane and I begin to explore this question in the first of a pair of retreat weekends together in the Peak District. Philosopher-Theologian Francis Schaeffer famously wrote “He is There and He is not Silent”. But Philip Yancey, whom Jane and I have been reading together, observes: there is too much evidence to ignore, but not enough evidence to be conclusive. We just have to trust.
Which I suppose is why I am doing my sabbatical in this particular way. Stripping life back and standing before God naked and vulnerable and saying “God are you there? Is there anything you want to say to me?” And what if God doesn’t show up? It’s good to give my brain a thorough rest. It’s fun relearning how to play the piano well, but quite frankly I am looking for more than that. I am not seeking to manufacture a spiritual experience. I am looking for God to take some initiative. And if he doesn’t? I’m really not sure what then. I have sensed him beckoning me to come. I have set aside any possible appetite or addiction that might compete for my attention. It has been very costly carving out this time and space. I have put a lot of eggs in this basket. I have no plan B. I think that’s what it means to trust. It’s a risky business.