How do you best remember the power of a story you’ve experienced? Are you taken back by an image, a photograph, or do words have a greater power over you? For Michael Mitton, a British freelance writer, priest, and our program speaker this past week, the answer is poetry.
This has become his own personal response to visiting powerful places, particularly those of early Christian significance. At one point, he was told by a man he greatly respected, ‘Michael you are a poet!’ He said,
“This comment immediately hit a thick wall of resistance that insisted that only people with much greater gifts than I could possibly call themselves poets. But it was one of those moments when the prophetic nature of his word somehow got through that defence and I dared believe it. Whether I am a good poet or not is neither here nor there. The fact is we all have creative gifts in us somewhere, and so much in life represses these beautiful gifts.”
We all have the right to a voice. We have the right to create. The world may stifle our uniqueness but we have the option to lean into the Lord and let him be our motivation to find our full identities. When I asked Michael about what he’s been learning about God recently, he spoke about
“The ‘darkness of God’ – God is intensely loving, but he is also mysterious. My relationship with God must not hinge on him being useful to me, answering my prayers and making life easier.
Loving God is a mysterious, disturbing and extraordinary adventure, and you never know where he is going to take you next.”
The program at Lee Abbey this past week focused on silence and individuality. Michael led the sessions with the peace of any great listener. He is attentive to the suggestions of the Lord. When I asked him who would be someone with whom he could talk to all day, he remarked on his favourite author, Frederick Buechner:
“Occasionally you find a writer who can put words to the feelings just below the surface of your conscious world. By being so open about himself including his fears as well as his faith, Buechner helps me to know myself and gives me that precious gift of hope.”
Through his previous work, Michael has had the opportunity to travel to many countries including the USA, Canada, the Scandinavian countries, Singapore, Kenya, India, South Africa, and frequent trips to the Republic of Ireland leading Pilgrimages. These encounters with unfamiliar cultures have been insightful for him: “To live and work among a people of a different culture and country, even for a very short time, gives completely new insights and perspectives on the work of the Kingdom of God. And in an age of so much division and suspicion of different cultures, there is something that feels deeply healing about being welcomed and treated as a friend and not a stranger.” I read these words over and over again and wonder how we would be able to offer this welcome to an unfamiliar person, embracing him or her in lov
What does it look to become close to a person who feels entirely unlike yourself?
Michael describes himself as, “Someone who is trying to be the person God has made him to be,” and his deepest fear as, “Wasting this life that God has so graciously given me.” I pray we all may be able to embrace this self-identity and this healthy motivation. God has envisioned perfect uniqueness and unity for his people. I pray that we may each be moving closer to this remarkable self, this self that we are, that we are becoming, and that he is guiding.