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Vicar's Musings for Pentecost

27 May, 2012

What will the future hold for St Peter's Eastern Hill? Where are we going as a parish? This is a question often on my mind and in my prayers as your new Vicar. The short answer is of course: I don't know. We can plan and dream together, and so we must, but ultimately none of can see what will happen over the coming months and years. There is a Maori aphorism "ka mura, ka muri" which roughly translated means "walking backwards into the future." We see only the past, it drives and informs us; the future is unseen territory. This might evoke anxiety; there are risks of stumbling or going in the wrong direction. It may feel safer to stop and stand still, or even to regress. Stepping into the future is an act of faith and takes courage.

Prominent psychologist, Marty Seligman, explores something of this in his paper "Drawn into the future or driven by the past?" (2011). He looks at cutting edge research into the psychological phenomenon of "prospection" and notes that, as with pioneers in search of gold, future self-projections and hopes are incredibly powerful processes that quite literally draw us into our future. Although seemingly obvious, this understanding has been largely eliminated from the science of psychology, being relegated to the realm of theology and religion. Indeed, he argues, since the seventeenth-century Enlightenment there has been a gradual rooting out of "teleological" or future-oriented thinking in the scientific disciplines. Seligman and the paper's co-authors write: "Being driven by the past is as unsuitable as a heuristic for living as it is for theorizing. Daily life is lived on the assumption that how we choose will make a difference to what actually comes about. Hoping, planning, saving for a rainy day, worrying, striving, risking or minimizing risk, even undertaking therapy, all have in common the presupposition that which future will come about is contingent upon our deliberation and action. We have argued that this is no illusion. Prospection—guidance by running and evaluating simulations of possible futures—is not mysterious, and it is at the very core of human action."

This week I attended a meeting of the Society of Catholic Priests, an international Anglican organisation seeking to promote priestly spirituality and catholic evangelism. Fr Philip Bewley preached for us at mass and evoked a wonderful metaphor: the good old-fashioned process of developing a photograph. I remember with such joy the darkroom that my father and I set up in our basement when I was a child. My photographic exploits were sitting invisibly on the magic film, shut away in the camera case until the curtains were drawn and negatives could be produced. The photographic paper was then carefully exposed for just the right time and dipped into the wonderfully smelling developing compound. In the dim red light my father and I would watch as the image slowly emerged from the blank paper. A faint outline here, some shading there. We took great care not to under or over develop the image. Then a fixing solution and the lights could go on to reveal the picture in all its glory.

Perhaps the future into which God is drawing us is a bit like that. Very little is visible just now. Some ideas, a few photographs that have been taken and we hope will come out well. This is not instant digital photography, but gradually the picture will emerge and by God's grace it will be well developed and beautiful to behold.

"For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13:12)

The Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster

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